For some, the practice has added a new—and unexpected—dimension to working for Clinton. Communications staffer Jesse Lehrich says he was used to being behind the scenes and modeling had never crossed his mind—until the campaign solicited volunteers for a photo shoot, and someone from the merchandise team handed him a shirt from the campaign's "Pride" collection. "What can I say? I'm a team player," he tells me. "Our photog grabbed me and asked me, and between my willingness to do anything for the campaign and the room full of people egging me on, I capitulated." (A photo of the blue-eyed, bearded Lehrich rocking a tank top adorned with a rainbow version of the campaign logo went up on the site in June.) Others are more openly enthusiastic about their moment in the sun: "My family was very excited to see me modeling items in the store," says Alexandria Phillips, a press assistant with springy brown curls and a broad smile, who on the website wears a purple T-shirt that says, "Women's rights are human rights." "Even my grandmother, our family matriarch and last Republican holdout, had to admit that she thought I made the Hillary items look good!"
But the arrangement has earned the staffer-models a certain amount of good-natured ribbing as well. Political operatives and reporters have recognized the aides in question and teased them on Twitter about their moonlighting. The photos have even popped up in snarky articles. One post from New York magazine, titled, "Hillary Knows Exactly What Kind of Dumb Beach-Themed Merch You Want," featured a large photo of Ian Sams in the "Grillary Clinton" apron. (He didn't get to choose his apparel either, he tells me: The merchandise team gave him the apron and that's what he wore.) "I never thought I'd be compared to an Urban Outfitters model by New York magazine," he says. "But cross that off the bucket list."
No other 2016 campaign is using staffers to show off its apparel in quite this way; the closest is Rand Paul's, which has several photos of young people—some of whom are staffers—in "Rand 2016" gear at the top of its merchandise page. But individual items aren't displayed on models, professional or otherwise.
The Clinton campaign's official answer for why it went this route was that using in-house talent was a cost-cutting measure cribbed from Obama 2012. But they could have done without the human mannequins entirely, as most other campaigns have. Cost-consciousness aside—and with Clinton's record $45 million fundraising haul from her first quarter in the race, she's not exactly hurting for cash at the moment—the decision to use staffers as models is also, clearly, a marketing move. The question is: What does this marketing move actually communicate?
"Everyday items made by everyday Americans" is the tagline of the store, and the phrase "everyday Americans" is one that Clinton frequently invokes on the stump. As a group, however, these young, Brooklyn-based Democratic operatives give off more of a hipster vibe; they seem, in short, like the kind of people you're likely to see hanging out at a Bushwick barbecue.