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11.12.08

Swing State Style

The American heartland is influencing more than politics this season as sturdy, no-frills fashions hit the blues states.

The American heartland is influencing more than politics this season as sturdy, no-frills fashions hit the blues states. Is plaid the new black?

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Swing states are having their moment this season—in fashion as well as politics.

Sure, big-gun blue states like California and New York provided a huge chunk of electoral meat to President-elect Obama, but everyone knows that without the crucial wins in the swing states, the history we witnessed last Tuesday night would not have been made.

“While we were celebrating here in New York, we should have raised our glasses to the voters in Virginia and Florida and Ohio because they were the ones who decided to change course, and who decided the election,” wrote Jay McInerney in The Independent the day after the election. “We should feel very glad to have them back. After all, a liberal elite can't run a democracy by itself.”

The election marked a turning point, and a new spirit of unity. Through this profound and deep gesture, the swing states dipped their toes into what it meant to be national tastemakers. So shouldn’t their next contribution to society also be just as culturally relevant? This is an important opportunity for a new nonpartisanship in fashion. Let’s re-draw the lines of the nation’s wardrobe and switch up the color palette!

On Election Day, Americans across the country cast their ballots wearing emblems of practicality: jeans, sneakers, plaid button-down shirts, parkas and hooded sweatshirts. Not the stuff of runway fantasy, but of hard-working American pragmatists.

Nate Harris, a New York transplant who hails from Northeast Ohio, between Akron and Cleveland--the part of the state that won Ohio for Obama—noted that the area’s industrial roots have largely dictated dress. Most people in Akron have ties to the rubber industry: Goodyear, Firestone and Michelin.

“I think people from there have a real no-frills attitude, which is reflected in their style,” says Harris. “I think swing states are places where the metrosexual thing never even registered on guy's radar. And I guess it's pretty predictable given the reactionary nature of fashion trends that a revolt against cosmopolitan style was inevitable.”

Plaid is the comfort food of clothing, the ultimate nonpartisan melding and merging of colors, at once functional and rooted in working class culture.

It’s anti-fashion fashion, emphasizing comfort and economy. These are things that harried urban dwellers could do well to adopt. Elements of Americana have already made a resurgence in fashion. Designer Rogan Gregory, for example, created a collection for next spring inspired by a second-hand jacket and pair of pants he found in Amish country.  “I’m attracted to Amish design because it is utilitarian and the ultimate anti-bling,” explains Gregory to The Daily Beast.

But if we were to pick one symbol for post-election America right now—one thing urban and non-urban dwellers seem to agree on this season--it would be the all-American plaid. Thankfully, fashion designers—always leading the zeitgeist, have adopted plaid now more than ever.

Plaid is the comfort food of clothing, the ultimate nonpartisan melding and merging of colors, at once functional and rooted in working class culture; a convenient, no-nonsense expression of a non-elitist sensibility yet beloved by high fashion. Plaid, a pattern with a history of rugged rebelliousness (see tartan: shrouds for warring Scottish clans and English punks alike), appeals to everyone from my Colorado mountain-raised grandfather to the Urban Outfitters-wearing hipsters down the block.

Plus, says Harris: “When money's tight, it's nice to have clothes that feel strong and sturdy that you could fell a tree in and then go to dinner wearing at Momofuku.”

Whether your preference for plaid tends more towards Sears than Ralph Lauren, this fall produced a wealth of plaid options to choose from. In the gallery: an ode to plaid, both past and present. Time to embrace the fabric of our future lives.

Renata Espinosa is the New York Editor of Fashion Wire Daily. She is also the co-founder of impressionistic fashion and art blog TheNuNu and a sometimes backup dancer for "The Anna Copa Cabanna Show."