Why Do Politicians Wear Enamel Pins?

Enamel pins have become such a ubiquitous staple of American presidential fashion that, were a sitting American president not to sport one on their lapel, it might be an event unusual enough to make the news.

Enamel pins have been a popular method of adding a small but mighty pop of style to your outfit for decades now. But how did these little fashion accessories become so popular among the presidential set? Discover the meaning behind the presidential pin and congressional pins and how they’re both used to make political statements in this guide.

The Meaning Behind Presidential Flag Pins

The most common type of enamel pin you’ll see on the lapel of a president is an American flag. Sometimes it’s a waving flag with broad, undulating ripples. Other times it’s straight across, with all the stars and stripes in full, glorious view.

Intuitively, it makes sense for presidents to model their patriotism for the populace by rocking our national flag on their outfits. But why a flag pin and not, say, an American flag beanie, red, white & blue shoes, or even a pin bearing our national bird, the bald eagle?

It turns out that the first president to routinely wear an enamel pin bearing the American flag on his lapel was Richard Nixon. His chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, who became infamous for the part he played in the Watergate scandal, saw the actor Robert Redford wearing a flag pin on his lapel in the 1972 film The Candidate, in which he played a scrappy presidential hopeful. Nixon took to sporting the flag lapel in public, and an unspoken tradition was born.

The idea that most presidents and their sartorial advisors seem to have is that wearing the flag pin is a public confirmation of their patriotism. It’s become so customary to sport one that now the reverse logic is also true: if you don’t wear a flag pin on your lapel, you may be seen as un-American.

In 2007, then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama made international headlines for weeks when he ceased to wear a flag pin in his public appearances. His response to questions about the decision was that the pin became so compulsory after the 9/11 attacks and subsequent invasion of Iraq that he wanted to show his patriotism more substantially and meaningfully.

The Meaning Behind Congressional Pins

There’s a whole other tradition behind what kind of lapel pins are worn in one of the other branches of government – Congress. Every year, 435 unique pins are made for the 435 members of the United States House of Representatives.

Individual congress members who regularly wear the pin feel that it comes with several benefits. For one, it helps members of the House quickly identify each other in the crowd. Another reason is that, for many, it fosters a sense of community. The pin says we belong to one community that crosses party lines and transcends the vicious partisan fights that break out along those lines.

Using Pins To Make a Political Statement

Presidential fashion choices are more impactful than you might think. According to research conducted out of Dickinson College in 2020, presidential fashion has the ability to communicate political messages, enhance the political positions of sitting presidents, and help them identify with important constituencies.

Whether you wear a navy suit, a black suit, or make the same “mistake” that, again, Barack Obama made in 2014 when he wore a tan suit (the horror!), each fashion choice, no matter how minuscule, means something.

Even if presidents aren’t consciously sending signals with their clothing, some people will derive meanings from how they’re dressed. Then they just run with that impression as fact, whether or not the president’s words directly contradict it. To that end, most presidentsembrace sartorial messaging because it will happen whether they like it or not.

Enamel pins come in a variety of styles, which means presidents can make a variety of political messages. Lapel pins made headlines this year when several Republican congress members began sporting AR-15 pins on their lapels, a demonstration of their enthusiastic support of the Second Amendment.

Another time lapel pins made the news was when in 2016, the North Carolina Republican Party lambasted Senator Tim Kaine for appearing on stage with an unusual lapel pin. They considered it the Honduran flag, calling it “shameful.” It turned out to be a flag commemorating “blue star families,” with military members. As you can see, lapel pins have the power to launch entire cycles of discourse!


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Other Reasons Politicians May Choose to Wear Enamel Pins

There are also different types of enamel pinsfor different political purposes than showing your patriotism or displaying your belonging to the House.

Presidential Campaign Pins

Presidential candidates can sometimes be seen sporting pins that bear the symbol of their election campaign. It’s a way of raising awareness and rallying supporters around a common symbol.

Commemorative Pins

Other times politicians wear pins commemorating positive changes, they helped usher in, like clean energy reform. Other times, commemorative pins honor victims of national tragedies, like the September 11 attacks.

Other Types of Political Statements

Another reason politicians might wear lapel pins that don’t bear an image of the American flag is to make other kinds of political statements. There are the aforementioned Second Amendment-supporting pins, and another example are pins that read in bold letters VOTE, to encourage Americans to go out and do their civic duty.

Final Thoughts

Enamel pins have a rich and fascinating political history, but you don’t have to be a politician to wear one. Shop The/Studio for custom enamel pins that can bear any message, symbol, or image that you choose. Show off your political convictions, or spread love and joy with a big, rosy heart pin. Whatever you can imagine, The/Studio can manufacture!


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