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Why People Are Still Wearing Their 2016 Campaign Merch

Talking to voters who still wear their “I’m With Her” tees and “Feel the Bern” hats.

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My roommate’s “I’m With Her” shirt arrived on the morning of November 9th. Paralyzed by the hangover that stretched across the entire city of Boston on the morning after the 2016 election, we both stared at that shirt –– blankly –– as it it sat folded on top of the dresser. I felt overwhelmed by the odd sensation of having found the perfect wedding gown after being stood up at the altar, while also grappling with the sensation that this was the shirt that would go with everything in the days, months, and years to come.

And so it would be. The accessory of winter 2017 was the “I’m With Her” tote bag. A cardigan layered over a “Texans for Hillary” tee. The shirts got softer with regular washing, but the blows of an administration that proved capable of limitless ignorance and intolerance didn’t (but can you imagine a Trump who could be tempered with Woolite?). It was almost like these items were serving as armor against the torrential downpour of New York Times push notifications and Trumpian tweets. Because really, what else did Americans have to protect themselves during the next four (or even eight) years?

It had been an election cycle in which politics oozed its way into every corner–– and not just into usual spaces, like the dinner table and your gynecologist’s office, but also onto the runway. Celebrities like Rihanna and Anna Wintour donned creative riffs on the Clinton campaign’s logo and slogan (while the silence of others proved especially gossip-worthy). Designers added fuel to the fight against Trump with pointed post-election creations. The average Jane (or Joe) without access to couture pulled on a simple tri-blend tee with the letter “H” on it and walked down the street. They were (and still are) all part of the same resistance.

“Wearing campaign gear is a way to register disagreement with what’s happening. It’s an especially useful tool for those who may be really unhappy, outraged, fearful, or anxious, particularly at a time when many perceive themselves as powerless,” says Dr. Adam Fried, an assistant professor of psychology at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona. Fried works with clients who continue to look for ways to resist an administration that makes them feel powerless. Fried also sees wearing gear as both an external and internal tool, explaining how “registering disagreement may be an important way to strengthen resolve within oneself while letting others know that you don’t agree with what's happening.”

In some cities, it’s easier to show off those political beliefs than others. Jenna Sauber, 32, says she wears her “I’m With Her” shirt around DC when doing errands, in bed, and most recently, while reading What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s account of the election. “On the street, people will say to me, ‘I love your shirt,’ or they’ll nod. They’ll give a little smile. And when I see someone [with Hillary gear] internally, I’ll think a little ‘Yeah, I’m with you!’” Sauber says that she feels wearing her gear serves a reminder of what Americans could have had, but it’s also a reminder that there’s still hope for those who step up to the political plate down the line. “We’re still going to pass this torch onto someone else. We still support her, we still believe in her and the folks that come after her,” she says.

On the opposite side of the country, in San Francisco, Ali Wunderman, 28, and her mother, Lisa Christensen, continue to show off their support for Hillary with pride on a daily basis (Lisa has almost 30 different T-shirts and hats, as well as other kinds of gear). Ali says that the contrast of a pink Hillary Clinton pin on her black backpack has frequently attracted welcome attention. “Women, always women, have given me hugs, particularly just after the election. It acts as an instant identifier of shared values, and during those early days we really needed to be able to identify each other and make contact.” Meanwhile, Lisa makes a point of wearing her Hillary hat on her daily morning walk, and says the reactions she’s received have spanned from heavy sighs to people stopping to give her hugs and share a few tears. Both Ali and her mom view the decision to continue to wear these items as an act of solidarity toward other Hillary hopefuls, but more importantly, as a way to signal to the outside world that “we will not be beat into submission by tyrannical forces.” The two attended the Women’s March in Washington, DC, which Lisa says was “the greatest experience of my life. I call on those memories daily to help get me through each day.”

When getting dressed, the main apprehension anyone has with gear associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign is turning into a target for the ire and negativity of those who opposed her. In more conservative parts of the country, those kinds of reactions come from Trump supporters. But women in swing states and even more liberal enclaves aren’t safe from those kinds of challenges –– sometimes, they share, campaign gear solicits negative reactions from people on the same side of the aisle, who had supported Bernie Sanders.

Adrienne So, 34, lives in a community in Portland, Oregon, that largely favored Sanders’s bid for the presidency. She admits to having felt “oddly confrontational” while wearing her Hillary gear (she purchased one of the campaign’s artist-sponsored limited-edition tees) around her social circle. “I’ve gotten into pretty heated arguments with friends at bars. During the election, I was pregnant with my now 3-month-old, and my husband didn’t want me to put stickers on the car with HRC on it, because of our baby. I still wore the shirts and the Hillary socks, but I was a little afraid to be out with my kids.” Likewise, Wunderman says that despite the liberal majority and stereotypes in San Francisco, she consciously chose to keep her Hillary gear fairly simple because of having experienced “vocal hate from the Bernie camp.”

But for some, encountering Bernie supporters after the election has proven to be a source of comfort, despite the negative reputation of “Bernie bros.” “My understanding of a Bernie bro is a white male chauvinist who embraced Trumpian rhetoric re: Hillary Clinton, or is someone who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton, so I didn't care for that at all,” says Ben Brewer, a Bernie supporter from Los Angeles.

Alaina Leary, 24, is a Bernie fan who proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election, but notes that she still feels a special bond when she sees people with Bernie merch around her hometown of Boston. “I'm partial to Bernie because universal health care and student debt are important to me as a disabled recent college grad. But seeing anyone who voted similarly to me is a sign of trust.”

Chloe Walker, 28, wears her Bernie shirt “in the font of the Barbie logo” to her gym and elsewhere on occasion since the election, saying that “political stances, regardless of whether we're on the winning or losing side of a given election, should be a part of our public life and remain a part of our public discourse.” Both Leary and Walker have received almost entirely positive responses to publicly wearing their gear. Despite this, Leary consciously chose not to wear her Bernie T-shirt or pin to the Women’s March this past January. “We were coming together to support women/femmes and feminism…. It wasn't about who you voted for, but more about what you didn't vote for. And that sends a powerful, unified message.”

With so much demonstrable animosity on the Democratic side of the aisle, so easily ignited by a pin, tensions that arise when Democrats and Trump voters come face to face seem unfathomable. Brittany McElwee, 27, who lives near Olympia, Washington, says that making her “Women for Hillary” and “Military Families for Hillary” shirts part of her regular closet rotation is an important way to show her resistance and defiance of the Trump administration. “Washington state is blue, but it’s just a few counties that keep it blue. I live in one of those counties, but it’s not too far from places that are not at all liberal,” she says. McElwee describes spending time in her favorite coffee shop (“where all of the baristas are women,” she adds) and overhearing disturbing misogynistic conversations from the tables around her. “During the election, I wouldn’t wear my Hillary shirt there because I didn’t want to draw attention. I’d wear a shirt or a sweater over it. Now, I’m not covering it up, I don’t care how cold it is.” In fact, the experience inspired McElwee to purchase a long-sleeved version of the shirt, so as to be able to proudly show off her resistance on Washington’s colder days.

Despite encountering support in DC, Jenna Sauber describes how bringing her Hillary shirt to her parents’ neighborhood in Oxford, Maryland, is a very different experience given the number of Trump voters in the area. “There are a lot of people who choose to retire out there who once worked in government. Dick Cheney lives there. My parents and their neighbors are the only people with Clinton signs on their lawns,” she says. When it comes to Sauber’s home state of Louisiana, she admits that she hasn’t been bold enough to wear her Hillary gear when visiting her conservative, Catholic family members there. While it’s arguable that wearing Hillary gear in red states is a good way to express solidarity with the minority (or to bravely stick it to a far-too-vocal majority), Dr. Fried emphasizes the value of prioritizing self-care and taking time to determine whether you feel comfortable with becoming a magnet for potentially unwanted attention when you throw on that “I’m With Her” sweatshirt. After all, there are no medals for putting yourself in an unsafe or triggering situation. “I think it’s important that people who wear campaign gear are prepared for the possibility of unsupportive responses. I’ve listened to the shock and fear from clients who didn’t anticipate negative responses when they wore their campaign gear outside.”

But once you’ve accepted the possible ramifications of wearing campaign gear in less-lefty parts of the US (or in liberal cities that are clearly still deeply divided), there’s a big payoff to be had, one that Brittany McElwee has experienced firsthand. “At Panera, I was wearing my Hillary shirt. The cashier saw me, chuckled, and got her coworker, whose face just lit up when she saw me. She told me that they had a male customer with a 'Prison for Hillary' shirt come in all the time, and she insisted on ringing me up. It made my day and really stayed with me.” McElwee’s choice to wear her Hillary gear doesn’t mean people in her hometown will ditch their “Hillary for Prison” shirts, but it does mean that they’ll be confronted with dedication that isn’t dying down despite this election’s results. “It’s why I always smile, tip well, and represent us [Hillary supporters] well when I’m wearing her gear. To show them what we’re still standing for.”

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