Shirts W/ Words: A Memoir
When I was about eleven or twelve, I was under the impression that being a smartass was an endearing thing to be. If people asked me what’s up, I’d point up and say the sky, and if an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would say “taller”. So it makes sense, growing up the young piece of shit that I was (and still am), that I’d own a few shirts with stupid sayings on them. I had a shirt that said “I didn’t do it” on it, because all young boys are apparently deviants who constantly get into so much trouble that they need a shirt to handle the defense trials for them. I had a shirt that said “my job is to annoy you” and approximately forty people a day would tell me “Well, you must be working overtime!!” and then chuckle to themselves.
I guess it comes as no surprise that I still love the idea of putting words on clothes, seeing as it's this little thing that’s stuck with me for as long as I’ve been dressing myself. My fondness for those stupid ironic tees evolved into a high school career that consisted of reblogging Zazzle-poetry shirts on tumblr (which I still love with all my heart). Then, once it was the summer before I left for art school, I thought that typing out “helvetica” in comic sans on a tee was the funniest shit, and I’d spend enough of my time wasting away on /r/streetwear to to be interested in some Supreme shirt that had an all over print saying “fuck” on it.
Eventually I started caring about Dior Homme itself, not just the jeans, and realized that Hedi’s weird ass also put words on shirt. Wouldn't that be wild if me and that fashion turtle have the same sense of humor? Either way, he has a whole bunch of shirt graphics I absolutely adore, like the geometric globe print that just says “let's go home”, or the shirt that says “I think it’s u I can’t be sure”. After Kris Van Assche took the reins of Dior Homme, he tried his hand at making some sweet shirts with words, such as “avoid boring people”. Then from there, I ran into two brands I consider to be top tier when it comes to shirts with words on them; Undercover and Acne Studios.
As one of my favorite labels, it should be no surprise that Undercover by Jun Takahashi will just throw words on anything. I like to imagine the design process for UC as Jun running around a studio in Japan holding a bucket full of words, and then tripping and dropping them on all his design sketches. As he gets up and brushes himself off, an assistant comes up and starts trying to clean all these dumb words up, but Jun just pushes them away like “Don’t you dare touch these stupid words. They’re perfect just the way they are.” I mean, shoes that say “chaos” on one, and “balance” on the other? Classic. 2014’s collared “psychocandy” shirt? Perfect. Jun also seems to have a penchant for going “these words look so good, let’s throw that on there a few more times”, and every time he does it, it’s like, untouchable. The consistency of the brand is wild to me.
On the other end of the spectrum, Acne tends to be a little more bare bones about the blatant printing of text on clothing. They'd do much less of incorporating a word into a graphic or overall design, like Undercover, and instead just printing a word on a crewneck and letting it stand on its own. It's much less in your face, maybe a little more mature, and still really distinct and impactful. On Grailed, the sweaters they made with phrases like “Radical Feminist” and “Please Call Me Girl” definitely got some attention in the comments (I remember one person asking “when did Grailed turn into Etsy”), but those sweaters all sold out because they're flames. Give me a sweater with the slogan of a social movement, that shit is fucking sweet. But Vincent, you might be asking, why don't they have one of those radical feminist sweaters in a sweet eggplant/green patch combo? Guess what, my dude, they fucking do. More playful favorites of mine include “Spectacular Sensation” and the word “touch” written out, but with “ouch” circled bc it’s lit to be sensitive.
I guess as I’ve gotten older and more interested in self expression through clothing, that’s kind of been reflected in my choice of garments with words on it. It used to be explicitly making a joke, and now has turned into making a statement or conjuring up an idea. It sounds weird to say, but my beloved shirts with words have become a sort of milestone for for where I am, in terms of my fashion image, and that’s cool to have. I encourage anyone who’s interested to have a look around and maybe find a garment with words that suits them, and maybe consider what’s been consistent throughout their interest with clothes, and explore that. I mean, above all else, wearing clothes should be fun, and to me there’s nothing more fun than clothes with some big dumb words on them.