Don’t T-Shirts Mean Anything Anymore? What is this World Coming To?

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The “I’m with Stupid” joke taken to the next level.

Back in 1991, when I was in the 8th grade, I remember begging my father to buy me a pair of Umbro shorts.  We were in Dick’s Sporting Goods, and my solemn father shook his head ‘no.’

“These are soccer shorts,” he said.  “Why do you want soccer shorts?  You don’t play soccer.”

“I think they’re cool,” I said, not wanting to reveal the truth (everybody’s wearing them!!!).  “Umbro is a really good brand.”

“Look at the price,” he said.  “I’m not paying that for soccer shorts when you don’t play soccer.”

I’m not sure if I promised that I would start playing soccer, or if I came up with some other brilliant argument, but he eventually relented and I became the proud owner of two pairs of Umbro shorts, one black and one blue, that I would wear to school proudly.  To me, it didn’t matter at all that they were soccer shorts.  The most important thing was that they were shorts – it wasn’t like I was asking for cleats or goalie gloves or something – and could be worn successfully in a non-soccer environment.  And, as I may have mentioned parenthetically earlier, everybody was wearing them.

“I started getting into communism a few months after I was conceived. I’m not sure if it was the work of Marx and Engels, or all the Cuban food my mom ate.”

I couldn’t help but remember that incident over this past weekend, when my girlfriend and I went to Uniqlo to pick out some summer clothes for my (now Umbro-less) wardrobe.  She went over to the t-shirt section and held up a nifty looking black and grey shirt, pressing it up to my body like she was dressing a cut-out doll.

“I can’t wear that,” I quickly said, rejecting her selection.  “It has a picture of Batman and says ‘The Dark Knight.’  I haven’t even seen ‘The Dark Knight.’”

“So?” she asked.  “It looks good on you.”

No, I insisted, I couldn’t wear the Batman shirt since I’m not that into him.  Nor could I wear the ‘Hard Day’s Night’ shirt she liked, or anything with an Andy Warhol print on it because I am decidedly opposed to artwork being on t-shirts.  In the end, I bought a yellow t-shirt with Japanese characters all over it.  Later research revealed that, in future incidents when I wear this shirt, I will be supporting some noodle restaurant in Tokyo.

“That’s fine,” I said.  “I can get behind noodles.”

Lately, I’ve been pondering the t-shirt choices of the general public.  Now I like t-shirts just as much as the next guy, girl, or mannequin, but I, unlike my stance with the Umbro shorts, have grown up believing that what’s on the front of a t-shirt matters.  I remember several instances in the last few years where I tried to ‘connect’ with my students, and ended up failing miserably:

“I love The Velvet Underground. I buy all my organic groceries there.”

“Hey!” I’d say, all excited.  “Awesome Velvet Underground shirt!  That’s a great album.”

“Huh,” the student would respond.  “What are you talking about?”

“You know,” I’d stammer, “your shirt…with the banana on it.  It’s Velvet Underground…Lou Reed…”

“Oh,” the kid would say.  “I just like the design.”

The same thing happened a bunch of times with sports jerseys, too.  “Nice, man!  I didn’t know you’re a Knicks fan!  Go Melo!”

“I hate the Knicks,” the kid would snap back.  “They suck.  I like the Heat.”

“But you have a Knicks hat and a Carmelo Anthony jersey…”

“I just like the colors.”

Where have our allegiances gone, folks?  I’m a Knicks fan, and I would never wear a Heat jersey.  Didn’t this kid know that the Knicks and the Heat hate each other?  It baffled me that this couldn’t matter.  That would be like a Crip dressing in red because it’s more his color, or Bin Laden walking around in a US flag shirt because it took attention away from his ugly beard.  Couldn’t these kids wear band and sports paraphernalia from the groups and teams they actually supported, and thus stop confusing me?

“My life sucks and is full of pain…I paid Supercuts handsomely to express this on my head.”

As steeped in modern vernacular as I am, it somehow eludes me whether or not people use the phrase ‘poser’ anymore, or if there’s a more modern equivalent.  In the ‘90s, if I showed up to school wearing skater jeans and a Rancid t-shirt, I’d likely get grilled on both the subjects of skating and punk music.  And if I failed, if I didn’t know Rancid from Ranch Dressing, I would be termed a ‘poser’ and that would be the end.  There would be no friends for my fake ass. Given that, how can someone nowadays wear a Ramones shirt, not know who the Ramones are, and not get flack about it?  I guess we don’t have any more mean teenagers out there, enforcing the sacred commandment: Thou shall only wear clothing that fits one’s tastes and overall personality.

Right before I purchased the yellow Japanese noodle shirt, my girlfriend and I came to a rack with a whole variety of David Lynch movie shirts on it.  Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, etc.  I was disgusted.  “What the hell is this?” I nearly shouted.  “Why do they have these?  They shouldn’t have these!  I love these movies!  Why are there t-shirts of them being sold at Uniqlo?”

Technically, I should’ve been excited.  If my goal was to find a shirt with something I liked on it, here it was.  My girlfriend shook her head, “Don’t buy that,” she said.  “The design is ugly.”

So that brings me to the closing question: If given the choice of a single shirt, would you rather wear an ugly shirt of something you like, or a cool shirt of something you either don’t like or are oblivious to? There is no right or wrong answer.  Unless, maybe, you’re a Crip.

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23 thoughts on “Don’t T-Shirts Mean Anything Anymore? What is this World Coming To?

  1. Junbi

    Weirdly, my answer is different depending on where i am. In canada, id rather an ugly shirt boldly displaying something i like, because people can piss right off. But in asia i tend to feel like more stock is placed in my appearance, and who cares since almost nobody is likely to get the reference (whatever it may be) anyway.

    Enjoying these call-and-response posts, by the way.

    • Sup Junbi! Very well thought out response. It’s true – in the home country, people are much more able to pick up a ‘message,’ I suppose, through what you’re wearing. Whereas in the foreign country, they just want you to look nice (still very hard for me).

      If there was a Junbi t-shirt, I would wear that all the time. Peace!

    • I agree, Mary I. I can’t match colors anyways. Maybe I’ll just start wearing all black. Or green, just to mix things up a bit.

      Thanks for the comment, Mary! You rock!

  2. We all want to look somewhat presentable, even if that means a messy kind of presentable. It’s a look. Go with what feels comfortable.
    I think if you don’t know who or what is on your public marketing display, don’t go there.

    • I’m surprised that the peoples with the shirts don’t look stuff up. Like if you buy a shirt that says “Velvet Underground” in big letters, don’t you think you’d go home and Google it? Out of curiosity? I dunno. I’m such an old man.

      Presentable is a look I hope to one day obtain. Always good hearing from you, I Run I Breathe. : )

      • I agree. In the age of Google, really, you still don’t know who Lou Reed is?

        I’m going to make a shirt that is totally cliche and says, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” Maybe I will make it in bright yellow.

        Thanks for your thoughts.
        Stay presentable!
        Tania

  3. My strangest t-shirt was one that I bought because I liked the colors & patterns. When I got it home I saw the tag that explained that there were hidden kokopellis on it. Seriously? Like I wanted people to look for hidden pictures on my chest? I actually wore the shirt a lot but I didn’t tell too many people about the hiding fertility deities on it.

    • Wow, this kokopelli thing is so weird! I had to Wikipedia it because I didn’t know what it was…a hunchback flute player with antennae on his head who presides over childbirth? Awesome. That shirt is awesome. The only thing that’s a shame is that the kokopellis were hidden.

      Thanks for sharing and enlightening me, Jeanne!

  4. I think it’s okay if you wanna buy a t-shirt that looks good even though you don’t necessarily stand by it or have no clue what it’s about. But, you should also be okay with people labeling you a ‘wannabe’. Actions always have consequences….especially stupid ones!

    • Haha – yeah, I think it’s okay cause it’s kind of the norm, right? Maybe I take music and movies and stuff like that too seriously. I guess it’s one thing to throw on an indie rock t-shirt and skinny jeans and front like you’re into that scene when you aren’t – which would be a wannabe – and a whole different thing if you just throw on the same t-shirt obliviously and carry on like your regular self. Then you’re not really trying to fit into any scene, you’re wearing the shirt with no agenda at all.

      Rock on, Chembelle!

    • Trask, you’re a man who wears his Three Dog Night shirt with pride. As you should. How is Three Dog Night not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame yet? So many great singles and a pretty big band at their height. I guess cause they didn’t write their own stuff. I dunno. I’m rambling. Peace, John!

  5. I’d much rather wear an “ugly” shirt of something I like than wear a shirt with a good design of something I hate or don’t know anything about. Then again, I’ve never been any sort of fashionista, or whatever the heck it’s called. I don’t understand why other people do that.

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