Why I Won’t Wear Pride Merch Today
Photo: Sarabel González / EyeEm/Getty Images/EyeEm
Who could forget this attack on our community: a two-piece rainbow print suit…with shorts…and a matching rainbow print tie? I shiver at the mere memory.
“Ugly as sin,” wrote podcast creator Chris Stedman Unreadin a viral tweet.
Sometimes the biggest attacks on the LGBTQ+ community come not from our oppressors, but from those with the best intentions – or seemingly. Of course, I’m talking about the Pride merchandise often created by well-meaning corporations trying to capitalize on queer liberation. Each year, from the end of May, brands begin to roll out the Pride collections. They’re often maximalist, usually a derivative of the rainbow, and pretty much always an eyesore.
You’d think they’d have learned from years past, but this year alone there was: Adidas’ Pride collection, which looks like Dipsy from Teletubbies meets Machine Gun Kelly; a Calvin Klein sweatshirt that looks like a Rorschach test; and Balenciaga’s extremely long t-shirts. (It also goes beyond clothes – who could forget the LGBT Sandwich of 2019the bisexual sofa of 2021 or the soap “Gay Is OK” of 2022?)
There’s this rainbow zebra print Peloton hoodie, which, to quote Michael Kors on Project track“If you want guys to leave you alone at the gym, wear this look.” Guess’ #MomentOfPride capsule? Borrowing a turn of phrase from Annie in The parent trap: “You scared me.” The Converse Pride collection? As Erin Brockovich once proclaimed, “That’s all you got, lady: two fake feet and some ugly fucking shoes.” Edie Parker’s Slim Flavia clutch emblazoned with the words “Say Gay,” retailing for $995? As Emily tells Nigel when he asks who Andy is at the start of The devil wears Prada“I can’t even talk about it.” Hervé Léger’s Pride 2022 rainbow mini dress? In fact, this one can stay!
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images
“I mean the design here was lacking,” TikToker Connor Clary said in his viral review of Walmart’s Pride 2022 collection, which includes a gray T-shirt with a rainbow and the fictional term “LESBOW” in it. below. “But honestly, it would probably be worse if they put effort into it.”
What Walmart does is “rainbow-washing”: when a company shows public support for the LGBTQ+ community without any tangible benefits for gay people, or while privately engaging in efforts to dismantle our rights. (Remember, that same company donated tens of thousands of dollars to Arkansas lawmakers who helped pass a bill banning gender-affirming health care for minors.) It’s an act insidious for all the obvious reasons, but what these marks pass is also concerning. as a commodity worthy of being consumed by anyone.
“It’s the ‘Hi Gay’ of corporate capitalism for our community,” says Kingsley Gbadegesin, whose label K.NGSLEY offers beautifully made cut-out unisex designs and culturally relevant jewelry such as PrEP earrings. “Pride Merch is exactly what it is… merch. It’s sad.” Does sticking a rainbow on something automatically make it Pride merch? Where’s the creativity? Where’s the intent?
Making them impervious to criticism, these collections are often deployed with very specific messages about a percentage of profits going to an LGBTQ+ charity. H&M, for example, will make matching donations to the Trevor Project, up to $150,000. It also provides “ongoing support” (details of what this means are unclear) to groups such as the Ali Forney Center and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Dockers “continues its longstanding partnership with the Stonewall Community Foundation.” J.Crew donates to PFLAG (amount not specified). Hollister donates $250,000 to GLSEN. That’s fine (although they’re usually the best-known and, therefore, best-funded organizations), but one fact remains: the clothing lines themselves tend to be tasteless.
So what’s the problem? “I think it starts at the flag. Let’s be honest, it’s cheesy… so anything created from it ends up being cheesy too,” celebrity stylist Ian Bradley wrote via email. “But sticky can be fun, and essentially a tasteful/integrative rebellion, which Pride is all about. We can be tasteful all year round, but think it’s fun to embrace the awful Pride merch.
Personally, I have never purchased Pride merchandise. I have never looked at a single article with the thought bubble, I need to own this. For me, this begs the question: Do we really need Pride merchandising? Of course, some people might like to wear their sexuality on their sleeve. But I would instead advocate raising awareness and selling gay-owned and gay-operated designers and retailers. After all, “brands that cater to their community don’t need to call anything Pride merch,” says Gbadegesin, noting his own brand, as well as contemporaries like Patrick Church and LEAK NYC. There is also Luar, Telfar, Willie Norris and many others.
“It’s shamelessly queer and something you go Actually see the girls in that pride and beyond,” says Gbadegesin. Bloop!