Senator John Fetterman is associated with hoodies, but lately his team has been putting a lot of thought into a different kind of clothing: the sassy T-shirt. After the Senate passed a dress code–a move inspired by Fetterman’s attire–his campaign started selling self-mocking shirts featuring jabs that had been lobbed at the lawmaker, from “disgraceful” (Marjorie Taylor Greene) to “revolting slob” (Monica Crowley). They also debuted a shirt emblazoned with “John Fetterman’s Body Double,” a reference to claims that an actor had been filling in for him.
The shirts–which were big sellers and got a lot of social-media attention–are the kind of sly response that Fetterman’s team has become known for. And the senator himself is in on it. When a campaign consultant mentioned the idea of a shirt with some critiques, he insisted any merch include “revolting slob.” “He had some stored away in his head,” says Michael Mikail, a consultant on the Fetterman campaign. “From his perspective, it was like, ‘The worse, the better.’ ”
The tees are part of a genre of apparel that reclaims disparaging statements–think nasty woman buttons. The tactic starts a conversation, but it serves a deeper purpose, says Michelle Howell, who helps run the Outrage, an activist retailer. “If it captures a hurdle that a group or community has experienced, people will show up to support that.”
This article appears in the November 2023 issue of Washingtonian.