Fashion Bytes — Trayvon Martin’s Hoodie

Of all the news being broadcast about the killing of Trayvon Martin last month, the most surprising to me is the focus on the young man’s attire when he died, and the statements by Geraldo Rivera that had he not been wearing a hooded sweatshirt that night, he would probably be alive today. Rivera later apologized for his comments, but even before he made them the protests and support rallies were full of people wearing their own hooded sweatshirts, and Facebook was flooded with pictures of people, including many celebrities, wearing theirs and stating that they were Trayvon Martin.

In a way, this is true. The hooded sweatshirt is a common wardrobe staple for many people around the globe, not just in America. Seeing a large number of people wearing hoodies at a protest rally would not normally have such significance, had Trayvon Martin’s killer not stated that it was the wearing of this garment which had made him “suspicious”. But did it really?

Only a month before the shooting, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled Why Not Wear Pajamas All Day?, which looked at the current trend among America’s teens and tweens to look as though they hadn’t gotten dressed this morningthrough the wearing of pajamas and hoodies. The article, rather hilariously, even defines the hoodie for readers. It also reveals how innocuous and common the garment truly is.

So why has it become the focus of the media and, quite frankly, those campaigning to excuse the actions of an adult man, who was not a law enforcement officer, for killing an unarmed child? Robin Ghivan of The Daily Beast has written the best analysis I have read to date. Last summer Fashion Bytes looked at the clothing of the killer in the Oslo gun attack, who had disguised himself as a police officer to gain trust. In her editorial, Ghivan points out that we all use clothes to create our identity, using the example of baggy pants: she points out that it is their very notoriety which makes them popular among young men “whether honor roll students or delinquents”. But she also points out that due to history, and undercurrents of racism within our society that only on the best of days seem not to exist at all, what a black teenager wears and what a white teenager wears can be interpreted very differently in the eyes of society at large.

The focus on Trayvon Martin’s attire seems to be an intentional steering away from the issues of race and prejudice which should instead be discussed openly in order to possibly find a solution. By focusing on whether or not Martin should or should not have been wearing a hoodie, the commentators can pretend that racial profiling doesn’t exist, and thereby not address how it can be fixed.

Do you agree? Do you agree with Robin Ghivan that the pressure on young men (and women) of colour in America to posture in order to protect themselves is that much greater than the pressure on their white counterparts? What are your thoughts concerning this focus on Martin’s clothing? If Martin had any other racial or cultural background, would we be discussing his clothing at all? Could a focus on clothing help eradicate racial tensions, profiling, and prejudice? If so, how? What other issues do you see arising from the issues surrounding Martin’s murder and the hoodie? Will this change what people wear in any way?

Please share your thoughts.

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1 Comment

  • Monica April 03, 2012 05.03 pm

    I’ve done a decent amount of research on basically this subject, relating apparel to criminal behavior, as it was the topic of some of my Master’s research. I plan to return to this work after I’m done with my current book. If anyone has comments on this I’d love to hear them, as it is a passion subject of mine. I think one of my fav journal articles on a similar theme is that of Jennifer Paff Ogle and colleagues at CSU who wrote on Columbine and the black trench coats that were vilified after the school shootings.


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