Enamel pin craze captures the desire for self-expression, style

Azriel Peckham loves boba tea so she often wears a tribute to her favorite drink.

She sports the small pink enamel boba tea pin on the collar of her denim jacket next to a gold peach pin or puts it on her backpack in the company of a purple seashell pin.

“If (a pin) makes me think of something I love, I’ll get it,” said Peckham, who works at Paper Kite in Lincoln.

She bought the seashell enamel pin because “The Little Mermaid” is her favorite movie. The peach became part of her small but growing collection when she saw a friend wearing it. But the boba tea pin is her proudest purchase.

Peckham is one of many swooning over enamel pins. The hashtag #pinstagram on Instagram is tied to more than 58,000 posts and counting. Vice says enamel pins are taking the Internet by storm and Buzzfeed put them at the top of its quirky gift lists. Ranging from crass words in cursive to Coke bottle vases, enamel pins are miniature works of art, tributes to self-expression and the rise to success of independent artists.

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Angie Remington, a “shop gal” at Hello Holiday in Omaha, works next to a wall full of pins for sale. She expresses herself with two pinned to the corner of her bag.

“They’re a modern-day charm bracelet,” Remington said.

The boutique sells a variety of pins, three times as much as anything else in their store, ranging from political statements to cheeky manicured middle fingers The designs mostly have feminist undertones and a majority of brands that Hello Holiday carries — Stay Home Club, Rosehound Apparel and Big Bud Press — were started by women.

Remington’s latest addition to her bag is a silver flag pin with the message, “Votes for Women.” Her personal favorites, though, are the food pins. Remington said she loves the absurdity of loving a food item, like nachos, so much that she’d be inclined to wear it on a pin.

For others though, pins are an outlet for any kind of passion. Musician Anderson Paak designed pins before his almost immediate rise to fame. Another musician, Theophilus London, collaborated with Pintrill, a Brooklyn-based pin company, to make Michael Jackson pins. Rosehound Apparel designed a “young Leonardo DiCaprio” pin that’s become the face of the label. Designs vary from politics to pop culture references to goofy designs like Remington’s miniature nachos. There’s so much variety that anyone can find a little piece of themselves in a pin.

“We have a generation that can be so much more expressive about who they are,” Remington said.

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For Gabriella Martinez-Garro though, pins serve as a passport of sorts. She started collecting them to document her travels.

“I have pins from around the world but I keep those in a collection at home and don’t wear them out,” said Martinez-Garro, senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The ones she does wear reflect little pieces of her personality, she said.

She has a “Mrs. Doubtfire” pin — a gift from her roommate — a Tuesday Bassen winking girl pin, a Father John Misty “Honeybear” pin she got at his concert, an Illana from “Broad City” pin and a black and gold “Awful” pin.

But before emoji and food pins, there were pop culture references of another kind. Pins gained  popularity during the 60s and 70s when they  signified proud association with the Soviet Communist party. Later, the American flag pin became popular as a wave of patriotism overtook the nation after 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Although the subjects of modern designs might not be as heavy or somber, the pins still carry political weight. In the midst of a heated election season, people can use pins to express their political views. Right after Kanye’s announcement for presidency, Pintrill, one of the front-runners of the pin craze, released a “Yeezus for president” pin. Donald Trump was depicted as a pile of poop with a wig in a sold-out design.

But not all pins are serious. A majority are tongue-in-cheek, with heavy references to pop-culture.

Hello Holiday’s Remington describes them as moments frozen in time.

“You can buy (pins) and keep them and then pass on your vintage (pin) collection to your kids or grandkids,” she said.

She also loves enamel pins for their ability to transcend generations. Remington said she has seen mothers come in with their elementary-age daughters. She sells pins to middle schoolers and college students.

People identify with the pins, she said.

“It’s something you want the world to know about you.”

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