This is a short list of links with some brief observations I felt like sharing. (Some of this information is likely going into a paper to be revised for journal submission shortly.)
1. Gaming clothing seems to be the largest category of overtly geek-branded apparel.
Sure, just about every comic store you go into has Punisher t-shirts, but those shirts aren’t necessarily being sold on “nerdy clothing” websites, or actively being linked to by websites that tend to broadly market themselves as geeky/nerdy. (I’ve always been fascinated by how commenters react when gaming blogs dish up posts on gaming shirts.)
Why gaming? I suppose it’s the geek activity that has the most crossover appeal into mainstream audiences, especially thanks to broader nostalgia value that 20- to 30-somethings find in retro gaming merchandise. That sense of nostalgia fits very well with the trend in contemporary fashion to make pre-worn “vintage”-looking t-shirtsâ€”the “Salvation-Army-cum-Urban-Outfitters” look.
Sci-fi movies also have crossover appeal with mainstream audiences, but I guess there are fewer sci-fi “classics” known to the general populace in film than video game “classics.” I do know that Urban Outfitters currently has some vintage-looking Star Wars shirts in stock, though.
2. Geeky tees seem a good match for user-generated content.
I’ve noticed that Threadless has always had the occasional nerdy product, but a bunch seemed to pop up in rapid succession for awhile. They also seemed, to me, to take on a similar tone to the shirts at more specifically geek-marketed sites, like ThinkGeek and J!NX.
Sites like J!NX have always promised some reward if you come up with an idea for a shirt and they use it, but isn’t really as built into their business model to the same extent as Threadless. Now, though, Nerdy Shirts is apparently adopting the Threadless business model, more fully embracing the idea of selling user-generated clothing.
This model kind of makes sense for geek stores, in some ways, considering that it’s often the most hardcore fans who both want clothing proclaiming their interests and want to make stuff related to their interests. The question, I think, is whether other sites can provide visitors with the feeling that even those whose shirts don’t get picked still get something out of participating and submitting. Threadless, being more designer/illustrator driven, at least offers the promise of feedback and communication with fellow designers. Fans who don’t feel like being a designer is part of their identity might not care as much about this element.
3. ‘Geek’ is sometimes used to refer to a hipster with a certain style.
Or perhaps I should say that a ‘hipster’ is a geek with a certain style..? Anyway, I have noticed a few online stores that mention somewhere in their written copy that they are for “geeks,” but have a much more fashion- and trend-conscious bent than that term might normally imply. See, for example, Your Eyes Lie (“For Freaks, Geeks, Jocket Sluts and Suzy Creamcheese”).
Some sites, meanwhile, kind of straddle the lines between hipster stores, joke tee stores, and more narrowly branded geeky tee stores, like Tees My Body” (for “dirty, nerdy geeks” in search of a “vintage-looking funny tee”), Noisebot (which has an entire “geek” category alongside “sports,” “politics,” and others), and Busted Tees (which has a “geek” shirt and a “lambda lambda lambda” shirt referencing Revenge of the Nerds).
I guess this is further evidence for the oft-claimed point that “anybody can be a geek nowadays.” Is there any tension there, though? Do some geeks resent that anybody can be a geek, or just that jocks can now claim to be geeks? (I know there is some resentment there. Ask me sometime about the “jock simulator” pitch at PAX.)
4. Nothing says “I’m a geek” like getting some ink.
For the young hipster geek afraid to commit (or just looking for a lark), Geekadelphia reports that Urban Outfitters now offers temporary tattoos for geeks. In the comments following that Geekadelphia post, however, Alex of Dangerously Awesome reminds us that “real geek ink” is cooler.
I’ve linked to some geeky tattoos here before, but I think I missed Carl Zimmer’s Science Tattoo Emporium. It features a mix of contributors; as one the tattoo-owner in one post notes, “I’m not a scientist by trade, but I am, in fact, a huge nerd.”
I feel like the geek tattoos I see more than any others are science tattoos and gaming tattoos, perhaps in descending order. That makes a certain sense to me: Science notation will likely remain unchanging for the duration of the tattoo owner’s life span, and most of the gaming tattoos I see are of retro games already, so they too have a claim to a certain sort of timelessness. And both, of course, make a sort of bid for authenticity of the wearerâ€””I have this special knowledge” or “I was there before games were big.”
Then again, I haven’t seen a lot of comic book tattoos, but something tells me there may be more Superman “S” shields inked on people than gaming tattoos of any sort. Does it “count” as a geeky tattoo if you weren’t doing it out of geek pride?