It’s hardly controversial to say that most nerds are not fashionistas. There probably isn’t a lot of demographic crossover between The Twilight Zone and Project Runway. Those nerds who are sew-inclined tend to spend their time on cosplay; their catwalk is the convention floor. The majority of us simply have no idea what fashion is about or how it fits into the Campbellian Monomyth.
It’s not a coincidence that most classic sci-fi depicts the future populace in shiny matching coveralls. We just don’t pay that much attention to clothing. The only thing most nerds wish was in their wardrobes was the magical land of Narnia.
But we have to wear something.
Hence the Nerdy Tee. A simple, classic article of clothing that never seems to go out of style, the T-shirt is the epitome of casual cool. It looks equally at home on a guy or a girl. It can be worn tight for those of us who want to show off our shape or loose for those of us who’d rather not. It’s relatively cheap and easy to launder. And since there’s nothing nerds like more than showing off their obsessions (with buttons, stickers, lunchboxes, action figures, posters, etc.), adorning our T-shirts with nerd iconography is a no-brainer.
I’d love to tell you that wearing a Nerdy Tee automatically transports you to a magical judgment-free zone. Unfortunately that’s not the case, and even in the nerd community there are fashion faux-pas. We all know the story: you pick out a design worthy of signing in to Paypal, you check your mailbox for two weeks, and when it finally arrives, you don your new shirt with pride and head to the comic book store.
But instead of the “Nice shirt, bro” you expect, all you get are disdainful eye rolls. After that the Nerdy Tee you dropped hard-earned ducats on is relegated to the back of your closet for months until its inevitable donation to Goodwill.
So how does a well-meaning nerd stay hip (besides not saying “hip”)? When all is said and done, coolness comes down to originality. Fashion is all about what’s new and exciting. In couture, “last week” is synonymous with lame. You want to stay on top of the trends, not running behind (Chasing is not fun; see: Playstation 2’s Ultimate Spider-man).
The trick is simply to do the same thing we already pride ourselves in doing with comics, TV, and movies: avoid the hackneyed, the cliché, the played-out. The next time you are window shopping at your favorite Nerdy Tee site, check the designs for these tropes before checking out:
The most common cliché in the world of Nerdy Tees (seriously, it was hard NOT to find examples) is the juxtaposition of unrelated fan favorites. When in lack of an original graphic design concept, take two and call the bank in the morning. Even more annoyingly, franchises are often paired using a play on words (see:The Pun).
No one likes puns.
These designs emulate the type of touristy Tees you might find in the gift shop of a famous diner or down the barrel of a T-shirt cannon. You know, the ones that literally turn you into a walking advertisement for a store or product. These Tees often sport logos for fake bars or beer brands that tie into pop culture somehow. Like the Mash-up, only what’s being mashed is your favorite TV show and consumer culture.
Made to look like a sports logo. Because you know how much you always wanted to wear a T-shirt with a sports logo.
Not to be confused with The Pun, these are shirts modeled after famous campaign posters and other political propaganda. The most overdone design right now is the Shepard Fairey rip-off (appreciate the irony).
So what SHOULD one look for in a Nerdy Tee? Well, as anyone who is familiar with the term “midichlorian” knows, the original is always the best. If you can find a vintage Tee advertising your favorite franchise from around the time it was actually released, snag it!
Also, since nerd cred is often established by depth of knowledge, you can’t go wrong with an obscure reference. If you can find a shirt that only one person in a million would get (“We call that the ‘Dennis Miller Quotient’.”), you may not get complimented on it often, but when you finally do, you’ll make a friend for life. In the end, you just have to trust your instincts. Reach out with your feelings.
If you have always wanted a Miskatonic University shirt, but the design strikes you as phony or boring, wait until you see one you like. If you would have preferred a Lando Calrissian shirt that didn’t say PIMP, keep looking. Finally, if a shirt breaks every rule I’ve given you, but you just love it anyway? Get it. I myself proudly wear one of the above clichés. Sometimes you have to forget about what people think and wear your heart on your sleeve. And if you’re doing that, well then I only have one thing to say to you.
Nice shirt, bro.
Find the right Nerdy Tee for you at: