No matter what happens on November 4, Barack Obama will leave his mark — on history, yes, but also on a million T-shirts. The Obama political-merchandise machine has grown to epic proportions. And why not? Obama is the smartest, best-dressed, best-spoken, most energetic and beloved entity to come along in politics in a long time. People would not only die for him, they would wear flip-flops with tiny plastic Obama bobble heads for him.
If you missed out on Shepard Fairey’s Obama HOPE and PROGRESS tees — sorry, that ship sailed a while ago — try eBay. The campaign itself has an official Runway for Change project with a squadron of top-flight designers that includes Isaac Mizrahi, Tracy Reese and Vera Wang. But while admirable, these fashion pros mostly flub the simple T-shirt design like a bad Project Runway episode. In this fight, it’s the masses who are doing the exciting work in the realm of Obama style. The ones who sew the custom Obama “change” purses on eBay.
At the Democratic National Convention, 36-year-old Chicago artist Ray Noland’s irreverent, retro basketball-inspired “Go Tell Mama” Obama tees sold like hotcakes. “The red, white and blue basketball references the ABA [American Basketball Association], which was known as the ‘outlaw’ league during the late ’60s and early ’70s,” Noland writes in an e-mail. “What better way to humanize Obama and position him as the new ‘outlaw’ in American politics?” Noland has been waging a one-man street campaign for Obama since 2006, when he started designing Obama posters and anonymously plastering them around town. His inspiration came after he was in a bicycle accident, had his jaw wired shut for six weeks and obsessively read Obama’s Dreams From My Father.
Noland’s shirts and posters are warm, joyful and moving, infused with a hip-hop sensibility: Obama shooting hoops; Obama as a boxer; Obama as a gunslinger, but instead of drawing a gun, he outstretches his hand to his opponent … for a handshake. The objects are so iconic, the Smithsonian has asked for samples to include in its collection.
“If Obama does not win,” Noland says, “I will be an expatriot.”
In a completely other direction, Inktees makes an “I Got A Crush On Obama” T-shirt perfect for sexy single gals with their own political obsessions. It’s the one that Amber Lee Ettinger wore — scandalously — with short shorts and white stilettos in her Obama Girl video. For dudes at the grill, Inktees also makes an “I Heart Obama” apron.
Care for socks? Clothing buyer Erica Easley, as pretty as the campaign trail is long, has created the world’s first presidential knee socks. “There are no Nixon or JFK socks. Though Urban Outfitters is probably working on something right now as we speak,” she says on the night of the first presidential debate, when Obama wipes the floor with McCain’s butt. She’s been selling 100 pairs of her Obama knee socks every week since June. “I wear the socks every day. I get stopped at the gas station, at Trader Joe’s. They look cute with whatever you’re wearing — shorts, miniskirts, a vintage dress. They’re very collectible if you’re into fashion that surrounds unique, oddball moments in time. That’s what political clothing is. It would be fun to make an inaugural sock if he wins.” Easley has shipped the socks to New York and Utah, and is ever hopeful for orders from red-state Alabama (none yet). Los Angeles is hip to the socks — lots of orders here. Easley is even in talks with people in Obama’s campaign to maybe get his daughters to wear the socks.
Presidential-candidate sneakers are probably another fashion first. Artist Van Taylor Monroe recently custom-painted a pair of Nike Air Force Ones with Obama’s face in blue, red and gray tones. Monroe grew up in working-class Long Beach. His mother saved up and bought him an artist’s desk. “And I drew on that thing every day,” he says. He originally made the shoes for himself, not long after Obama won more states than expected on Super Tuesday, “as a reminder to continue to follow my dreams and utilize the gift God gave me.” He’s since made custom Obama sneakers for P. Diddy, Will.I.Am, Fabolous and Nelly.
But what about your political booty? Trendy-underwear maker Andrew Christian has made Obama boxer briefs that comply with the designer’s famous Flashback Butt Lifting Technology, which, per the promotional materials, “create the illusion of having that much-sought-after ‘bubble butt’ without having to waste hours in the gym. The construction of the underwear automatically lifts the buttocks, making it look more firm and round.” The $29 slim-cut Obama briefs have an ’08 on the back and the senator’s face on the upper thigh, tucked right beside the family jewels.
Christian, who thankfully has no intention of designing McCain underwear, mailed a package (ha ha) of the briefs to Obama. When asked by the New York Daily News if Obama would wear them, campaign communications director Robert Gibbs replied, “No … that would be really weird.”
The online 008 The Movement project, meanwhile, has gone meta about the whole thing. They disseminate iconic Obama imagery. Seeing a bunch of people wearing campaign paraphernalia, they believe, will help to swing undecided voters because people rely on “social proof” when trying to figure out what choice to make. So folks have been passing around 008’s nickel-sized purple, yellow, red and turquoise pins like Skittles.
If, in the end, you simply can’t settle on that one perfect Obama item that encapsulates who you are and why you and your demographic worship him — for you picky sorts, you humans with odd hobbies and clandestine passions, you abstract entities, even — DemocraticStuff.com has buttons. Oh, do they have buttons. “Tree Huggers for Obama.” “Cat Lovers for Obama.” “Emo for Obama.” “Zombies for Obama.” “Closet Rock Fans for Obama,” with a picture of Condi Rice in Kiss makeup. From beekeepers to unicorns. From the unemployed to oil tycoons. From Trekkies to cheerleaders to garden gnomes. You can all be for Barack. Even, inexplicably, “Large Hadron Supercollider for Obama.”
They’re a buck a pop. Except for the single most popular one, which you can customize with your name to declare, “YOU Are One of the Elite, Hard Working, Idealistic, Underpaid, Understaffed, Overly Excited, Absolutely Exhausted, Totally Committed Citizens Working for Obama 2008.” That one is $5. And if you think they can’t possibly fit all that on a teeny, tiny button, think again. Yes, they can.
Andrew Christian’s Obama briefs: www.store.andrewchristian.com.
Ray Noland’s basketball tees: www.GoTellMama.org.
Inktees’ “I Got A Crush On Obama” tees and apron: www.inktees.com.
Erica Easley’s Obama knee socks: www.shopflick.com.
Van Taylor Monroe’s Obama custom sneakers: www.myspace.com/van20.
008 The Movement’s shirts & buttons: www.008themovement.org.
So many buttons! www.democraticstuff.com.