04.14.10

Tea Party Fashion

From Revolutionary War chic to tea-bag earrings, Rebecca Dana on what to wear to an anti-Obama protest.

From Revolutionary War chic to tea-bag earrings, Rebecca Dana on what to wear to an anti-Obama protest. Plus, our gallery of Tea Party fashion.

So you’re attending today’s People’s Tax Revolt in Washington, DC, the last stop on the rootin’ tootin’ Tea Party Express. You’ve got your Magic Markers and your poster board, your sagging lawn chair and your school-age children, plus a few dozen American flags in pin and pennant form. But wait: What will you wear?

Click Image Below to View Our Gallery of Tea Party Fashion

Dressing for a reprise of the American Revolution isn’t just about throwing on a pair of denim overalls and a three-cornered hat (although it can be). A movement with so many competing ideologies was bound to develop a complex aesthetic. While the anti-tax brigade can’t be said to have one particular “look,” a few key styles have emerged in the weeks since that big gold coach bus rolled out of Nevada, through “Real America” and on to the dreaded East Coast. The outfit you sport in DC this morning is an important indicator of where you stand.

Pro-gun? Anti-tax? Pro-Palin? Anti-Marx? Dubious about the president’s American citizenship? Say it with fashion!

One popular strain of Tea Party style harks back to the original anti-tax fight against the British. A remarkable number of attendees either seem to own or have rented elaborate Revolutionary War-era getups, complete with brass buttons, stiff shirt-waists, and powdered wigs. This group is comprised primarily of cranks and retirees who look like they’d just as soon be participating in a Civil War reenactment. A “Live Free or Die” flag, preferably hand-stitched, is a must.

Pro-gun? Anti-tax? Pro-Palin? Anti-Marx? Dubious about the president’s American citizenship? Say it with fashion!

Every revolution has its eccentrics, but the Tea Party movement has only eccentrics, which means participants dressed up for the 18th century barely stand out in the crowd. Their allies, the Gun Nuts, are distinguished by their “Pro-Gun” buttons, nylon NRA caps, and the fact that instead of openly carrying a musket, they’re more likely to have a sawed-off hunting rifle tucked into their pants. These pants, by the way, are dad jeans.

Nearby, in the mom jeans and American flag neckerchiefs, are the Hockey Moms, the women for whom Alaska’s most famous half-term governor embodies everything wholesome and Christian left in the world. They’ve taken their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren out of school for a day of protesting the federal tax system that funds those schools in the first place. Perhaps they’ve also taken the time to iron a decal of the would-be Republican vice president’s face onto their and their husband’s matching Hanes sweatshirts.

Palin herself, no stranger to wardrobe malefactions, capped off a string of odd sartorial choices with her appearance at yesterday’s Boston Tea Party. A populist hero who has made $12 million in the last nine months, she opted for a red leather jacket with denim pencil skirt that fell a few inches above the knee. A gleaming bejeweled American flag pin graced one lapel, closer to her throat than her heart.

Of course, what you don’t wear to the Tea Party rally is just as important as what you do. Politicians courting the “NObama” vote almost always dress down, to appear one with their people. Lesser rock stars in the Republican Party have hewed to a much more blue-collar look, favoring jeans and maybe an off-brand polo shirt. But never Palin, nor her sidekick Michele Bachmann, who turned up at a recent Tea Party event in Minnesota wearing in a canary yellow leather jacket virtually identical to Palin’s red one. At the same event, Palin dressed up as Madonna from the Material Girl years, with half a dozen necklaces, including one large crucifix, draped around her neck.

Filling out the anticipated crowd of several thousand will be a rainbow assortment of Obama detractors: the Birthers, the Sociopaths, the Casual Racists, and Those Lacking In Historical Perspective. They’re the ones with the posters featuring Obama with a painted-on Hitler mustache, “Obama bin Lyin” drawn in turban and traditional Arab garb, the “U.S.S.A” signs, the “No Commie $ociali$m” placards, and the caricatures of the president wearing outsize ears and standing, say, in a watermelon grove. Often, they will make use of foreheads and chests as additional slogan platforms, proudly affixing buttons and bumper stickers to any available bodily surface. These are the people who’ve lately been protesting the unemployed and the infirm, on top of—or in place of—the Obama administration, and whose rantings are reportedly making the movement’s leaders “cringe.”

And finally, there will be the regular folks, who turn up today less because of any political convictions than just to catch a good show. The crafty ones might make Lipton tea-bag earrings or festive patriotic embroidered sweaters. Others might simply pack a cooler with Bud Light and Sunny D and haul the family to the Washington Monument to check out the parade of weirdos. If nothing else, it’s supposed to be a beautiful day. Who wouldn’t rather spend it out in the sun than hunkered down inside doing their taxes?

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Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone, and Slate, among other publications.