Marcie J. Wood spends many of her Saturday evenings ringing up gushing tween-toting parents, teenagers and young 20-somethings all looking to satisfy a different whim. Imagine, a shop on South Street, carries a smattering of wool gloves, studded belts, tapestries, accessories, incense and T-shirts with catch phrases-like “I’m from Philadelphia, don’t f– with me,” “Buck Fush,” and “Everybody loves an Irish girl.”
Imagine, which has been open for approximately 13 years, started selling slogan T-shirts about two years ago when the slogan T-shirt trend really started to catch on, Wood said.
“There was a big boom when the trend first took off, but now it’s holding steady,” Wood said. “The shirts make up about one-third of the sales at the store.”
Slogan Ts are one of the less covert ways to express a message. There are T-shirts that comment on, mock or proclaim almost everything and solicit just about any response. While written messages on clothing is nothing new, the style of the slogan T’s have evolved, and the industry is holding its own.
“Previous generations offensive shirts would say things like ‘F– You,’ or have an image of a middle finger,” said Dr. Marsha Weinraub, developmental psychologist and director of graduate training in psychology at Temple. “It just pissed people off. Now the T-shirts make you smile and get you angry,” Weinraub said. “It’s very clever because the same person who is angry is laughing and angry because they are laughing.”
“Before it was common to see a face like Homer Simpson and a favorte quote from him,” said Dr. Laurence Steinberg, professor of adolescent psychology at Temple, of slogan T-shirts. “Now, with just a statement, it’s more of a direct ownership of the quote.”
Companies like www.tshirthell.com, which began with 10 different slogan T-shirts in 2001 when they launched their Web site and now have over 200, are at the forefront of the offensive shirt market. According to the Las Vegas based company, “The site averages over 75,000 unique visitors and over 400,000 page views daily.” The shirts range from mild phrases emblazoned on the chest: “Other companies lame slogan here” and “I’m not fat, I’m American” to the mature, “If this is on your floor tomorrow we totally f–ed, now go make me some breakfast, b—.”
An offshoot of collegehumor.com, www.bustedtees.com takes a milder, yet still humorous approach to the slogan T-shirt.
“Most of our shirts are very tongue and cheek,” said David Cho, Director of Apparel for Busted Tees. “Nothing that will offend your mother.”
Busted Tees shirts are usually a play on words, symbols or faux vintage. When they launched the Web site in March 2004, “It would be exciting if we sold 20 T-shirts a day. Now [less than two years later] we average 300-400 shirts a day, approximately,” Cho said.
Urban Outfitters picked up several of their shirts earlier this year-including the faux vintage “I gave my word to stop at third, 1987 Teen Abstinence Day, Surfolk County Public Schools” and “New Mexico, cleaner than regular Mexico”-though Urban Outfitters dropped the latter because of complaints, Cho said.
Several department stores have also started selling Busted Tees shirts, Cho said, including Filene’s and Robinsons May. Cho said the company receives solicitation for product placement frequently, citing a recent offer from Good Morning America.
According to a July New York Times article “the company has sold about 100,000 T-shirts online, at a profit of $11 each, and another 75,000 through retailers, at a profit of about $2.” Cho said he’d “rather those numbers not be spread around anymore…I’ll say that since the article came out we’ve still continued to grow.”
Busted Tees is doing so well that in March the company started www.defunker.com, an offshoot of www.bustedtees.com, which sells their shirts and shirts by up and coming designers, Cho said. He added that while Defunker is smaller than Busted Tees, “it’s on faster track than when Busted Tees started.”
The trend is successful enough that on their Web site, Abercrombie & Fitch sells over 65 men’s and women’s T-shirts with a variety of slogans on them , like “Freshman 15” with a list of 15 different guys names on it, and for guys, “Plays well with D cups,” to name a few.
“People need to shock,” said Weinraub, who is also the director of the personality and social developmental research program at Temple. “People used to have long hair to shock, or get tattooed. A generation will typically use things to shock that were in bad taste in the last generation.”
“Look at my chest when I’m talking to you!” reads one of the many shirts on www.tshirthell.com’s Web site. “Better forget it because you’re never going to get it,” reads a shirt spotted on a Temple student. Abercrombie & Fitch sells one that says “Who needs brains when you have these?” across the chest.
While Dr. Debra Dradick, a professor of psychology at Temple said, “People might not think of the implications [of what they are wearing] or that they are objectifying themselves,” Weinraub pointed out not all of the shirts have to be that way.
“With the shirts, girls can say without evening opening their mouth: ‘If you’re going to look at my chest I’ll give you something to read and I’m going to turn you down before you even ask.’ ”
Kiah Hufane, a sophomore political science major, who has the “Better forget it ’cause you’re never gonna get it” T-shirt, confirmed Weinraub’s theory.
“I don’t like people on the streets shouting at me. It saves me the effort,” she said.
Junior Aleah Phillips, an anthropology major, has a shirt with the recycle symbol and the line: “I recycle men.”
“It says I’m flirtatious,” Phillips said.
The shirts have a variety of messages and elicit a hodgepodge of responses. It’s a generation’s way of standing out and differentiating themselves, Weinraub said.
“It’s so hard to shock anymore,” she said.
“People have always used clothing to make a statement about their attitueds or values,” Steinberg said. “This is just a more explicit way than used in the past.
“Different generations find different ways of being clever. We certainly have been much more accepting of explicit sexual messages in all forms of media,” Steinberg said. “It’s more of a fact of companies have found a clever way to get people to buy what they’re selling. I wouldn’t go so far to interpret the minds of a generation, [rather] it’s societal mores changing and allowing this expression.”
Corinne Castro, a University of California, Berkely graduate and current Ph.D. student in sociology said the shirts are very trendy in California as well, so it was nothing new to her when she started at Temple this fall.
Castro said she doesn’t have any slogan shirts, instead most of hers are political. “A lot of them, they’re trying too hard,” Castro said of her peers who wear the shirts. “Then again, college is a good time to explore. I don’t judge them. I think they’re trying to speak to whoever they are attracted to. It’s a great way to start a conversation.”
Josh Chamberlain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.