For some people, wearing a full article of clothing with a superhero logo on it might be too much “advertisement” that they belong to a fandom. Or they have to wear a uniform for school or work and are restricted from wearing their favourite Green Lantern top. Whatever the reason you have to tone down your look (I fit in the former category), there is perfect way around that: enamel pins! Pin are the perfect way to display your love of a certain TV show, book series, or anime character, while still not obviously doing that.
As a child, I had some odd collections: key chains, pop can tabs, CDs with cool designs that I never listened to, and buttons. I used to go to book/craft fairs and flea markets just to find cool buttons that I could put on my backpack or jacket. It got to the point that I had so many buttons that I loved, that I had to rotate through which ones I was gonna wear each day! (I had a strict rule of only wearing a maximum of five buttons. There was a math/art form to it.)
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I made the transition (as every cool person does) from button to enamel pin, buying my first set at my first ever fan convention almost ten years ago. I didn’t want a t-shirt because most were overtly connected to a comic book or anime character and felt too close to cosplay, which I love and respect, but never got into myself because I’m lazy and dislike most any kind of attention. My friends and I passed a booth that had these giant glass display cabinets and I was immediately drawn in. All this person sold were old trading cards and enamel pins. It took a really long time to decide what I wanted, but I finally chose three: Wolverine, Ursula, and Palmon. X-Men, Disney, And Digimon–the three things that I loved as a child and felt defined who I was growing up. I adored my small eclectic set of pins and would almost always have one on my cardigan every day in high school. This was the start of my obsession and journey with enamel pins.
The boom of online stores like Etsy and Storenvy have allowed independent artists to sell their unique merchandise like iron on patches and enamel pins. (Now I don’t have to wait a whole year for a convention in hopes that someone would have enamel pins I might like–I can just Google search my heart’s desires!) And with the site Ali Baba, which has made it easy for these artists to find suppliers on the cheap, there’s been no limitations to who can create what.
When searching online stores, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that there is an abundance of Simpsons stuff. It shouldn’t be surprising. The Simpsons is the longest running Western animated show with over 600 episodes and is still incredibly popular. I was consumed with the show myself growing up, annoying many friends by constantly quoting and referencing it on a daily basis.
What started out as one pin became three (and I still want more!). And I recognize that I shouldn’t need multiple Simpsons pins, but each features and references different characters and episodes. That’s my justification every time I’ve bought a new one at least. And that’s how I got to the place I’m in now.
Every comic book store is different and caters to different audiences, and most (I’ve gone to) don’t sell enamel pins. But there is one that always has: Toronto’s Page & Panel (also known as the TCAF store) isn’t the average comic book store and features a lot of art, zines, and books by local and Canadian artists. Along with selling more independently created products, they also have some select licensed merchandise they often bring back when employees go to Japan. This stock is usually of the Ghibli or shoujo magical-girl variety, another staple of my childhood. (It would be impossible as a millennial to not grow up with/obsess over Sailor Moon.) Anytime I visit Page & Panel, I drool over the glass case, searching for another pin to add to my previously acquired small collection I bought there.
Pretty early on in my procuring (the second Simpsons pin?) I noticed the pattern of buying enamel pins almost exclusively of my childhood faves and in numerous quantities. What started as an innocent purchase as a teenager became a sycophantic grasp for the past. There is a small pocket of my pin collection that features original designs, but for the most part its comic book, anime, or cartoon characters. And I’m totally cool with that, because that’s who I am.
It doesn’t even matter that I own several pins from one fandom because, as I said, each represents a different aspect of a show/movie/book to me. So, even though I already had a Wolverine pin, that didn’t stop me from buying more wearable X-Men merch. The Four Horsemen pin set (released coinciding with X-Men: Apocalypse) brings me back to one of my favourite times in comics; I love the late 80s/early 90s hyper-colour styles and the over the top action that came with it. And the Age of Apocalypse book was a cherished story of mine as a kid. The movie adaption didn’t meet the standards of many, but I loved the throwback to the classic Archangel look and Mohawk-Storm (although not the AoA versions, but the classic 80s designs) MONDO offered that all connections to the Apocalypse film were lost.
My most recent purchase was a set of Harry Potter inspired pins. The artist/creator, who I follow on Instagram, had first edition versions of the same designs, just different colours, and I kicked myself over not jumping at the chance to buy them when they were in stock. So when the artist announced the possibility of a second release and then pre-orders were quickly open after for the new variants, I actually yelled in elation and got online as soon as I could. Only something that’s really close to my heart–something that I’ve loved for a long time–can elicit that sort of response.
I love my ever-growing enamel pin collection, and I know that, like my childhood accumulation of buttons, it hass become sort of a crisis. As much as I don’t want to place so much importance on small material objects or get caught up in a consumerist pattern, I still have a fondness for them. When I see them, I’m happy, because they serve, not only as a reference of a funny and joyous moment, but also pay tribute to a part of myself. Gigi is my love of cats, Lisa “the Lizard Queen” is the pragmatist in me letting lose and ignoring social norms, and so on. And I know it sounds crazy, but just like how an item of clothing or an entire wardrobe can help define who you are, enamel pins have been a benefit for expressing who I am in a way I’m comfortable; which is a magical-girl loving, Simpsons quoting, X-Men-fanatic geek.
Light jacket weather is upon us, and a great way to snaz-and-jazz up your lapels is with enamel pins. If you want to accessorize your outfit, I highly suggest going on social media–which has been a major role for marketing merchandise for small businesses–and follow all the #pingame.
Where To Get Them
- Jessica Lovejoy Mean Girl pin designed by and sold through Krystan Saint Cat
- (Lisa) Lizard Queen pin designed by and sold through Yellow Stripe
- Bart & Milhouse pin designed by and sold through Dope Chief
- That’s My Purse pin designed by and sold through BRK House
- Cardcaptor, Sailor Mars, and Gigi pins sold at the TCAF Shop, Page & Panel (in store only)
- X-Men: The Four Horsemen (4-pin set) designed by Tom Whalen, sold through MONDO
- Sorcerer’s Stone and Basilisk pins designed by and sold through Aisha Voya (Cassie Gretschel)