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  • Writer's pictureClaudio Fibonacci

Unpacking Patriotism: Styling the American Flag with Sincerity

Can You Wear the American Flag Without Irony?

Can You Wear the American Flag Without Irony?

Over the last nine months, Gen Z trend forecaster Casey Lewis started to notice a centuries-old impulse surging on social media. Not for the first time, people were planting an American flag on new territories—in this case, to be specific, Lewis’s TikTok feed. Perhaps you’ve seen them too: There is the Polo Ralph Lauren flag pullover, retailing for just under $400 (a cashmere version costs $1,490), and a Brandy Melville quasi-roll-neck iteration. Tuckernuck produced a take on Americana that cost $248. Denimist sells one for $365. Fast-fashion options abound. Lewis has seen interest grow in a TikTok Shop dupe that costs $11. Creators started comparing their virtues; over Christmas, scores of them unboxed the ones they’d been gifted.

The Evolution of American Flag Fashion

Once the domain of BBQ kitsch and limited-edition Old Navy merch, American flag fashion has taken on a certain charge in the post-2016 era. What’s trending as nostalgia-tinged Americana on TikTok inspires less enthusiastic engagement in deep-blue enclaves. For progressive-minded voters, visual patriotism has been consigned to the dustbin of if not history then at least the one holding all our old skinny jeans and side parts.

Changing Connotations

The American flag wasn’t always the aesthetic domain of conservatives. In an eerie coincidence, the designer Catherine Maladrino produced a flag shirtdress just before 9/11 that Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Sharon Stone, and Madonna would all go on to wear. It was semi-sheer, but the pattern was no subtle nod. The stripes were several inches wide. The stars were the size of silver dollars. It was the ultimate statement dress and so popular that Malandrino relaunched it to celebrate the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Subversive Fashion Statements

There is a subversive way to wear the flag. In 2019, the designer Telfar Clemens welcomed a thousand people to his Fashion Week presentation. The entrance for all of them was a hole ripped in the middle of a giant American flag. In 2021, Zac Posen dressed Debbie Harry in a tattered flag gown for the Met Gala, the dress’s stripes wrapped around a visible cage skirt. Twice now, the label Vaquera has shown star-spangled dresses.

Looking to the Future

Decades ago, punks and rebels in England seized the Union Jack and turned it into a symbol of revolution. “They coopted it,” Sherman says. “And so when I think of the British flag, I still think of the Sex Pistols and Vivienne Westwood”—not Tories and Conservatives. After November, an American flag print might feel even more verboten than it does now. Or it could take on an iconoclastic kind of significance. “Young people can make it their own,” Sherman says. There’s hope for the old girl yet.

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