Clothing as Mass Media

I think one thing that amazes me is that every time I turn around, I am reminded that something I hadn’t thought  of as mass media is, in fact, a form of media. A couple of days ago, I had that experience with clothing. A friend of mine (one who had, herself, struggled for years with an eating disorder) posted a link to some objectionable graphic tees. A few (well, more than a few) are included below. I know not all are particularly new on the Internet, and I think the images speak for themselves, but I am just constantly astounded that people would purchase these sorts of things, let alone design them.

I’m sure many have seen these shirts before on the internet:

For those of us still reeling from the tragedy last week, the insensitive and flippant way this shirt addresses mental illness should be especially shocking:

This “fun and witty” shirt at Walmart (and this one) that perpetuates the idea that girls can’t aim to be anything better than the wife of someone famous, while boys should aspire to be heroes:

And this sweatshirt, that proves that not all offensive things can be tied to an “-ism”

Lastly, in start contrast to the above, there are cases when it can be offensive to stop selling a shirt, instead of to start selling it in the first place. And while these are all examples of very explicit messages encoded into clothes people wear, it is worth thinking about the less obvious things the clothes you purchase say; there’s often more than meets the eye.


One thought on “Clothing as Mass Media

  1. Nice words. It’d be interesting to see how thinking of clothing as media reveals more subtle structural inequities that propagate other forms of oppression and discrimination; for instance, the difficulty of finding clothes that fit properly for transgendered people, or the way in which certain kinds of clothing or fits are associated with class or sexual orientation or race. Thinking of clothes as advertising also leads to interesting questions, I think–people broadcast everything from their favorite bands to their political affiliations to their school names to social justice issues with their clothes, and the clothing industry can profit on that by selling clothes that align with certain groups of people (for instance, Forever 21 selling college gear, or American Apparel’s “Legalize Gay” shirt). Then there are clothes that just function as advertising for the company–we’ve all seen Hollister or American Eagle clothing labeled, often loudly, as such. Lots of interesting things here worth discussing.


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