On this Independence Day, with the presidential elections looming and the Olympic games starting in Atlanta, Americans are wearing their pride on their shirt sleeves, not to mention their ball caps, bikinis and boxer shorts.
The spirit of '96 has caused a wave of star-spangled clothing and accessories. Old Glory is everywhere, unfurled across board shorts, T-shirts, ties, jewelry, swimsuits, sweatsuits, hats, jackets and socks. Patriotic motifs and colors adorn everything from the sophisticated to the silly.
Those who have the means can celebrate by sporting something in extremely good taste: one of the Fireworks brooches by Tiffany & Co., which feature showers of diamonds, pink tourmaline and other precious gems (about $10,000 to $50,000 at Tiffany in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa). They can also pledge allegiance to style by donning a bejeweled flag pin made of platinum, rubies, diamonds and sapphires ($46,000).
Sure to attract attention of a different sort is the Lady Liberty T-shirt from World Jungle in Irvine. The shirt graphic features a rather statuesque Statue of Liberty clad in a red and blue bikini.
"She looks like a beauty pageant contestant," says Jack Denny, president of World Jungle. "That's pretty patriotic."
Some of the Americana themes might not be as wholesome as some would like, but they're an improvement over skulls, daggers and snakes--the kind of logos that skaters and surfers, among others, have favored in the past.
Today, many kids are wearing eagles instead of snakes. World Jungle's Spirit of '96 T-shirt has a small chest logo of an eagle, while the Eagle Waves shirt shows an eagle with wings that look like ocean waves (about $17 at Beach Access in South Coast Plaza and Brea Mall).
Some retailers were content to offer just a few items festooned with stars and stripes. Others such as the Limited Inc., a chain of women's clothing stores, introduced an entire line of clothing and accessories with a patriotic motif.
"We started [the promotion] on Flag Day. It's a patriotic year," says Joan Overlock, vice president of marketing for the Limited in Columbus, Ohio.
"There's a consciousness about being an American. With the elections and the Olympics, everyone is more full of pride than they've been in a long time."
Many pieces in the Limited USA Collection 1996 look like they could be the official uniforms of the U.S. Olympic team. There's a red or navy tank swimsuit embroidered with an American flag crest ($44), navy fleece pants with red and white vertical stripes ($44), fleece pullovers with USA embroidered on the front ($59), and red, white and blue bike shirts with bold USA logos ($39).
"Even our shopping bags have the USA flag theme," Overlock says.
While red, white and blue is always a popular combination around the Fourth, this year more Americans than ever are getting into the spirit, she says.
"It's an amazing phenomenon," Overlock says. "I was at a tennis match, and I saw a sea of USA caps. We've never seen it to this degree. It's all over."
One wonders what Betsy Ross would have thought had she seen some of the ways her flag has inspired today's clothing designers and manufacturers.
Structure, the Limited's stores for men, offers polo shirts in color-blocked panels of the stars and stripes that look like they were cut from a vintage flag ($39, at stores throughout Orange County including South Coast Plaza, Mission Viejo Mall and Fashion Island Newport Beach).
Structure even carries patriotic red, white and blue boxer shorts ($21).
Quiksilver, Roxy and Katin are among the Orange County-based surf, skate and sportswear companies whose designers have created flag-inspired fashions for this season.
"Every company has something patriotic out, from the smallest to the largest," says Dana Tunnicliffe, manager of Beach Access in Brea. "We're seeing stars on everything."
Katin, a Newport Beach-based surf and sportswear company, offered what was arguably the flashiest Americana-inspired fashion: shiny royal blue board shorts with red side panels adorned with white stars ($50 at Beach Access).
"We call it the Evel Trunk because it was inspired by Evel Knievel," says Bill Sharp, president of Katin. "We went on a mission to make the most extravagant surf trunk on the planet."
Roxy, Quiksilver's young women's division, offered bike tops with red and blue horizontal stripes ($30 at Beach Access) and baby T-shirts with "Roxy" printed in large star-studded red and blue letters ($19).
Among the other patriotic beach wear on the market: red, white and blue bikinis, volley shorts, visors and flip-flops. Quiksilver designed a Liberty volley short in blue with red, white and blue striping ($32 at Beach Access).
"It's a reflection of the Olympics and pride in our country," Tunnicliffe says. "It's a celebration of Independence Day."