People, repeat after me:
Just because Macy’s sells it doesn’t make it a good idea. Just because Macy’s sells it doesn’t make it a good idea. Just because Macy’s sells it…what happens?
It’s not always a good idea.
Take, for example, these:
You may think, oh, she’s being so hard on the cutie-patooties, and they’re just fun shirts. WRONG! Your clothes are an outward expression of you, of your personality. Your clothing speaks to the people around you and triggers mental associations regarding lifestyle and held values. Don’t believe me? When you see someone in tie-dye, do you think “hippie”, or “banker”? Mmm hmmm. Thought so.
I admittedly hold a pretty low regard for thematic applique and if applique is to be used, it should be used judiciously. It’s a golden opportunity for the craptastic to take control, since people seem to misguidedly think just one more sequin–one more section of gold embroidery–one more sparkly lollipop will turbo-boost the beauty of the shirt from meh to dear baby Jesus if I can just touch it my life will be complete. And these shirts, pictured above? Are craptastic, though I worry that their availability in Macy’s elevates some sense of street-cred. People, I am here to tell you, it does not. Take, for example, the shirt with the kitties. Aww, elegant kitties with diamond collars and nosies, what could be more precious? You may think it’s a sweet shirt, you may think it’s Halloween-y without being creepy, but what that shirt actually tells people is that the wearer is a cat person who may have crossed the line to crazy cat lady. Everyone who sees this will, instinctively, suspect that your home smells vaguely of salmon and pee. Don’t do that to yourself. And even if you ARE a cat person, do you want to tell the whole world that your house smells and your best friend is Mr. Snugglenut McPurrston? Put the cat shirt down, and walk away.
As for the pumpkin shirt…harmless? Not. We seem to think that smaller appliques are more tasteful, and not as much a blight on society as the much-beleaguered Christmas sweater.
While this is clearly a travesty, the pumpkin shirt is not far behind it as a carrier of social pox. Yes, pumpkins are cute and yes, pumpkins are delicious, but I resist every urge–no matter how keen–to bedazzle them and wear them as clothing, with or without candy spilling out of them. So why are they OK to wear when they’re 2-D and sparkly?
In his book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, author and unapologetic crank Paul Fussell discusses “legible clothing” and the psychological impulse behind wearing them. He calls legible clothing “totemistic” and says, “By donning legible clothing you fuse your private identity with external commercial success, redeeming your insignificance and becoming, for the moment, somebody.” He also talks about items printed with images of Mozart or the logo of The New York Review of Books which say, “I am civilized” and “I read hard books”. The pumpkin–probably about the size of a fist, sparkly and bright orange and front and center on the shirt, laughing as candy corn and lollipops spill out of its severed lid–wants to say “I am fun”. Instead what it says is, “My identity is a gaping hole. I am desperate to be seen as whimsical, yet refined. Please notice me.” It is only slightly less sad a plea for notice and identity than this, found on Etsy, blasted hellscape of poorly-imagined DIY clothing ideas:
Which of course does not say to the world, “Happy Halloween”. Instead it says, “My initials are A-G-D, and I will tell you my entire name and everything else you want to know if only you’d ask, please ask, please?” Monograms sort of freak me out in their attempt to solidify an identity–do you really need to make a distinction in the home as to which towel is yours? Which tie clip? Which pair of undershorts?
(Side note: but be sure to check out Regretsy, which highlights the worst of Etsy. Hilariously.)
Maybe you are, indeed, a whimsical, elfin sort of person and so, for you, sparkling pumpkins on your shirt would be appropriate. But the rest of us have to bear in mind that communication is something like 55% visual and 7% actual words coming out of your mouth (the remaining 38% is your vocal tone and inflection and volume and such), so if you choose to have legible clothing, make sure it sends the message you want it to send. If I were to buy a shirt for Halloween this year, it would be this one:
Which says, “Smartass, aware of political culture, horror movie fan who doesn’t want you to get too close. Notice me but stay away.”
All clothing is a statement about who we are and what we are about. All legible clothing has an element of “notice me” built in as we become walking billboards for companies and our own insecurities, and I have shirts with phrases and shirts with images and bags with logos like any of us do. We all understand things being appropriate (or not) for places; we know not to wear super-short skirts to work (or ever if you’re out of your twenties) and that a tux is out of place at a baseball game, unless you’re getting married at one. We understand that people make value judgments about what you wear (“Those shoes are falling apart, why doesn’t s/he buy new ones? Must be a miser, or super-lazy.”). So we owe it to ourselves to think about what we project when we put on clothes. Do you want to project self-confidence, or do you want to project that you’re an insecure attention hound? Remember, Macy’s (and any store that sells such clothing) doesn’t love you and only wants to separate you from your money. If it has to exploit your insecurities to do so, that’s fine with them. Is it fine with you?