Changing the World One T-Shirt At a Time: The Impact of Political Streetwear
Fashion impacts politics. Don’t believe it? Just take a look at the cultural impact of Donald Trump’s MAGA hats or Obama’s 2008 “Hope” poster. It is undeniable that political streetwear clothing has had a large scale impact on politics.
Campaigns have used imagery and slogans to fire up the people for many election cycles. Political streetwear could even be looked at as a type of wearable propaganda, as demonstrated by the MAGA (Make America Great Again) “uniform” in America.
We are living in a period ruled by “meme-culture”, meaning that anything and everything is susceptible to being made into viral internet jokes to be re-shared and plastered on T-shirts by the public to poke fun at politicians and people in power. Politicians are now using streetwear to appeal to an increasingly growing young demographic of voters.
Political Streetwear Appeals to Young Voting Demographics
For decades the younger demographic of voters has been largely out shadowed in the polls by older generations, but the times are changing. More young people, known as millennials and generation z, are casting their ballots than ever. Campaigns know that streetwear, internet culture, and fashion intersect with their campaign's goals to reach and influence young voters.
In the last UK election, logo-flipping became a chief strategy for the campaign of the Labour Party candidate Jeremy Corbyn. For the majority of the campaigning season, he trailed behind the current Prime Minister Theresa May by 20 points but made an astounding turn-around at the last minute by drawing out voters aged 18-24 in record numbers. How did he achieve this? The answer is simple. He recognized the power of political streetwear and used it.
How Jeremy Corbyn Successfully Used Logo-Flipping Streetwear Brands to Reach Young Voters
Logo-flipping is the technique of taking a well-known logo and “flipping” it by altering it to spread a different message. Fashion is a visual language that appeals to all demographics, but especially the youth of today. By using a combination of celebrity endorsements and the rebranding of popular streetwear logos as campaign slogans, Corbyn was able to make strides towards catching up with his conservative opponent in the election.
It all started with the Nike logo. The famous Nike slogan of “Just Do It” aligns with the Labour Party’s campaign and it was a smart move to combine the symbol with his name because it started a viral trend on social media of changing streetwear brand logos to promote the Labour Party campaign.
Examples include Corbyn supporters changing the Louis Vuitton “LV” logo to mean Labour Party, and changing the Champion brand name to Corbyn alongside the logo in another graphic posted to social media. When it came to campaigning for change, no influential fashion logo was safe from being flipped to represent the Labour Party.
It is important to note that logo-flipping is far from the same thing as being endorsed by the brand. The logo has to be changed well enough that it does not violate copyright laws or suggest a direct endorsement from the brand itself to be legally justifiable.
In this new internet-centric age that we find ourselves in, brands and viral marketing are more influential than television campaigns and other traditional forms of campaigning. The reach of these recognizable brands speaks to voters on a more relatable level and inspires action on a greater scale. The proof of this is clear when you look at the numbers surrounding this campaign strategy.
Using Humor as a Campaign Strategy
These are without a doubt challenging times to be alive, which is why humor is more important than ever to the masses of citizens who feel disenfranchised by their governments. Poking fun and laughing at politicians is one way that the general public relieves their stress around election time, which is why politicians who recognize these trends and use them to their advantage can pull greater numbers of voters in their favor.
There is a lot of irony surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s logo-flipping strategy as the politician himself is certainly not known for his fashion sense. He is typically seen wearing sweaters knitted by his mother, which is why it becomes all the more humorous on a viral scale that luxury streetwear brands worn by the culturally hip youth were repurposed in his favor. Applying a sense of humor to campaigning makes it seem more relatable and down to earth than a serious approach, without diminishing the campaign's overall message/platform.
Designed by the streetwear company Bristol Street Wear, the Corbyn/Nike swoop graphic took off largely because it made sense for Jeremy Corbyn, as a political outsider, to use this kind of unpolished and relatable approach to a campaign logo. It helped further his image as a political rebel, a political outsider who is for the people rather than for the establishment. By using imagery that is so well-known and recognizable, he could make himself synonymous with the rebellious spirit of streetwear which appeals so greatly to young voters.
The History of Logo-Flipping and Political Streetwear
While social media accessibility and internet meme culture have further progressed the power of making streetwear with altered logos for political motives, it is not a practice that is unique to modern times. Examples are going back to the 1950s, and even earlier, of using alterations of branding and political propaganda to send a message. Repurposing recognizable brands is a powerful tool that has been used for political propaganda campaigns for decades.
Can Political Streetwear Change the World?
The power here lies in the way that humor impacts people on a meaningful level. Citizens are more likely to tell their friends about a funny joke they heard than they are to bring up the often dark, depressing, or anger invoking aspects of politics. This is part of why it is easier to spread a message on a large scale by making use of a good sense of humor. Logo-flipping and repurposing of popular branding is a form of protest that the average person can participate in while still maintaining a sense of comfort.
Juxtaposing political campaigns with fashion reveals the influential power of fashion on all aspects of life including politics. Streetwear can bring down governments by uniting citizens one T-shirt at a time.