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The best-known reason for a delegate to go to a political party convention is to have a say in the official selection of a nominee for president.
But, based on appearances, that’s not the only point of gatherings like the one the Republican Party will hold this week in Cleveland or that the Democratic Party will hold next week in Philadelphia. A party convention is also a time to see and be seen, in quirky clothes (and hats—many, many hats) that reveal the wearer’s political leanings. And that tradition is nothing new.
As the Smithsonian Institution’s Harry Rubenstein explained to MSNBC earlier this year, hats are part of a long tradition in American electoral politics, going all the way back to the headgear worn by members of political clubs in the 1800s. Over the years, as political buttons and pins became more common, those hats became a natural place for convention attendees to declare their loyalties with a bit of extra flair. The more such hats and other accoutrements became a dependable way to get attention among the crowds, the more they veered away from staid boaters and into outlandish territory.
As the 2016 convention season gets under way, here’s a look back at some of the most colorful clothes from LIFE Magazine’s coverage of the political conventions of the 1960s. From “Kennedy Cuties” in matching striped dresses to a go-go dancer with a Nixon hat, these convention-goers weren’t afraid to wear their political hearts on their sleeves.