The Genteel
February 24, 2021


Shoppers in Macy's at last year's Black Friday. Source:

Before you even step into a department store or boutique, decisions have been made. As you walk down the aisles, glossy posters announce campaigns and products are strategically arranged to attract your attention. Every garment or label stands a chance to earn your support, and after strolling past an array of tagged political statements, gauging various racks and displays, you find a match. Before you know it, you're standing in line, ready to offer your ballot in cash or credit.

Macy's is reportedly the preferred shopping
destination of Democrats. Source:

While the holiday shopping season represents a different election of sorts, your party allegiance still matters. According to a recent study released by consumer research firm. Experian Simmons, political bias has plenty to do with the type of labels and retailers consumers support. 

Like age or gender, the political agenda you are privy to as a voter affects how you interpret a label's branding efforts. And merchandisers are catching on. In an article for the Wall Street Journal's Political Counts blog, columnist Dante Chinni explained, "The socio-economic targeting and demographic slicing that are all the rage now in Washington actually have their roots in consumer marketing. As the commercial niche-ing practices have grown (and grown better), the red/blue divide has become another way for retailers to better understand where to place their ads and their stores."

The data gathered by Experian Simmons reflected both lifestyle and fashion retailers, scoring how likely a Democrat or Republican would shop at them. Researchers also took into account shoppers who identified themselves as independents or "other." Even for stores that cater to a broad demographic base, like Macy's, a clear split is evident. Democrats are more likely to head to Bloomingdales, while Republicans are 25 percent less likely to visit that store. Alternatively, Republicans are more likely to shop at Old Navy, J. Crew and Belk. GOP consumers, perhaps [Burberry's] storyline is one reminiscent of an old order, subliminal establishment rules they do not have to adhere to. Or it could just be a mass aversion to trench coats?

Geography plays a key role in how political leanings translate into brand loyalty. The retail stores available in red states are not always the same as in major cities, which traditionally have a strong Democratic base. For fashion labels, where it sets up shop can either enhance or diminish brand value; whether on Main Street or 5th Avenue, retailers are always looking to stay in sync with their target market.  

Charles Mahtesian, Politico's national politics editor, points out, "Belk's 303 stores, for example, are located in 16 Southern states. And Burberry stores are largely located in big cities and amid other high-end retail." Which explains why (according to the study) Republicans are 31 percent less likely to shop at Burberry. The irony, of course, is that the British fashion house is the same company that once outfitted explorers and military officers like Lord Kitchener - individuals who represented the very antithesis of a free republic. Steeped in tradition, Burberry is the flag-bearer of all things British, and to GOP consumers, perhaps the brand's storyline is one reminiscent of an old order, subliminal establishment rules they do not have to adhere to. Or it could just be a mass aversion to trench coats?

Ralph Lauren seems to found common ground between both party affiliates - the same number of Democrats and Republicans have an affinity for the brand's polo shirts and flannel dresses. The unifying factor might have something to do with the carefree American idealism Ralph Lauren has sought to represent - something that both groups can identify with. 

While choice may be limited by locality, the desire to access certain brands is also clearly tied to inherent beliefs about the economy. A similar study published by marketing-insight firm Buyology, correlated political leanings to the neurological reactions of 4,000 participants. The CEO of the firm, Gary Singer, told CNN Money, "At a deep level, there's a philosophical difference between Republicans and Democrats. What Democrats are looking for is a central body to help make the world we live in a little better, and what Republicans are advocating is more laissez-faire, local, let the people work it out."

First Lady Michelle Obama's repeat fashion choices
reflect the current economic climate.

With talks of a fiscal cliff, and warning signs of an incoming voluntary recession, holiday shoppers from both parties are looking to get the biggest bang for their buck. And perhaps that means spending more money on higher-quality items, but buying less overall. Harry Slatkin, CEO of luxury brand Belstaff told WWD, "What's really different about Christmas this year is that it's less about putting a list of 10 Christmas gift items together and putting those surprises under the Christmas tree... men and women, wives and their husbands, are coming in knowing what they really want. They want to buy something that they will really love. Something that's pertinent."

This year, Christmas falls on a Tuesday, which means consumers have more time to shop - an full weekend to be exact. And while the calendar may be beneficial to shoppers, retailers are finding it difficult to drive lackluster sales, and create a sense of urgency. The National Retail Federation estimates holiday sales for November and December will increase 4.1 percent to US$586.1 billion, compared with a 5.6 per cent increase in 2011. 

The political lens an individual uses to view the economy directly affects overall consumer confidence. And since more than two-thirds of the American economy is made up of consumer spending, fashion dictates how the busiest sales season of the year will impact overall economic growth. First Lady Michelle Obama's repeat closet pick of a purple Michael Kors silk dress during the night of her husband's victory speech, perhaps best reflects the state of play - red or blue, frugality is in vogue. 



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