The “Bermuda Established” Hoodies
We know you’ve seen them. In fact, you might just own one.
Dressed down or dressed up, from Front Street to “bakatahn,” the Bermuda Established sweatshirts are a veritable cultural phenomenon.
What was initially brought in as a tourist souvenir has blossomed into a national love affair. From schoolyards to the mainstream, locals of all ages have enthusiastically adopted the colorful clothing originally intended primarily for tourists.
Rap Sets Fashion Trends Again
But the highly popular winter-wear wasn’t an instant best seller. Riihiluoma’s Flying Colors, the souvenir retail shop on Queen Street, had been bringing them in for three years with unremarkable sales.
According to manager Fraser Hunt (and enthusiastically ratified by many pre-teen girls), a number of music videos and a tour by 17- year-old rapper Jelani helped the sweatshirts take off. Jelani was himself inspired by a bright pink version worn by rapper Buzby, guest starring in Jelani’s video “We Made It.” Most teenagers cited issues of design and economy: inexpensive and well fitting, the hoodies are warm, wrinkle-free, wash-and-go wonder-wear. Available in a palette of colors ranging from burgundy and black to bright and neon hues, students say that they’re the perfect solution for long, cold rides on the 50cc or representing home in cold college climates where Bermudians are rare.
Cultural Pride: Bermuda Squad, Troika, and Carifta
While unapologetically style-conscious, some, like 18-year-old Calvon said that the sweatshirt’s popularity could be an example of cultural pride, and “publicizing Bermuda” – which was 17-year-old Michaela’s aim when she wore her sweatshirt to a Carifta Games. Students studying overseas told us that they helped them stand out as a Bermudian. Dance troupe “Bermuda Squad” use the hoodies as their official winter uniform, and performance squad Troika has worn them too. One 23-year-old that didn’t wish to be named said: “I’m patriotic, I love my country. If I go foreign, I’m wearing this.”
But there are nuances. The two variations – “Established 1612” and “Established “1609” – reflect two landmark events in Bermuda’s history. In 1609, a hurricane threw the Sea Venture off course and onto Bermuda’s reefs. Three years later, the founding of St. George’s, creation of a legal system, and construction of a Government house was evidence of a thriving colonization project. For one or two young people, choosing to wear the 1609 version over the 1612 is a quiet statement: one that rejects colonization as Bermuda’s only origin story, and resists aligning their identity with colonialism.
In my photo-essay “Established 1612,” I wanted to know why the shirts had caught on: is it cultural pride or purely fashion? Trend or movement?
Bermuda Culture: Beyond Ships, Cedar, and the 17th Century
I found bigger ideas at play. Countless cultural programs explore identity by focusing on the past, making it easy to overlook the fact that culture is everywhere, every day, now. Heritage is important – the ships, the cedar, the 17th century. But if today is tomorrow’s history, then the present moment is today’s culture. It is the way locals play, converse and create when no one is looking.
While we should continue to promote originality, the “Bermuda Established” trend suggests that cultural leaders should consider appropriation as a valid form of searching for ourselves. All the young people I spoke to confirm that they had never shopped in a “tourist store” before buying a Bermuda Established shirt, and manager Fraser Hunt confirmed that the merchandise has “a big local following like no other item.” We’ve adopted an item intended for outsiders, added our own flair (sweatshirt with Louis Vuitton purse, anyone?) and re-branded it to express our individuality and fierce Bermudian pride.
Call it creative, transformative, or merely resourceful, the trend is a landmark in local culture.