t-shirts and underwear

If you follow offbeat news, you may have heard about the stir caused by some Topman t-shirts that highlight off-color phrases and images. In response to public scrutiny, Topman pulled two designs from store shelves amid claims they were sexist and promoted abusing women. In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine people being this offended by what’s displayed on a t-shirt. If we consider some of the most popular influences in pop culture, from The Jersey Shore to Playboy to Rihanna’s “S&M” lyrics, it seems out of place to devote this much negative attention toward Topman.

The shirts are indeed offensive, nothing I would ever purchase or condone, but they aren’t any worse than other shirts I saw throughout college – even ones made by fraternities for campus-sanctioned events. Mouthing off to Topman is probably the right thing to do, but it’s opening the door to a long and slippery slope of when and where we should react to free speech, and where we should simply trust mature adults not to dress like idiots.

The fact is, clothing, music, movies and magazines all portray women the same way the Topman t-shirts do, but they get away with it by doing it in subtler ways.

When I first read about this situation, it made me think of Victoria’s Secret. As the queen marketer of female sexuality, VS has revolutionized women’s underwear and empowered ladies around the globe to embrace their sexuality. But what’s alarming is that even their PINK line, which is technically designed for college-age students, is using a similar approach as Topman, but because their items are marketed to women, no one  bats an eye.

Take a look. First, the two Topman shirts that were pulled from shelves:

And now, some recent items from VS PINK line:


The words are different, but the messages draw the same conclusion – that women are objects in the eyes of clothing manufacturers.

So while I don’t dig the Topman shirts for men, I also don’t dig the messages VS is sending to young females. But instead of having a tantrum, I just won’t buy them.

No matter where you look, you can find things that are offensive, but if no one bought these items, the companies wouldn’t make them. Clearly, there’s a demographic that finds these appealing, so why not focus the anger and boycotts there – on the people who keep these items in production, rather than the conglomerate who produces them.

Some added irony from these two corporate websites:

Topman: Our core values relating to any of our activities are integrity, dialogue, transparency, excellence and innovation.

Victoria’s Secret PINK is the dominant aspirational lifestyle brand targeting college girls and celebrating campus life. The assortment includes sleepwear, loungewear and bras and panties designed to appeal to the spirit, humor, optimism and self-confidence of the girl who wears, loves and lives PINK.

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