News & Politics

The Story Behind John Fetterman’s Feisty T-Shirts

How “revolting slob” became a funny tee.

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.

Daniella Byck
Lifestyle Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in 2022. She was previously with Outside Magazine and lives in Northeast DC.