For the believers and nonbelievers, supporters and opponents, riffs on President Trump's cherry-red "Make America Great Again" hat will undoubtedly go down as one of the fastest trends to ever catch on in fashion. From the runways (see: Public School's "Make America New York" and Marc Jacobs’ "Make America Marc Again"), to social media (i.e. "Make American Vogue Great Again"), and advocacy groups (the Human Rights Campaign’s "Make America Gay Again"), to even New York mayor Bill de Blasio — who in 2015, slyly co-opted the slogan to jokingly promote his proposed amendments to Trump's tax plan that seemingly benefits the wealthy, it was the four-letter sentence heard around the world. "Now that we’re promoting a progressive agenda with a hat, let’s see where it goes," de Blasio quipped in an interview with CNN. And now, it’s back.
On Tuesday, a 27-year-old former U.S. Army lieutenant-turned-designer and founder of New York-based label Wood House brought the aforementioned topper back to the runway this season — only this time, inscribed with a more personal message. "Making Menswear Great Again (But Really Tho)" it read. According to the brand's Instagram, the message is long overdue: "Menswear and the development of it is our first priority," the post said. And, despite some who claimed the hat to be normalizing Trump's divisive agenda, its fans couldn't agree more.
In a statement to The Cut, designer Julian Woodhouse explained why he decided to make his own MAGA hat: "I want to make menswear great again because I remember a time when getting dressed in something unique, as a guy, was more celebrated. Menswear has the potential to be just as robust as womenswear and because I don’t yet see that level of freedom for menswear within the industry, I am trying to make it happen as best I can." He continued: "Whether you support the guy or not is immaterial; when you read his hat you know exactly what he thinks he is doing. I know who the Wood House audience is and I know how they regard the president. Ripping on the president’s hat is a risky thing that I wanted to do confidently and with no regrets."
Of course, we understand what he’s getting at here — and pardon any schoolmarming — but, when the country is practically on the brink of social and political homicide, doesn’t the state of menswear seem like a wound that can heal itself? It's practically impossible to disassociate a MAGA hat — including those trendy, customized versions — with its reputation. With a travel ban in effect, evidence of collusion with Russia unfolding, and the healthcare of millions of Americans in limbo, the hat has become a symbol of pride and prejudice. Those who wear it couldn't be prouder to espouse the values it implicates, and equally, they're weary of those who don't.
From as far back as 1980, when Ronald Reagan first coined the phrase during his own race, the idea that America needs to be "made great" has long resonated with voters who believe it's been broken. And it's a message that, most certainly, hasn't been lost on the man it helped become President. As he does with most of his ideas (and, in this case, one that wasn't technically his to begin with, despite what he'll probably tell you), Donald Trump filed to patent the phrase in 2012. In 2015, when he announced his plans to run for office in a lengthy, 45-minute speech that simultaneously declared the American Dream to be dead, he made it his own. "So, ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for President of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again," he shouted. And the rest is quite literally history.
But where Mayor de Blasio once took advantage of the soundbite, along with the designers who tried to appropriate it themselves, we can't figure out why people whose values don't align with the current administration continue to associate themselves with it in any way. At this point, the joke feels, well, old. When it comes to touting our beliefs on our sleeve — and the idea that fashion can fight back — we're past the point of a side-eye. In fact, designers are best to think twice when it comes to co-opting the phrase for personal use, in order to avoid the possibility of denigrating the genuine effort and progress the industry has made in distancing itself from Trump the brand, and Trump the President.
This may come as a surprise to those who've long regarded the industry as an exclusive, invite-only club that purports to stand for progressive values — yet is willing to sacrifice its morals for the sake of being provocative (see: a lack of diversity on the runways, tone-deaf editorials, slave labor-like conditions for factory workers) — but the melding of politics and fashion has brought about a fresh start for the industry. And whether you’re on the “inside” or “outside” no longer matters; price tags aside, the fashion industry has become a place for everyone. We've grown to be more inclusive, alert, and painstakingly woke. And it shows.
In recent seasons, designers including Prabal Gurung, Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior, and Carol Lim and Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony and Kenzo (among many others) have added their voices to the fight not just with T-shirts decorated in slogans like "We Are All Feminists," "Resist," and "The Future Is Female" — but with full-blown, forward-looking collections that went beyond its claims of empty, capitalist feminism, and most importantly, a marketing gimmick. The CFDA joined the conversation, too, handing out pink Planned Parenthood pins to be worn during New York Fashion Week (this week, it continued the initiative at the mens shows). And, in some cases, proceeds of the aforementioned politically-charged products were actually donated to recently-defunded government organizations — meaning these brands were, quite literally, putting their money where their mouth is.
So, after everything that's been done (and sadly, undone) by this administration thus far, it's worth asking: What’s next? As exhibited by the aforementioned attempts, we still can't be sure. But, one thing is certain: The answer isn't found on a T-shirt or a hat, and it can't be compounded into a slogan. The reputation of a country, and more importantly, the lives of the people who inhabit it, are at stake, and the play on words has backfired, turning the act of those who sport it into a play of oneself. Lest we forget that when menswear is concerned, good deeds go undone when we try to profit from a sector of the industry that has been steadily reinventing itself for decades, especially when real life has become, in a way, too real.
And hey, this may be taking things too seriously. But after all that’s happened thus far — wouldn’t you agree that things are getting pretty serious?