[Paleopsych] NYT: Wearing Their Beliefs on Their Chests

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Wed Mar 30 19:58:41 UTC 2005

The New York Times > Fashion & Style > Wearing Their Beliefs on Their Chests
March 29, 2005

[Click the URL to get to a slide show.]


    Late last week, Trapper Blu, a ski and snowboarding instructor from
    Wanship, Utah, dropped in with his family at Christopher's, a T-shirt
    shop in Greenwich Village, and tried on a shirt emblazoned with an
    image of Jesus and the slogan "Put Down the Drugs and Come Get a Hug."

    "I would wear this, you bet," Mr. Blu, 23, said, scrutinizing his
    reflection in the mirror. "The shirt is funny," he added, as he
    tweaked the brim of his cowboy hat, "but it doesn't make fun of Jesus
    or anything."

    A few blocks south at Urban Outfitters, part of a youth-oriented chain
    that sells T-shirts along with shag rugs, coffee mugs and multitiered
    hippie skirts, Jurek Grapentin, visiting from Germany, looked on as a
    young friend of his examined a shirt printed with a rosary entwined
    with the words "Everybody Loves a Catholic Girl."

    "It's a nice message," Mr. Grapentin, 22, said. "Catholic people most
    of the time can be so traditional in their thinking. To me this looks
    more new, more in."

    Mr. Blu and Mr. Grapentin are among the legions of the faithful, or
    the merely fashionable, who are increasingly drawn to the religious
    themes and imagery - portraits of saints, fragments of scripture -
    that have migrated in recent months from billboards and bumper
    stickers to baseball caps, T-shirts, flip-flops and even designer
    clothing. Such messages are being embraced by a growing number of
    mostly young people, who are wearing them as a testament of faith or,
    ironically, as a badge of hipness.

    "There is no question, religion is becoming the new brand," said Jane
    Buckingham, the president of Youth Intelligence, a trend-forecasting
    company. "To a generation of young people eager to have something to
    belong to, wearing a 'Jesus Saves' T-shirt, a skullcap or a cabala
    bracelet is a way of feeling both unique, a member of a specific
    culture or clan, and at the same time part of something much bigger."

    There was a time when such symbols were worn discreetly and were
    purchased mostly at gift shops or Bible stores. Now, emboldened
    perhaps by celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton, who are
    photographed brandishing spiritual messages on shirts and caps,
    aspiring hipsters and fashion groupies as well as the devout are
    flaunting similar items, which are widely available at mass-market
    chains and online.

    A casual survey of the Internet last week, including mainstream
    marketers like Amazon.com, turned up T-shirts, bowling bags, belt
    buckles and dog tags by the hundreds bearing messages like "Inspired
    by Christ," "Give All the Glory to God," "I {sheart} Hashem" (a Hebrew
    term for God), "Moses Is My Homeboy" and "Buddha Rocks."

    Plastic tote bags and tank tops bearing images of Jesus and the saints
    stock the shelves of drugstore and cosmetics chains like Walgreens.
    Some items have worked their way up the fashion chain to stores like
    Atrium, a New York sportswear outlet popular with college students,
    which offers polo shirts with images from the Sistine Chapel; and
    Intuition, a Los Angeles boutique that sells rosaries, cabala
    bracelets and St. Christopher medals as fashion jewelry.

    Come fall, members of the fashion flock, at least those with pockets
    deep enough, will find chunky sweaters that read "Jesus Loves Even Me"
    from Dsquared, a label that only a season earlier traded in fashions
    stamped with obscene images and slogans; a Derek Lam blanket wrap
    embroidered on the back with a torso-length cross; and Yves Saint
    Laurent coats and evening dresses seeded with ecclesiastical

    Fashions with spiritual messages are just the latest expression of
    religion as a pop phenomenon, one that has steadily gained ground with
    consumers since the best-selling "Left Behind" series of novels, based
    on a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy,
    turned up on bookshelves, and "The Passion of the Christ" became a
    box-office hit. Their popularity arrives at a time when faith-based
    issues, including school prayer and the debate over the definition of
    life, are dividing Americans, a rift reflected to some degree among
    those who wear the new fashions.

    Tanya Brockmeier, 19, another German visitor browsing last week at
    Urban Outfitters, wears a cross and sees nothing amiss in wearing a
    religious-theme T-shirt, "so long as it looks modern," she said.
    "These things are a way of showing my faith." But Larry Bullock, 41,
    treasures a T-shirt with an image of Jesus as a D. J. Mr. Bullock, the
    general manager of the Civilian, a gay club on Fire Island, N.Y., was
    brought up as a Roman Catholic. "But for me," he said, "wearing this
    shirt is a way of mocking the rhetoric that goes on over religion,
    which I think is just ridiculous."

    The commodification of religious faith "is born of a consciousness
    that any religious movement, to stay viable, has to speak the idiom of
    the culture," said Randall Balmer, a professor of American religion at
    Barnard College in New York. Dr. Balmer also observed that airing
    one's religious views in public, which would have been regarded as
    unseemly or even presumptuous 20 years ago, has become acceptable. "We
    live in a multicultural, pluralistic environment," he said, "and
    acknowledge implicitly that individuals have a right to differentiate
    themselves. In fact, there is cachet in that."

    Whatever is driving the popularity of message-driven merchandise, it
    is generating robust sales. Last year sales of apparel and accessories
    at Christian bookstores and gift shops reached about $84 million,
    according to the Christian Booksellers Association, a trade
    association of retailers. Teenage Millionaire, the Los Angeles-based
    makers of the "Jesus Is My Homeboy" T-shirt, a million of which have
    been sold, reported $10 million in sales last year, up from $2 million
    three years ago.

    The Solid Light Group of Columbus, Ohio, which sells T-shirts with
    legends like "Jesus Rocks," does not disclose sales figures but is
    projecting a 40 percent increase from a year ago. "Ours has become a
    mainstream business," said Debbie Clements, a sales manager of the
    company. "It won't be too much longer before you see more designers in
    the secular marketplace doing religious fashions."

    Chris Rainey, the director of marketing for Kerusso, a company in
    Berryville, Ark., that sells wristbands that say "Live for Him" and
    T-shirts with messages like "Dead to Sin, Alive to Christ," maintains
    that his wares make faith seem relevant. "We're just doing what a lot
    of churches have started to do, using marketing to reach a new
    generation," he said.

    Still, the concept of religion as a wearable commodity rankles some
    consumers. "I would not wear clothing with a religious message," said
    Megan Schnaid, 27, a New York University graduate student from Los
    Angeles. "I'm not used to putting my faith on such loud display."

    Many retailers, too, balk at selling fashions with an aggressively
    religious bent. Aurelio Barreto, who runs a Southern California chain
    of five stores called C28 (a reference to the biblical verse
    Colossians 2:8), recalled that when he first tried to sell his Not of
    this World line of tank tops and hoodies to secular stores at
    California malls, he was shown the door. "I was told, 'There is no way
    we will buy this,' " Mr. Barreto said. " 'We're not going to have God
    in here.' "

    Michael Macko, the men's fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, who
    viewed the Dsquared collection in Milan last winter, said he was
    somewhat taken aback. "Hmm, I thought, 'Religion as a fashion theme.
    That's a little different from corduroy or camel. How do we handle
    this?' " Undeterred, Saks bought the Dsquared line for its stores
    across the country. "We bought it as a fashion item, not as a moral
    statement," said Ronald Frasch, the chief merchant of Saks. "We sell
    crosses, and it's not a big step from crosses to sweaters."

    Not surprisingly, some secular retailers stock religious-based
    paraphernalia because they are loath to miss an opportunity. "We don't
    just want all the punks and rockers to walk into the store," said
    Priti Lavingia, the owner of the T-Shirt Stop in Marino Valley,
    Calif., which carries the Not of This World line. "Maybe 20 percent of
    the people in this area are very religious," Ms. Lavingia said. "I
    want their business also."

More information about the paleopsych mailing list