Last Friday the Internet was filled with articles, comments, and tweets promoting the wearing of safety pins to show solidarity with minority groups who feel unsafe in wake of the election. As a Vox article described, the idea of using a safety pin as a symbol began in the U.K. after the Brexit results (another vote with a heavy anti-immigrant tone), with one of the founders tweeting: “I quite like the idea of just putting a safety pin, empty of anything else, on your coat. A literal SAFETY pin!” It sounds like a humble choice, but the safety pin is already imbued with meaning in fashion.
It is most famously a key feature of punk style, both adorning clothes and holding them together, an icon appearing on artwork and album covers. There are many elements of punk style, but the safety pin seems to be the symbol most readily linked to the subculture. When writing about the importance of rebellious fashion in punk, sociologist Dick Hebdige (who literally wrote the book on subcultures and style) noted that “safety pins were taken out of their [original] domestic ‘utility’ context and worn as gruesome ornaments through the cheek, ear, or lip.” For a culture based on disrupting the status quo, the establishment, and promoting individuality, their choice of household object was the ultimate appropriation, directly subverting what they were rallying against.