A new section in the Guardian Guide this week:-


One constant in Western society is the enduring popularity of t-shirts with amusing slogans and/or illustrations, an inevitable consequence of the enduring presence of that minority of the population who think that they're funny.

A mode of expression that arguably reached its zenith in the 1970s (as documented by the many hilarious t-shirts sported by Nicholas Lyndhurst in the BBC's seminal family sitcom Butterflies), before being subsumed in the early 1980s by the phenomenon of iconic t-shirts (I♥NY, FRANKIE SAY RELAX, the acid smiley, the Batman logo, etc.), amusing t-shirts returned for one last hurrah with the timeless classic "I'M WITH STUPID".

The modern 'funny' t-shirt finds itself in a difficult position. There is no generally accepted convention as to whether a 'funny' t-shirt should be considered a clever ironic statement, or if wearing one is simply a poor decision indicative of deficient social skills. In an attempt to guide the unwary through this sartorial minefield, we have introduced this new column to critique notable examples seen in the wild.

1. "Make Coldplay History"

This slogan is an obvious play on the name of the much-publicised Make Poverty History charity campaign. Or more accurately, it is a corruption of the earlier spoof "Make Doherty History", a reference to Pete Doherty, the over-exposed, substance-dependent frontman of the bands The Libertines and Babyshambles.

The original spoof was momentarily successful on the strength of the obvious (yet valid) wordplay and the strength of (negative) feeling towards tabloid darling Doherty at the time. This progeny manages to jettison both of these strengths. 'Coldplay' sounds nothing like poverty or Doherty; and the generally accepted view of Coldplay, while rightly negative, is not so strongly expressed as to justify the endorsement of their deaths (or disbandment).

Furthermore, whereas Doherty's media exposure, by dint of polluting the mainstream media, was genuinely invasive to the lives of the general public, at this stage, nobody needs to be subjected to Coldplay's music or the (generally un-newsworthy) antics of its members without complicity by their own free will. The combined effect is to make the wearer appear to be a self-conscious but inexperienced music snob with no sense of humour.

2. "Shakespeare hates your emo poems"

Both the slightly up-market presentation and the textual content of this shirt immediately betray its origins as a garment purchased on the popular but extremely variable online clothing store threadless.com. Best known for its t-shirts with purely graphical designs (e.g. Darth Vader's topiary), the store appears to have recently started stocking purely slogan-based designs, firmly entrenched in the I'm with stupid school of 'wit' but sweetened for the indie hipster student idiot market with a thin veneer of ironic fashionability through the use of quirky typefaces.

This shirt again falls into the trap which did for shirt 1.: the choice of target, while seemingly deserving in the heat of the t-shirt designing moment, when put into practice serves only to make the wearer appear petty. Everybody hates emo, but very few over the age of 18 would actually give this niche fashion trend enough attention or dignity to actively denigrate it through the medium of t-shirt.

The shirt's problems are exacerbated by the unfortunate fact that the insult "Shakespeare hates your emo poems" is frankly rather emo in itself. Shakespeare has been dead for centuries. Assuming to shift the burden of umbrage to the language's greatest ever wordsmith is both cowardly and needlessly melodramatic, traits which are practically the defining characteristics of emo. "I hate your emo poems" would be more honest and respectable, with the only downside of making the wearer less desirable to impressionable emo girls.

In summary, if you wear this shirt, you're probably an arsehole.


3. "This is the reason I can't wear shorts"

While t-shirts 1. and 2. were clearly marketed at (and if memory serves, worn by) slightly too appearance-conscious students and young professionals, our third exhibit represents the other demographic most partial to humourous t-shirts: bedraggled, insane-looking ne'er-do-wells. (In this specific instance a stocky, grey-stubbled Mediterranean man shuffling unwholesomely down Highgate Road.)

The slogan is emblazoned in large (slightly faded) bold print across most of the chest area of the long, misshapen garment. It is accompanied by a crudely yet feverishly inked cartoon drawing of a bald man wearing a pair of baggy, knee-length shorts. Protruding from the (separate) leg-holes of the shorts are the head of a gargantuan penis and a lone testicle, each roughly the size of the man's head.

While by any objective measure this t-shirt should be burnt on a remote landfill site and never spoken of again, it has to be said in its favour that it provoked the most reaction from onlookers, and demands the greatest amount of reckless bravery (risking scorn, ridicule and almost inevitable police caution) on the part of the wearer. (Although the more likely explanation for its choice in this instance was that it was the only item of upper body clothing that the gentleman owned.)

That's it for now. I hope you've all learned something today. Join us again for another thrilling excursion into the world of the 'funny' t-shirt, soon.