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Small but full of pride: pins and badges as uniforms

In the rush of everyday life, most people may refer the act of dressing ‘unconscious’, considering it a routine activity that does not require a high level of attention. Surprisingly enough, the details – and thus  the smallest objects – are the one requiring the biggest effort, since they have the power to become ‘wearable statements’ – which makes them real uniforms.

Lapel pin made for the Stockholm Pride 2008, Courtesy Nordiska Museet

Lapel pin made for the Stockholm Pride 2008, Courtesy Nordiska Museet

This is true for those objects that were created especially to signal some kind of belief, political affiliation, or support to a cause. Badges, pins and insignia have the power to subvert the meaning of a dress, becoming themselves a uniform on their own right; they can convey messages and meanings that a whole attire would represent. Badges rely on the striking visual power of their design to separate who wears them to ’the others’. Within the military – one of the environments in which these kind of objects are more valued – pins and badges are often given as prizes, recognitions of honour and pride. The symbolic value of the badge is enhanced by ceremonies organised precisely around the act of ‘decorating’ a person with a quasi-sacred object. Badges can also offer comfort to those wearing it, because they define, to themselves as well as to the others, what they stand for, and thus serves as sign of belief and ultimately, of identity.

Lapel pin made for the Stockholm Pride 2008, Courtesy Nordiska MuseetLapel pin created for the Stockholm Pride 2008, Courtesy Nordiska Museet

Lapel pin made for the Stockholm Pride 2008, Courtesy Nordiska Museet

Maybe these senses of ‘pride’ and of ‘comfort’, of which badges are usually infused, are what led to the use that the LGBT community has been doing with objects of this sort – be it badges, pins, or other ’symbols-to-wear’. The gay community has depicted its icons – the ones that formed its vocabulary and then its visual identity – on badges and pins that are worn not only by members of the community itself, but also by supporters and, more broadly, by people sharing the values of emancipation, equality and liberty. The most famous symbol is surely the rainbow flag, created in 1978 by the American artist Gilbert Baker as a symbol of diversity, respect and tolerance. This symbol has been translated into pins and other objects, building a common language for an incredibly diverse group of people, coming from different geographies and social classes.

The badges shown in this post were produced and used during the Stockholm Pride in 2008, year in which Stockholm also hosted the Europride Festival, presenting itself as the international capital of freedom and social progress. Nordiska Museet holds a complete documentation of Europride/Stockholm Pride 2008, with interviews, photographs and objects, including articles about the different social services that participated in the Pride celebrations: an amazing project of ‘archiving the present’.

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