Bernie Sanders' inauguration mittens meme won't quit: The funniest versions

The Vermont senator's image is still everywhere, a bobblehead is coming, and his campaign made a sweatshirt that sold out immediately. He's even painted on fingernails now.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, and generational studies Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
5 min read

Most memes are lucky if they live to see a second day. An image of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at Wednesday's inauguration, sitting with his arms crossed and wearing a mask and big mittens, is proving to be an exception. Since Inauguration Day, it's been shared and tweaked endlessly -- and even inspired a bobblehead figurine. And it's still going strong days after it emerged.

What is this mittens meme anyway?

On the remote chance you haven't seen the photo, it shows Sanders wearing a familiar winter jacket, a blue face mask and gigantic mittens that were a gift to him from Vermont teacher Jen Ellis. 

"I made Bernie's mittens as a gift a couple years ago," Ellis tweeted on Wednesday. "They are made from repurposed wool sweaters and lined with fleece (made from recycled plastic bottles)."

Now, Bernie is everywhere

Sanders' casual clothing and presumed grumpy, dadcore appearance have inspired creative types to pop his image into all kinds of scenes, from The Sopranos and Forrest Gump to historical photographs. He's showed up in Game of Thrones, The Shining, Star Trek and The Bachelor, on Chicago's El, with Batman and as the fly on Mike Pence's head from the October vice presidential debate. He's even been painted onto fingernails

Site lets you put Bernie anywhere

Swapping Sanders into new places got even easier when NYU grad student Nick Sawhney created a website that lets users place the image in any Google Street View photograph. Sawhney told Wired magazine that the site took off well beyond his expectations, and he panicked as its popularity brought him increased fees. (He's accepting donations and made a deal with the cloud platform that hosts the site, and says he has enough cash on hand to keep the site alive for another week or so, Wired reports.)

Chairman Bernie sweatshirt sold out

On Thursday, Sanders' official site began taking preorders for a crewneck sweatshirt showing the image of a grumpy Sanders in the chair, with the "Bernie" logo. It's $45 but sold out right away.  The site dubbed the shirt the "Chairman Sanders crewneck" and advertises it as showing, "Vermont jacket, Vermont gloves, Vermont common sense." The site adds that 100% of proceeds go to Meals on Wheels Vermont. 


Bernie Sanders' sweatshirt immediately sold out. All proceeds go to Meals on Wheels Vermont.

Screenshot by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Bobblehead Bernie

And mittened Bernie is going 3D. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum, which apparently exists, is making a bobblehead of the moment. You can preorder it now for $25, though it's possibly by the expected May delivery you'll have forgotten why it was even funny.

The image has also found its way on to stickers.

The senator speaks

Sanders was absolutely true to himself when asked to comment. First, he defended his outfit to Gayle King on CBS This Morning. "In Vermont, we know something about the cold, and we're not so concerned about good fashion," he said. "We want to keep warm, and that's what I did today."

He also told CNN reporter Ali Zaslav he was glad the viral photo "makes people aware that we make good mittens in Vermont" and praised his state's coat-making abilities, and no, that sentence is not made up.

No mittens for you

Ellis told The Jewish Insider she doesn't have any more mittens to sell.

"There's no possible way I could make 6,000 pairs of mittens, and every time I go into my email, another several hundred people have emailed me," she said in the interview. "I hate to disappoint people, but the mittens, they're one-of-a-kind and they're unique and sometimes in this world, you just can't get everything you want."

Best of the Bernie meme

Here are 10 personal favorite early versions of the meme. Your mileage may vary, of course.

1. The unnecessary meeting

"When you get invited to a meeting but it should have been an email." What office employee can't relate?

2. 'Joe's thing'

Slightly different photo, but this one's a winner for the perfectly phrased faux schedule for Sanders' day, including "drop off dry cleaning," "Joe's thing" and "swing by the post office."

3. Prepared pockets

Every grandpa's jacket is like this. The caption reads, "You cannot tell me these pockets are not absolutely stuffed to the brim with crumpled tissues and receipts."

4. Bernie in Nighthawks

Sanders has been edited into plenty of famous images, including many paintings, but somehow his stubbornly solitary figure fits right in to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.

5. Steal his look

Fashion magazines love to tell readers how to re-create a certain outfit. The best part about this is the manila envelope.

6. Envelope of mystery

BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer reports that the manila envelope Sanders is clutching in one image holds his inauguration tickets. OK, that seems plausible, but other ideas are funnier, including this one that claims that "inside the envelope is an article Bernie cut out of the newspaper that he thought Biden would find interesting."

7. The heat is on

Back in 2020, Sanders became a meme for "once again, asking for your financial support." The "once again" meme met the "Grandpa Bernie in a chair" meme with this one, which features Sanders ""once again asking for a space heater." Look, DC gets cold in January.

8. Bernie with Deadpool

This one makes the list solely because Ryan Reynolds, who plays Deadpool, shared it.

9. Merch table Bernie

Something about this setting just rocks. Maybe because it's been so long since any of us have been to live concerts. "No, we don't have the gray shirt in an XL!"

10. Places to go, things to do

And we're back to the manila envelope image for this classic, where Sanders' patience for a lengthy formal affair is running thin. It reads, "Bernie dressed like the inauguration is on his to-do list today but ain't his whole day."

The dove has landed

Sanders wasn't the only inauguration meme, though he was definitely the biggest. Lady Gaga also inspired some sartorial remarks. She wore an enormous gold dove pin as she sang the national anthem, and she explained its meaning in a tweet she shared that had a close-up photo of the pin. "A dove carrying an olive branch," she wrote. "May we all make peace with each other."

But some thought the pin looked more like the mockingjay, a fictional bird worn as a pin by heroine Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games book and movie series.

"Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the 1st Hunger Games," wrote one Twitter user.

"Gaga's wearing the mockingjay if you go by the book rather than the movie," wrote another.

Instant photos

A moment that followed the swearing-in ceremony caught the attention of some. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer presented the new president and first lady Jill Biden with photographs of the just-completed events, which led to some jabs at the government's technology knowledge.

"LOL, McCarthy & Hoyer give Biden & Harris instaphotos of the inauguration, like they've just gotten off the hot new roller coaster at Six Flags," wrote Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post.

And the night ended with a gigantic firework display that had some viewers marveling at the sheer amount of pyrotechnics.

"Whoever was in charge of gathering fireworks should get on vaccines," said comedian Jordan Klepper.

Another person had some thoughts on the elaborate display, writing, "So, we don't need to spend any of the inauguration budget on port-a-potties, additional Mall security, custodial services, etc? So we can spend it on something else? Say, like, fireworks?"

Inauguration Day of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in pictures

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