Black-And-White Prison Uniforms Are Making A Comeback, And We Can Blame 'OITNB'
Looks like the cultural impact of Orange Is the New Black has finally reached inside prisons, at least in Michigan. The sheriff at Saginaw County Jail has changed the prison uniform to black-and-white stripes... because the orange variety was becoming too fashionable. How fashionable? Well, free citizens in Saginaw have started dressing like Crazy Eyes just to go out and hang. In order to reestablish the lines between prisoner and non-prisoner, Sheriff William Federspiel is now enforcing the old-school black-and-white striped uniforms.
"It's because as you see shows on television, like 'Orange Is the New Black,' some people think it's cool to look like an inmate of the Saginaw County Jail with wearing all orange jumpsuits out at the mall or in public," Federspiel told the Saginaw News. "It's a concern because we do have our inmates out sometimes doing work in the public, and I don't want anyone to confuse them or have them walk away."
Imagine that scene: The biggest prison break in Saginaw history could involve a sea of orange uniforms and a diversion created at Brookstone.
It shouldn't be so surprising that regular people are adopting the monochromatic look for daily wear, given the popularity of the Netflix original show. OITNB garnered more viewers for the streaming company than its big-name shows like House of Cards and Arrested Development, and it's consistently received critical acclaim. Hence the movement of colors from inside prison cells to the public domain.
"When the lines get blurred between the culture outside the jail and the culture within the jail," Federspiel said, "I have to do something to redefine those boundaries, because they've been blurred far too often in public culture."
So why the black-and-white stripes?
"We decided that the black-and-white stripes would be the best way to go because it signifies 'jail inmate,' and I don't see people out there wanting to wear black-and-white stripes."
Oh, they say "inmate" alright, but in a caricatural way that reduces the prisoners to cartoon characters. The image of a prisoner in black-and-white stripes taps into a cultural zeitgeist from decades past, when cartoons and comic strips illustrated prisoners in the two-toned look hammering away at rocks and whistling in the chain gang. It's an old-timey image, and almost Rockwellian in a way — not an entirely appropriate way to view prison inmates, but how else are you going to view these uniforms in 2014?
Take a look at this old Mickey Mouse film called The Chain Gang. It's kind of what the prisoners at Saginaw County Jail will look like, in human form.