Hunter orange is not a popular wardrobe choice on the streets of New York City, where Yankee caps and business suits and the photo shoot-ready trendy set predominate, so I haven’t geared up in the solid-colored garb in the decade and a half that I’ve lived here. But growing up in Michigan, I wore it all the time. It was warm. It was functional. And everyone else was doing the same thing: you’d see it dotting the stands at high school football games and on people gassing up their F-150s and in diners filling the booths at Railside Restaurant on the town’s main street.
And besides, it was a habit formed of necessity – the last two weeks of November were rifle season, and anyone venturing into the woods with a six-digit deer tag safety-pinned to their back (which seemed to be approximately 100 percent of the village of Sanford’s population; the day was so anticipated that Nov. 15 was a public school holiday), was required by law to wear some piece of hunter orange on his or her upper body.
This seemed to me an entirely sensible regulation, since the public lands where we frequently hunted could grow alarmingly crowded with armed civilians anxious to stock their freezers with venison. Thus, my almost-neon insulated hand-me-down hoodie that was four sizes too large was the equivalent of a raised white flag on a battlefield, an unambiguous reminder trumpeting to my fellow outdoorsman, “HELLO. HUMAN PASSING THROUGH. I AM DEFINITELY NOT THE 10-POINT YOU HAVE BEEN DAYDREAMING ABOUT WHILE FREEZING HALF TO DEATH FOR THE LAST NINE HOURS. PLEASE REFRAIN FROM SHOOTING ME.” As far as return on investment goes, throwing on a piece of hunter orange before heading into a forest full of loaded guns was pretty high impact with little upfront cost.
But do you know where you should never have to wear hunter orange to protect yourself from gunfire? The streets of Chicago, where 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot in the back and killed on Jan. 29, 2013 while standing in a park with her friends. The gang members arrested for her murder claimed that they had confused Hadiya and her companions for rivals.
In a city where a breathtaking 69 people were shot in just three days over the recent Memorial Day Weekend, it would be easy to assume that the population is so numbed by constant gunfire that even the death of a 15-year-old who had just marched in President Obama’s second inauguration parade would not move them. But that would be wrong.
On June 2 of last year, the day that would have been the girl’s 15th birthday, her friends pledged to wear orange. It was a powerful symbolic choice, at once expressing the desire for safety from violence that hunter orange projects and underscoring the tragic reality of having to dress in protective clothing for a neighborhood stroll through the third largest city in the United States.
They got plenty of attention, and plenty of company. MTV helped spread the message. And so did the New York Mets, Cosmopolitan, Motown Records, and so-called influencers from President Obama to Russell Simmons to Katie Couric. The group estimates that the #WearOrange message reached 220 million people altogether.
— Col. Morris Davis (@ColMorrisDavis) June 2, 2015
This year, they’re going bigger. Hundreds of partners have joined the Wear Orange organization’s call to wear orange to support an end to gun violence on what is being called National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Viacom is all in on this. Our Paramount film studio is lighting the iconic water tower on its Hollywood lot orange for the evening. EPIX has been running the PSA below alongside its frequent airings of Under the Gun, Katie Couric’s bold exploration of the nation’s intransigent gun-rights debate. TV Land, Spike, Comedy Central, Logo, VH1, MTV and BET will also air the spot, accompanied by social media barrages and a dying of their on-air logo orange.
You’ll see more coverage on MTV, BET and VH1, which will support the campaign during its airing of Behind the Movie: Barbershop.
So even though I haven’t rambled into the frozen woods during deer season in a good two decades, I’ll be breaking out the hunter orange this week. It will be a little throwback Thursday for me. I think all my gear is in the back of a closet in Michigan, but I won’t have to voyage there for a recovery mission, since I already acquired this cool T-shirt:
Need your own gear? Buy some now – it may be too late for it to arrive by June 2, but you can get some good ideas there. And here’s a bit more of the story behind Wear Orange: