Cement Roots: Wearing politics on your sleeve

Much of today’s clothing is already a walking advertisement for corporations. Why not dress to support your favorite presidential candidate? Here’s how.

This year’s presidential election will go down in fashion history as one of the most stylish.

Sen. Hillary Clinton taught us that pantsuits can be fabulous, even if they don’t do much for your legs.
Michelle Obama channeled her inner Jackie Kennedy and lit up the stage at the Democratic National Convention in a stunning turquoise dress. Sen. Barack Obama appeared on the cover of Ebony magazine in a pair of sunglasses that made him look like the essence of cool. Updo aside, hockey mom Sarah Palin has become somewhat of a style icon for the 40 and over Republican set, with her Tina Fey glasses and diamond-studded flag pin.

Of course, we voters have been looking pretty good, too. And it’s no wonder: election gear has never been more clever or hip. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or something in between, there’s a T-shirt, button or piece of jewelry for you.

At Made to Order, you have to know how to look beneath the black-and-white photos of naked women and sultry-looking movie stars to find the latest in election gear. The shop, located at 817 N. Second St. in Northern Liberties, is known for its funky, hip-hop-influenced tees and sneakers. Recently, Made to Order sold out of its popular “O-Face” T-shirt ($36), designed by local brand Undrcrwn. The shirt features a solemn-faced Obama slam-dunking a basketball over rival Sen. John McCain’s head.
The shirt was worn by director Spike Lee at the Democratic National Convention and hip-hop artist Nas during a recent tour. The image on the shirt mimics a photograph taken during the 2004 Summer Olympics, where Team USA basketball player Vince Carter jumps over a 7-foot opponent to dunk a ball.

“When we do a T-shirt run, we usually sell, at a max, 15, and we’ve already sold 40 of the ‘O-Face’ shirt,” Made to Order owner Philip Dupree said. “We’ve got people waiting for more to come in.”
Customers are also waiting for another Undrcrwn T-shirt to arrive at Made to Order – the “O-Knows” garment ($28). Inspired by a recent Nike campaign, this shirt features the words “OBAMA KNOWS” in giant, colorful letters and should be just as popular as the “O-Face,” Dupree said.

Just a hop, skip and a jump away at the eco-friendly Arcadia Boutique (819 N. Second St.), there’s an Obama T-shirt for the ladies. The super-soft “Obama is the New Black” piece ($28) was designed by Rise Up International, a clothing company dedicated to putting an end to the exploitation of children in Nicaragua, China and India.

“Some people have been taking the slogan the wrong way,” manager Amanda Liberi said. “But everyone’s always saying ‘Red is the new black’ or ‘Purple is the new black’ or whatever. ‘Obama is the new black’ is a take on that old-fashioned phrase.”

If you’re looking for something wittier, Agent Aloha (506 South St.) is the place to go. While T-shirt shops are a dime a dozen on South Street, Agent Aloha has the best selection of all of them, especially when it comes to election tees. One in particular features a cartoon drawing of Palin and the letters “VPILF” – yes, that’s right.

There’s also a “Barack Obama is my Homeboy” T-shirt and one features Obama in KISS makeup with the words “BARACKISS” written on it. The shirts were designed by the store’s owner, Ori Cohen, and are available exclusively at Agent Aloha and its sister store Guacamole (422 South St.). Prices on all of the shirts range from $19 to $25 – almost as cheap as Urban Outfitters’ Obama action figure ($16), available at its Walnut Street outpost.

Urban Outfitters is one of the few places in the city where you can buy Republican gear, probably because its president, Richard Hayne, is one of the party’s biggest supporters. In 2004, he contributed $13,150 to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is best known for comparing gay sex to bestiality. If you’re voting McCain, check out its “RepubliCAN” tee ($28) – after all, why should the Democrats have all the hope?

Something else to look out for is the new “Liberty Loves Company” line by jewelry designer Tarina Tarantino (no relation to Quentin). McCain’s daughter Meghan wore pieces from this line during a recent tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While not overtly political, Tarantino’s latest rings, necklaces and earrings feature American flags, Abraham Lincolns and Uncle Sams. They’ve got a vintage look that’s very “in” right now, and they speak to those who are a little less outspoken about their beliefs (like Ms. McCain, who was an independent until 2008). Smak Parlour (219 Market St.) and Salon Thalia (601 Walnut St.) both carry Tarantino’s jewelry, so it’s likely that they’ll stock up when the line hits stores.

In the past, some election officials in Pennsylvania have been strict about a provision against “passive electioneering,” but wearing your “O-Face” or buttons supporting a particular candidate to the polls will not cause any unnecessary trouble.

Anna Hyclak can be reached at anna.hyclak@temple.edu.

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