Graphic tees are a great way to make a statement about yourself, the world and how cool you are. For example, I have made various statements through T-shirts over the years:
-I oppose the 2008 Beijing Olympics on political grounds.
-I am a Mötley Crüe fan.
-I am a Rolling Stones fan.
-I am "Out of Control."
-I support Team USA Taekwondo.
-I bought this shirt from Hollister. Or rather, my mom bought this shirt for me at Hollister because I am in seventh grade.
-I read Orwell's 1984 and want you to know about it.
I've also tried making more abstract statements with with tie-dye (read: I'm a free spirit), a Basquiat painting (read: Im into tortured artists) and a life-size ribcage (read: I'm pretty tortured myself).
But, fortunately for me, these are all removable statements. If a graphic tee winds up being too embarrassing, you can just put on a sweater over it or turn it inside out or whatever you're willing to do to cover up your foolishness. It's like an extremely low-commitment version of a tattoo: It proclaims something about you, although maybe not what you intend.
For example, if you're wearing a T-shirt that reads: "Abercrombie: Calling Your Mom since 1892," you might intend it to signify that you're cheeky and irreverent and possibly cool enough to get with my mom. But my interpretation will probably be that you think you're cheeky and irreverent and possibly once tried to flirt with my mom in an awkward middle school kind of way.
This weekend, I committed another kind of T-shirt fraud. I bought a sick Captain America tee even though I have never read a Captain America comic. Maybe I leafed through one at the bookstore one time, but I've never followed one the whole way through and never even seen the movie. (Were there several of them? I'm not sure). I guess I just wanted to dress like I was the kind of person who likes comic books. Or, you know what? Maybe it was just a cool T-shirt. My reason for wearing it is up to my interpretation, but also largely the interpretation of other people, context-free. You don't really ever get to fill in the background and nuance for your outfit. If actions speaker louder than words, your appearance probably speaks even louder, especially your deliberate choices about your appearance. Every component of it that you put together is interpreted as part of you and taken at face value.
Granted, you don't nail every statement you try to make about yourself that's branded on your body (well, some people do), so you're not necessarily condemned to live with a symbol of your douchebaggery until the day you die. Except some people are because they got a tattoo of the world "Helvetica," in Helvetica font, on their inner forearm and they deserve what they get. But we try on a lot of inauthentic or wack things that, thank God, turn out to just be phases.
And that's exactly what dumb T-shirts are for. Beg your mom to buy it for you, think it's too cool for you to wear it, wear it one time, feel incredibly stupid, find pictures of yourself in it later where you look way less cool than you thought the shirt would make you look, throw it in the back of your drawer just in case one day you become cool enough to wear it and not look lame in it.
One day, when you haven't done laundry in a month and you're down to your last clean pair of leopard print harem pants, you'll dig it out like a Facebook photo from 2007 that your college roommate just commented "hawt" on. It will be more texturally similar to cardboard than you remember. It'll be too big, but the neck will be too tight. And, really, it won't just be the piece of clothing itself that doesn't fit. Seriously, was it really you who owned that T-shirt that said, "You don't know me: FBI witness protection program"?
Emily Lever is a French-American writer who wishes she led a life of adventure. You can follow her on Twitter here.