The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Mad About Threadless

By Emily Smith

Maybe the first-years are trendy because they’re the richest kids at Macalester. Thanks, need aware. Maybe they’re simply young and impressionable enough to care what people think of them.

Regardless, I’ve observed among them a proliferation of painfully hip, ironic tee shirts from

Chicago-based Threadless is “an ongoing tee-shirt design competition,” according to their website. Four to six designs are printed each week, picked among thousands of submissions. Online users vote for the shirts the company will print and the winning designers receive $2,000.

Susanna Hostetter ’10 has six of the shirts and has visited Threadless’s warehouse in Chicago.

“The place was a total bachelor pad,” Hostetter said. “A bunch of twenty-something guys hanging out and playing video games on really expensive computers.”

The shirts’ designs vary. Some are abstract and a few are morbid, but most of them are funny. The humor is usually subtle, and hinges on the design’s title.

The titles are not printed visibly on the shirts, so their humor demands knowledge of the website, or at least finely tuned visual decoding skills.

For example, a particularly popular Threadless tee shirt features Marx, Stalin, Trotsky, Castro, and Mao in paper hats holding red cups. It is titled “The Communist Party.”

“A friend told me that when I got to college I could weed out who I wanted to be friends with based on who understood my shirts,” Hostetter said.

“They’re just so ridiculous—off-the-wall and quirky,” Sarah Hicks ’10, who has three of them said. “I buy them because they amuse me.”

Threadless tee shirts are ideal for the liberal arts college sensibility. A finite number of each one is printed, so they are unique. The designs are printed on sweatshop-free American Apparel shirts and the website lacks the sexually exploitative advertising familiar to, um, American Apparel.

“It’s hard to find clothing that you like, much less clothing that soothes your conscience,” Aaron Brown ’10, who owns at least fifteen Threadless shirts said.

“Having it sweatshop free is a bonus,” agreed first-year Andrew Mirzayi, who owns about twenty of the shirts.

“My friends and I thought [one design] was so hilarious that we just had to buy it, and since then, I’ve kept buying them,” Brown said.

Brown admitted that the shirts have an addictive nature.
“There’s a definite mentality that the more Threadless shirts I own, the better off I am,” he said.

I should know. I own eleven and ordered six to give people for Christmas. I vote on the designs, and I can justify spending money if it’s an experiment in participatory consumerism, right?

A handful of sophomores wear Threadless shirts but I haven’t noticed them among juniors and seniors.

“Since middle school, the year younger has emulated us,” said Hannah Wydeven ’09, who has eight Threadless tee shirts and another on the way. “The fall of 1986 to the summer of 1987 were clearly great years for fashion.”

“I don’t care if the freshmen wear the same shirts as us,” Avi Murthy ’09, who has at least ten Threadless shirts said. “I’m secure in my masculinity and therefore don’t feel threatened by their attempts to be cool.”

The first-years I spoke to had different explanations for the shirts’ popularity among their class.

Brown called them “witty, nerdy shirts for witty, nerdy people.”

Mirzayi compared the shirts to the Decemberists: “They’re a newer band who came around when we were changing music tastes. We’re younger and it’s our trend.”

“I think we all bond over it, because they’re entertaining,” Hicks said.

“It’s a newer trend and we young people catch on faster,” Hostetter said. “I thought Threadless was mainly a Chicago thing, so I was surprised when I came here and saw them on other people.”

I’d love to lambaste the faddy first-years for co-opting a sophomore style, but that’s not totally true. Most of their shirts were probably purchased before MacPoverty set in.

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