Michelle Obama offered a powerful, well-argued indictment of Donald Trump in her keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention last night. She also urged viewers to head to the polls this fall as if their “lives depend on it,” a message reinforced by the simple gold necklace that she wore that had the word “vote” on it.
The $430 necklace, designed by Chari Cuthburt for her brand ByChari, quickly went viral, becoming the top trending search on Google on Monday night. Cuthburt is a Black designer based in Oahu, Hawaii. On her website, she links to causes she supports, including Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, along with information about how to register to vote. She told the Daily Beast that she was thrilled when she heard that Obama’s stylist had picked the necklace for her DNC outfit, and after last night, she has been inundated with orders.
This is the Michelle Obama Effect. Since her earliest days as First Lady, Obama’s fashion choices have made news, which is why she has always worked closely with her stylists to pick outfits that reflect her values. For instance, she has made an effort to pick outfits from designers of color, including Tracy Reese, Maria Pinto, Derek Lam, Prabal Gurung, and now Cuthburt. Obama is a fashion icon, and she knows how to use clothes and accessories to subtly promote her inclusive world view.
But this time, her message wasn’t so subtle. Obama was urging us to do what the necklace says, and actually vote. In her speech, she warned that voting this year is going to be especially difficult and unglamorous, with the pandemic raging and Trump making it harder to vote by mail by actively undermining the USPS. “We’ve got to vote early, in person if we can,” she says. “We’ve got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately, and follow-up to make sure they’re received . . . We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast, too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to.”
Whether any of this influences voters’ behavior remains to be seen. Political scientists have found that “get-out-the-vote” efforts tend to yield modest results, typically increasing turnout by just one or two percentage points. But that’s enough to change the outcome of a close election. Researchers have also found using TV as a platform for mobilizing people has been especially effective among 18- to 24-year old voters. Even more effective, though, is when individuals reach out to friends, family, and neighbors, urging them to vote, data shows. Could the armies of people who snagged their own “Vote” necklace use it to start a conversation with their loved ones? Over the next two months, people will need regular reminders about how vital it is to vote. A fashion statement might be a small way for them to nudge friends to the polls and help reinforce Obama’s message that voting has never mattered more.