(Corrects name of city manager in penultimate paragraph in story originally published March 27.)
Protests calling for further investigation into the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin a month ago have used a familiar garment as their rallying point: the hoodie.
National Basketball Association star LeBron James and his teammates on the Miami Heat as well as rap artist Sean Combs are among celebrities who’ve joined a social media campaign rallying “A Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin.” More than 300,000 people have posted pictures of themselves in hooded sweatshirts to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, according to organizers. Slogans on the photos include “We are all Trayvon” and “Hoodies Don’t Kill, People with Guns Do.”
Martin, unarmed, black and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, was shot Feb. 26 in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, 28, a Neighborhood Watch member who has claimed self-defense and hasn’t been arrested. Protesters have seized on Zimmerman’s call with a 911 operator, in which he describes Martin’s hoodie and dubs him “real suspicious,” as racial profiling.
Viewing a person as dangerous because they’re in a hooded sweatshirt is akin to being nervous about tinted windshields or dark sunglasses because they make it difficult to identify a person, said Lorraine Howes, a professor emerita at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, where she teaches a course on the history of dress.
“You could put a sinister aspect on anything that conceals,” Howes said. “It’s not necessarily suspicious, it all depends on the aspect that has been put on it.”
Hoodies trace their roots back to monk robes in Medieval Europe, according to fashion historians, and were introduced in the U.S. in the 1930s by Hanesbrands Inc. (HBI:US)’s Champion brand for cold-weather work. The garment has become a modern staple of casual apparel, with most major brands putting their own spin on the hoodie, much as they have with denim or graphic T-shirts. While Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT:US) offers a women’s Hanes fleece zip-up hoodie for $13 online, Juicy Couture Inc. sells a Malibu cashmere hoodie for $358 on its website.
“It’s now one of the more commonplace garments in the wardrobe of the world,” said Daniel James Cole, an adjunct assistant professor of fashion history at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “It’s also typically used for branding -- think of the many hoodies that have the name of the designer or company across the top. Just like jeans, there is a hierarchy expressed in how expensive the garment is.”
Hooded sweatshirts gained popularity within hip-hop culture in the 1980s and 1990s; on his “Ready to Die” album in 1994 the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. wrote: “It don’t make sense, goin’ to heaven wit the goodie-goodies/Dressed in white, I like black Tims and black hoodies.”
The garment’s growing status prompted designers including Tommy Hilfiger to add hoodies to their high-end collections, reaching a larger audience, according to Howes.
“I would date the huge surge to the time that Tommy Hilfiger became popular with both young white youths and black youths,” she said. “The thing that happened with Tommy Hilfiger is that instead of hip-hop clothing being very much in one segment of the population, it became across the culture.”
Hoodies lost that urban association as they transitioned “into more fashionable circumstances and less marginalized ones,” Cole said, as companies such as Gap Inc. (GPS:US), the biggest U.S. apparel chain, started selling the garments. Mark Zuckerberg, the 27-year-old founder of Facebook Inc., frequently sports a trademark outfit of a hoodie and jeans.
Hoodies have been an “important” part of Aeropostale Inc. (ARO:US)’s core products for more than 10 years, making up “a pretty large piece of the business overall,” said Kenneth Ohashi, a spokesman. Teens gravitate toward a garment they can layer with other clothes and easily take on and off, he said.
In late spring of 2005, Russell Corp., the athletic apparel-maker owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (A:US), said that it faced “an unprecedented shift in demand for the hooded sweatshirt in place of the traditional crew neck sweatshirts,” according to a conference call later that year.
The company was unable to keep up with demand, even after retraining employees to make the more complex garments, because “business just exploded,” Robert Koney, the company’s chief financial officer at the time, said on the call.
Last week, Geraldo Rivera, a Fox News commentator, sparked an outcry after saying Martin’s hoodie led to his death. On March 22, Rivera posted to his Twitter account: “Trayvon killed by a jerk w a gun but black & Latino parents have to drill into kids heads: a hoodie is like a sign: shoot or stop & frisk me.”
Rivera, who has about 21,000 followers, subsequently wrote that his own son disagreed with his position and today apologized for any hurt he may have caused Martin’s parents.
The Million Hoodies campaign is seeking to reach 1 million photos of people in hoodies to “show the world we are all Trayvon,” according to its Facebook page, which has attracted 6,187 “likes.” Organizers are asking Twitter, Instagram and Facebook users to post photos of themselves in the sweatshirts with the hashtag “millionhoodies.” The group is fighting for Zimmerman’s arrest.
Zimmerman, who hasn’t spoken publicly and is in hiding because of death threats, told Sanford police that he shot Martin after being punched in the nose and having his head slammed into the sidewalk, said City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. The account from Zimmerman, whose mother is Hispanic and father is white, differs from that of Martin’s family, which says the teen was followed and attacked.
Local officials said the state’s “stand your ground” law, which relieves a citizen of responsibility to retreat when he feels threatened in a public place, and which gives him the right to “meet force with force,” prevented them from making an arrest in the case.
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