More Americans are wearing symbols about current events than I can remember in my three-decade long life, and the contentious nature of the presidential race exemplifies how fashion will be a key part how people interact with news and express their interests as consumers in the coming year.
Consider the following few examples which tell us how Americans wore the news in 2016. There are “Make America Great Again” hats (and now ornaments, in case you needed to discuss politics during the holidays), Black Lives Matter shirts, Brexit’s safety pins, “Nasty Woman” regalia, the unfortunately newsy name of Melania Trump’s “pussy bow” blouse…or consider the homage to Black Panthers during Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance or the return of custom pins like this “Dump Trump” one into influencer feeds and viral videos. My favorite example of mood-ring-politics memes is a photo of Hillary Clinton’s technicolor dreamcoat moment which popped up shortly before Election Day.
None of these instances are groundbreaking, but they tell us that people continue to find value in the act of interpreting current events using buying power. Perhaps the best example comes from Ivanka Trump, whose bangle-selling interviews bring new meaning to the phrase “statement piece.” Few consumers could buy a Trump-branded item today and not be reminded of whatever it is they think of the president-elect. In this sense, Donald Trump is perhaps America’s first brand president, which comes with all sorts of conflicts and controversies we should be prepared to address. As Teen Vogue’s recent advocacy-driven coverage has proven, media companies which traditionally gear toward studying consumer trends are being openly criticized for covering consumerism’s influence on identity politics during an election year. As if that’s not an important or valuable service, especially as our incoming president is himself a brand. Teen Vogue is on to something: Consumers deserve to understand the connection between news and the economy.
If it is a journalist’s job to report and analyze current events, we cannot do so while blind to the fact that people interact most directly with the news as consumers. Our audiences are increasingly wearing tweets as much as reading them. That simultaneously undermines the value of a tweeted headline and gives it a new, wearable life.
To wear one’s politics is a risk many Americans cannot afford to take, but there’s a final point beyond activism and class signaling that I sense here, and it has to to with the state of discourse on the open web. As more news readers (and watchers) come in contact with online harassment and fake news, there is a reassuring aspect to the permanence of the physical. A shirt can declare a statement that friends may never read on an algorithm-led Facebook feed. You cannot argue with a shirt. As journalists spend less time speaking to sources in person, we can observe how people communicate through consumerism to reach the full capacity of what modern journalism can provide.
If our audiences communicate with items, so can we. Did you know that fashion can raise money for journalism (are you listening, newsrooms)? The managing editor of Alabama’s Anniston Star made a t-shirt to raise funds for the Committee to Protect Journalists. If that doesn’t scream “future revenue streams,” I don’t know what does.