The Confederate battle flag is rapidly moving into museums where it belongs, thanks to a long-overdue groundswell of public outrage in the wake of the Charleston shootings.
But while legislators (and Bree Newsome) are removing it from flagpoles and retailers are pulling Confederate flag-themed merchandise off store shelves, there’s one defiant remnant to this lurid chapter of American history: the Confederate flag bikini.
Yes, you can still buy this redneck fashion staple through online shops that specialize in Southern paraphernalia and gear stores that sell hunting and outdoor supplies. And they’re not backing down in the face of a growing public movement to acknowledge the flag’s racist associations.
The Confederate flag bikini is typically sold under brand names that include the words ‘rebel’ or ‘dixie’, and it’s everywhere in the South, as stubbornly ubiquitous as Daisy Dukes and camo print fashions.
For women who want to broadcast their anti-authoritarian spirit, it has become an unofficial uniform, a fuck-you act of fashion defiance to be worn proudly at tailgate parties, bass fishing tournaments, monster truck rallies and any other public event with Lynyrd Skynyrd blaring over the loudspeakers.
And for those who defend it, it’s a symbol of Southern pride and First Amendment freedoms, not the Civil War or the history of slavery that triggered it.
“With all the uproar we want everybody to know that (we) still sell Confederate Flag Clothing,” the online retailer Southern Sisters Designs wrote in a July 1 blog post, referring to the “uproar” sparked by the June 17 murder of nine Charleston churchgoers by a flag-waving white supremacist.
Southern Sisters sells a wide assortment of camo print, U.S. flag and Confederate flag garments, including a baby-sized “Rebel Onesie” that it says is “great for the family that loves Dixie and the South.” A few days after the Charleston shootings, the company posted several Facebook messages promoting its “dixie flag” tank tops, rings, beach towels and a “rebel bikini” sale.
“We have never felt that it was about hate or prejudice,” the company wrote. “We believe that it is about Southern Pride – the southern flag states flew the Confederate flag for many years. As with any item, the flag can be turned into something it was not meant to be. We love the South and will continue to sell clothing and much more that represent the South.”
Another online seller, American Bikini Shop, sells an assortment of mix-and-match “Dixie Rebel” swimsuit styles along with numerous matching accessories (this is your go-to site for Confederate flag dog tags, flip-flops and beach towels).
“Yes there is controversy but we are a business and do not take political sides,” a company rep told Lingerie Talk. “We will continue to sell the rebel flag as it is only a tiny part of our overall inventory.”
But the real battleground over the appropriateness of the Confederate flag bikini might be social media and the blogosphere, where there is a large and vocal group of defenders and aficionados who share images of, and opinions about, the flag and its most hyper-sexualized application. It’s a bizarre backwater of American culture that mixes patriotism, gun rights, cars and sexual fetishism unlike anywhere else.
“There was a hell of a lot more to the south than slavery,” writes the author of the blog Confederate Girls. “The southerners were a proud lot and they built a lot to be proud of. Many southerners did not even support slavery but they did fly the Confederate flag. … Outlawing the Confederate flag makes just about as much sense as outlawing white sheets because the KKK members wore them. The Confederate flag does not represent bigotry.”
Another blogger, who runs the NSFW Tumblr account Rebel Goddess, views the Confederate flag not as a political statement but as a sexual turn-on.
“I do agree that it doesn’t belong on a government building. But hold on! Does that mean a sexy blonde white woman can’t wear it on her beautiful body anymore?” she writes. “It is really a fetish thing for me. I am literally turned on by the flag, and it is partly because it is so controversial. Yes that’s right. I fetishized something that is taboo.”