may 14

Ironic Tees

A history of the ironic t-shirt. [via]


See, that's what I've been saying! This whole t-shirt culture could be condensed down to a single shirt that says "Validate me, pleeeease!" It's kind of pathetic when you think about it (in a sad-not-ridiculing way). I guess any style or trend is this same thing in action but for some reason the t-shirt trend seems particularly blatant. "Aren't I clever? Don't you envy me now? Don't you find me more interesting than yourself? Ahh, that feels better. I'm worth something after all." On another level it's just harmless fun, but still, at its core that's what I think it is. Dare to go to that party in a blank tee! Don't worry, the hippest guests will read into it and assume you're making an unbeatably bold ironic/protest statement about t-shirt cleverness and will envy you all the more.

posted by Eric at 11:25 PM on May 14, 2007

I dunno.

Why is this accusation flung at t-shirt, but not jeans, cell phones, cars, magazines, music collections, and couches. I feel like I could easily do a find/replace with any of those things and your t-shirt rant.

And besides, most people still are fashion clueless, so I think it's easy to show up at a party and be the hippest guest without much effort -- even wearing a blank tee.

posted by Rex at 11:39 PM on May 14, 2007

Although, I should point out this is the inscription on the favorite t-shirt in my collection:

I ♥ Irony

posted by Rex at 12:04 AM on May 15, 2007

Well I do say in my comment, "I guess any style or trend is this same thing in action...". And I also call them harmless fun. So we agree in part. And it's not so much accusation as observation/hypothesis.

posted by Eric at 8:18 PM on May 16, 2007

Also I think that t-shirt validation psychology is much more of an overt proposition than adhering to other fashion trends. Maybe someone wears super premium jeans because they want people to look at them and value them higher. But maybe people notice they are costly super premium jeans and maybe they don't. Or maybe the jeans just indirectly contribute to the person's overall image. Maybe someone sees you at the party in those jeans and thinks your whole presentation is very well put together. Maybe you don't see them even doing this as you chat on the other side of the room. The jeans have served there purpose, but below the radar. Whatever happens with people's perceptions of the jeans or things like them, it's usually below the level of worded thoughts or acknowledgement. And if noticed, there is usually no verbal exchange about it.

But when you wear a shirt that has a clever/ironic message, you're saying, "these are my clever thoughts or ones that I am associating myself with - evaluate them and return a specific result about me. Decide in your head that I am to be raised a few notches for my cleverness." And it's like you're a walking billboard. Wherever you go, your validation proposition is the one thing about you that draws the attention. You become that guy with the t-shirt. No one will miss it and everyone has to play the game - read the message, judge, assign tshirt's value to wearer, adjust estimation of wearer. The wearer sees the observer going through this process because they have to be facing you, looks at the observer in anticipation as they compute, and there is that moment where the observer makes the actual assignment of points, whether out loud as a statement or just as a smile and nod from the guy across from you on the subway, and the wearer inwardly or even outwardly experiences/expresses pleasure at having just been validated.

There's just something more direct, verbal, conscious, neurotic, and one-dimensional about that. Again, I think there's something sort of quietly sad underlying it ("Accept me!"), though acceptance is a powerful driver in humans.

But at the same time, as I said, it also exists on the level of harmless fun and can be a way to find people who appreciate the same kinds of things. I like some of the funny ones you post here. "Wearing my Twitter shirt" was my favorite.

Should have thought twice before posting my comment on a blog with a whole category devoted to t-shirts. I didn't mean diminish you. Pretend I'm a visiting alien observing your species' behavior.

posted by Eric at 9:09 PM on May 16, 2007

Oh, I'm not offended or anything. I'm really curious about this entire argument actually.

But to play along, your argument seems to maintain that the annoying factor of t-shirts is that they are overt messages (as opposed to covert signs of cool, like jeans). But maybe that can be turned on it's head: t-shirts are transparent signifiers, devoid of the usual trappings of wealth and cool.

Or maybe not, I'm not sure. While before I wanted to compare t-shirts and jeans, now I want to change my comparison to t-shirts and dialog. That is, when I meet someone for the first time, I have this tendency to yap and yap and yap and try to be interesting. If you were critical of this kind of personality, you might accuse me of the same things that you critique t-shirts for. I can easily imagine someone saying it's the "direct, verbal, conscious, neurotic, and one-dimensional" Rex -- but it's really just me. That's how I am!

Anyway, I sorta want to agree with you, but I feel that doing so would leave me a hollow, soul-less being.

posted by Rex at 1:43 AM on May 17, 2007

Ahh, the tender inner fruit is exposed when the tough husk is peeled away. We're all vulnerable little softies on the inside and have basic instinctual drives for things like self worth and validation and acceptance. Call them weaknesses or just being human. (Morrissey was always great about unapologetically acknowledging/admitting these little things. It's why he's so refreshing! Cuts right to the quick.)

Your dialog comparison is a good one and does cut more directly to the essence of the matter. I do the same thing - essentially try to impress with my witty repartee. "Hey everybody, revise your estimations of me. Aren't I clever? Don't you wish you were as clever as me? Raise my rating, please. Feed me." It's kind of sad. I think it's born of insecurity at some level. But like you, it's just me! I do deliberately try to resist this urge, though, and just try to be still and see what happens. I don't have to be the center of attention and don't have to wow people with smarts or humor. I can just be even keel and they can think whatever they like. That's the plan anyway. It stinks a bit because I like being clever, damn it!

As for overt/covert, shirts vs. jeans, I agree, the tee is much more direct. It's the bridge between styles/clothes and speech, because... uhh, it's speech on clothes. All of it says "like me" however.

I don't know that I find the shirts annoying, as you characterize and as I may have implied. It's just been a psychological case study I've been mulling over for a while. Something in me is sad for all of us, for these desperate/tiny cries for acceptance and what they imply about how we feel about ourselves way down deep below thought. I want us to feel 100% comfortable, be 100% genuine, not have to rely on artifice or salesmanship, and not feel like we have to impress anyone, especially in order to be liked and accepted.

posted by Eric at 7:21 PM on May 17, 2007

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