What not to wear: Do you know what you're advertising?

Is it too much to expect of people to at least have a minimal understanding of the meaning behind what they’re advertising on their chest, head, or backpack?

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What you wear can speak volumes
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Emily Schrader
On 2 October 2012 10:38

Style is a simple way of saying complicated things,” said early 20th century author, poet, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau.

And he was right. Fashion is an opportunity to express something about who we are, and at times, what we stand for. From wearing symbolic armbands and jewelry, to wearing a U.S. Marine uniform, what we wear has always mattered.

So what does what we wear say about us? For many today, it says that we’re complete morons. While the vast majority of images or symbols we don today are meaningless, harmless, or even positive, our ignorance about certain others with much deeper meanings and bloody histories is alarming.

Stores like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters are known for their “trendy” graphic T-shirts, but most people don’t know what the images or words on them represent. One of the more popular images on shirts, hats, and book bags has been that of Che Guevara, the Communist mass-murderer.

Guevara is often championed as a freedom fighter for his battles against the Batista regime alongside Fidel Castro, but in reality, he was a murderous tyrant who enjoyed killing anyone who disagreed with him, by firing squad, against his “wall.”

Guevara said it himself: “A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the The Wall!” Do the people wearing these shirts, or hats, or wallets sporting Che Guevara’s iconic face even know who he was? Would they wear shirts emblazoned with Adolf Hitler’s image? But Guevara is far from the only politically charged fashion trend today.

Clothing companies, much like Hollywood celebrities, apparently now think it’s their duty to push a political agenda onto their customers. American Apparel, a company based out of Los Angeles, launched a campaign in 2008 with shirts, underwear, jackets, and anything else you can imagine called “Legalize LA,” in an effort to push amnesty for all illegal immigrants. They also created a “Legalize Gay” (because it’s illegal to be gay?) campaign to push for marriage equality. 

Although these inaccurate slogans are hardly subtle, many people still aren’t aware of the subtext involved – they simply see something marketed as “cool” so they buy it. This is hardly a new social phenomenon. We saw this back in 2008 with young Americans and the infamous Barack Obama “Hope” logo.

Though not as popular as they were a few years ago, keffiyehs are still quite hip among young westerners and Europeans who are blissfully unaware of what they represent.

The keffiyeh was first worn as a political symbol by Yasser Arafat and his cronies in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is notorious for supporting, aiding, and conducting terrorism while simultaneously claiming they are serious about “peace” with Israel. It has since become a symbol of “resistance” that is inextricably intertwined with the despicable acts of terrorism the Palestinians have committed against Israelis.

Anti-Israel activists further popularized the trend, and a few years ago, Urban Outfitters actually sold “anti-war woven scarves” on their website. My mind is not capable of the mental gymnastics required to classify suicide bombers as “anti-war,” but clearly Urban Outfitters is way cool, so who cares?

Now for one of the most internationally recognized symbols: the peace sign. Who could possibly take issue with a peace sign, right? It seems like it’s been on every possible product created since the 1960s and still hasn’t faded in popularity – but what does it really mean? 

The symbol represents a combination of the naval semaphore code for N and D (nuclear disarmament) with a circle around it meaning total nuclear disarmament (though the alleged creator later stated it was also meant to be a human in despair with arms outstretched downwards). Gerard Holtom of the extremist Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War popularized the symbol in the late 1950s. It was quickly picked up by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which has always been operated by those on the extreme left.

So far left, in fact, that, as Claire Berlinski writes, according to the Soviet archives, “this organization received ‘unidentified income’ from the Soviet Union in the 1980s.” The organization to this day works side by side with organizations such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Bertrand Russell’s Al Awda – a virulently anti-Israel organization which openly defends terrorism and has worked with Hamas and Hezbollah. To claim that this symbol is not politicized would be foolish at best.

There are plenty of other examples of trends with relatively unknown or commonly misunderstood meanings. Wearing plaid used to be a symbol of resistance against the government beginning with Scottish warrior clans dating back to 1746, and has repeatedly been used as such off and on since then. We probably wouldn’t think twice about wearing plaid today, of course.

Music bands and household product logos from the 1970s and 80s are other frequently-used T-shirt decorations, with meanings that vary depending on the band or product in question. Obviously, Christian and Jewish symbols, especially the Hamsa and Christian cross, are all over popular clothing and jewelry.

However, most people understand the meanings behind those symbols. And while it would be absurd to expect everyone to do extensive research on each and every fashion trend they like, is it too much to expect of people to at least have a minimal understanding of the meaning behind what they’re advertising on their chest, head, or backpack?

Emily Schrader is a researcher for a pro-Israel education organisation and a blogger at www.danareport.com

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