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Cole Wilson

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Outside the DNC, a Sea of Sanders Fashion

From DIY tie-dye tanks to "Phillin the Bern" tees, Sanders merch was everywhere.

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Americana won the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week. Star-spangled outfits and red, white, and blue Trump merchandise insisted on the greatness of this country — past, present, or future. Not surprisingly, street style in the public areas around the Democratic National Convention was a wholly different beast, leaning toward murky colors, bandanas, and bare feet. Tie-dye reigned supreme.

This wasn't about America. It was about Bernie Sanders.

While anyone in Philadelphia could amble down to the Wells Fargo Center, the site of this year's DNC, the crowd was dominated by Sanders fans prepared to see their candidate's shot at the White House through to the end. A large faction were fiery opponents of Hillary Clinton, too. Cries of "Never Hillary!" and "A vote for Hillary is a vote for Trump!" grew in clarity and volume over the course of the afternoon.

For all their fervor, it's hard to imagine that reporters or delegates entering the venue got a good look at the protesters' displays. When the DNC opened on Monday, event organizers had constructed a high fence around the perimeter of the Wells Fargo Center. The barrier kept anyone without credentials well away from those attending the DNC, and quickly drew snide comparisons to the wall Donald Trump has proposed constructing at the United States's border with Mexico.

By day two of the convention, a second fence had been erected a short distance from the first, widening the gap between demonstrators and those they hoped to reach.


Through two layers of crosshatched wires, delegates probably missed the man with the words "Jill 2016," for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and a rendering of Sanders drawn on his shaved scalp and upper arm. Doubtful they could see the guy wearing a rubber Hillary Clinton mask and a baby blue t-shirt reading "Infidel," or the people in classic Sanders logo shirts cooing over a very patient alpaca.

Some protesters held "Hillary for Prison" signs, a point of commonality with Trump supporters at the previous week's Republican National Convention. Two Trump fans — twins Teresa and Lisa Golt from Anaheim, California — showed up in solidarity with their Sanders-loving friends. They wore hot pink shirts repping Lipstick Bail Bonds, an all-women group of bounty hunters.

But for the most part, protesters' clothing was all for Sanders.

His likeness was everywhere. On t-shirts, he rode a unicorn, posed triumphantly in a superhero suit, and wielded a light saber like Obi-Wan Kenobi. His distinctively ruffled hairline and glasses appeared in silhouette against so many shades of tie-dye.

A man and woman affixed large cutouts of Sanders's face and gesticulating hands to three wooden posts and held them aloft; as they walked, their guy flopped passionately in the summer breeze. Another man carried a backpack supporting a giant paper maché effigy of the Vermont senator.

A union mechanic named Joe Zane, holding a "Berners for Trump" sign, had written "Bernie Bro" in black paint across his white t-shirt. A young woman refashioned her Sanders tee into a tank top with the help of some scissors.


D.I.Y. styling already carries anti-establishment undertones, and here it seemed like an extension of protesters' defiant affinity for Sanders and ownership of his values, even after he implored them to get behind Clinton. More than a purchased campaign t-shirt ever could, hyper-personal outfits declared, "This is my guy."

Let's be clear: the Sanders fan base isn't afraid to buy, even from vendors unaffiliated with his campaign. Daniel Richards, who has been selling merchandise at political events for the last eight election cycles, says that Sanders apparel has far outgrossed his Trump or Clinton product. Richards started the season with a "Keep Calm and Feel the Bern" design and continued to introduce new styles, including tie-dye in March, which has been selling well. When a bird landed on Sanders's podium at a rally in Portland, he leaned into the ensuing fanfare.

"You saw a whole new market created for the shirts," Richards said. "'Birdies for Bernie,' and stuff like that."

Unlike Richards and the many other merch vendors who don't let their political leanings guide their business decisions, David Waller, a Sanders supporter from North Carolina, had only been selling goods at Sanders rallies. He'll probably start working Clinton events now, though.

"I'll vote for Hillary," Waller said. "It's too dangerous to have Trump in the White House, I'm sorry."

Waller's "Not for Sale" and Grateful Dead-style "Make America Grateful Again" shirts were doing well outside the DNC on Tuesday, as was a button featuring a Photoshopped image of Sanders cradling a kitten. He described the DNC as his "last shot at the Bernie merch clearance sale."

Last shot, maybe. Considering the overwhelming affection Sanders's supporters still show for him, it seems like Waller will have no problem unloading any lingering product.

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