Patriotic duty

Sunday, November 4, 2001

Stars and stripes are chic fashion looks. Red, white and blue is now the must-wear color combination.

These familiar -- and clearly patriotic -- styles are a far cry from the grommet-covered belts and leather jodhpurs that were touted as the season's hottest styles before Sept. 11.

But from the fund-raising flag T-shirts to beaded flag-emblazoned gowns, designers and retailers are using Americana clothes to comfort and court customers in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

"On Fifth Avenue (in New York City), every second person is wearing red, white and blue. It's a way to show solidarity and respect for the victims who died and survived," says Brian Rennie, the head designer for Escada.

Just as many people in Southeast Missouri are wearing red, white and blue. Mary Ann Mayfield of Jackson, Mo., said her wardrobe has included more red, white and blue combinations though she didn't make any special purchases of Americana clothing. Her office workers at Cape Care for Women try to don the patriotic clothing at least once a week.

And people who aren't making conscious efforts to wear patriotic items are displaying flags and other symbols on vehicles and in their homes.

Symbol for the world

About every third car in parking lots at discount stores, restaurants and churches has a "United we stand" bumper sticker, American flag strapped to an antenna or a magnet on a trunk or door.

Smaller items, like the flags or window stickers, have been selling more rapidly than clothing at the Target store in Cape Girardeau, said manager Rick Done.

"We've had some movement on clothes but they're not blowing out of here," he said. One display rack in the women's department holds a variety of T-shirts and blue jeans with Americana detailing.

From a style standpoint, the American flag is a versatile starting point for inspiration. It can be interpreted as a tailored pinstripe suit with a subtle flag-print jacquard blouse or it can be a bold beaded gown, designers explain.

From Britain to Japan, customers are clamoring for the Stars and Stripes.

"What's nice is that people are seeing the flag not only as a symbol of America but a symbol of the whole world," Rennie said.

Tommy Hilfiger is probably the best-known designer for incorporating America's symbols into his designs. Flags, stars and stripes in the nation's colors are constants in Hilfiger's men's, women's, kids' and home collections. He has always done it -- and will continue to do it, says spokeswoman Caren Bell.

"The flag is part of our heritage; it's part of Tommy's heritage. Tommy grew up in a small upstate New York town and a lot of his influences growing up were real Americana," explains Bell.

Old Navy brought back its signature Fourth of July flag T-shirt, but this time in a limited run without the logo. "We did not think it was appropriate to brand these shirts. The flag alone said it all," Jonathan Finn, director of public relations and promotions.

All the proceeds from the $5 shirt are being donated to the United Way's Sept. 11 Fund and the N.Y. Community Trust.

Famous-Barr stores have set aside several display areas for Americana clothing and jewelry. People who knew the store carried some items came back asking specifically for them after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Sharon Ebersohl, store manager in Cape Girardeau.

Still in demand

The store has been selling a mix of items from neckties to jewelry pieces with the American flag. Even some items for winter, like scarves and gloves, come in red, white and blue.

JCPenney also has been selling out of its patriotic clothing since September, said manager Gary McDowell.

There are clothing items with patriotic emblems in every department, McDowell said.

"We've got anything you can think of that says USA or is patriotic,"he said.

Federated Department Stores, which includes Macy's and Bloomingdales, recently announced plans to deepen its stock of Americana merchandise.

"Our customers have been asking for more patriotic merchandise, and we are responding in as genuine a way as possible by purchasing larger quantities of patriotic-themed products, primarily from domestic suppliers," says a company statement.

Features editor Laura Johnston contributed to this report.

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