How to Wear a Nerd Shirt

So nerd shirts are pretty in fashion right now. So much so that it’s been a while since Hot Topic decided geek franchises are at least as profitable as music, if not more so.  So nerd shirts, everyone wears the latest popular whatever emblazoned across their breasts, and you’ll definitely buy it because hey, it’s that thing you like.

Which is pretty critical; I like nerd shirts. Some nerd shirts. I own quite a few, if I’m being honest. And while nerd shirts are simply one small part of the relatively new phenomenon of truly fashionable nerd fashion, they’re probably the most common part of it you’ll see. They’re half of Hot Topic, they’re the whole of We Love Fine, they’re on Think Geek, and they’re in your department stores. Not like you haven’t noticed.

But cutting to the chase, there are good nerd shirts, and there are bad nerd shirts. And disclaimer, there are totally people fashionable enough to make a bad nerd shirt fashionable, but it takes skill. Also disclaimer, buy whatever you want, nobody can tell you what to wear. (Although there are laws that can tell you that you have to wear something.)

What makes a bad nerd shirt? Well going to the absolute extreme on the negative spectrum, it’s like taking the words “DOCTOR WHO” and just planting it onto a black shirt.

go home

Aside from meme t-shirts (ugh meme t-shirts*) I seldom see anything that awful. If you like Doctor Who, there are more aesthetically pleasing ways to show it. Personally, I think that unless it’s got some damn amazing typography going on, shirts that rely on writing alone are pretty bad.

That’s cute, but it’s pushing the line there.

This shirt more effectively uses type with the little guide in the corner. It adds to the illustration without cluttering the shirt.

Illustration on clothing follows the same rules of most art; if you can show, don’t tell! Of course then you get to graphic tees. The one that immediately comes to mind is this:

You know, what’s embarrassing is I actually own that shirt. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. Anyway, it’s a perfectly acceptable shirt, it’s not like you’re walking around with a butt on your chest but even that would be more interesting than your (my!?) dumb 1-Up shirt. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…I’m just very passionate about this.

A better example of the graphic tee:

Your shirt is still mostly clip art, but at least the clip art uses the form of the tee shirt to produce a fairly eye-pleasing image, rather than slapping a standard image in center alignment on your shirt.
(Seriously, you might as well staple a piece of paper on your chest.)

The best shirts are the kind of shirts you would wear whether or not you’re a fan of the subject material.

This, even if you don’t like 99 Luftballons (WHY DON’T YOU LIKE 99 LUFTBALLONS WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU), it’s subtle enough not to shriek your lust of 99 Luftballons in a strangers face (but to catch the eye of a fellow fan with a conversation starter like “hey is that a 99 Luftballon’s reference?” BOOM and you’re married now), but also appealing to the eye. Like the Mario shirt before, it also makes use of the fact that it’s actually on a shirt to its advantage by spreading out.

This is good if you’re going for concept over design. It’s clever and cute, and although the composition isn’t wholly original, it makes up for it in concept.

Exceptional art is also a good reason to buy a shirt, as long as it adheres to basic acceptable concept and composition.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should be buying all of your shirts off of Threadless.
No wait. What I’m trying to say is that you should be putting thought into your clothing for lasting visual appeal. What I’m also saying is that wearing a real person’s face on your chest is creepy.

*Meme shirts (eg, YOLO, trollface, etc) are the absolute lowest tier of nerd shirts and that is why you find them on those islands in shopping malls. They are the kind of shirts your grandmother buys you because she doesn’t know any better. You aren’t a worse person for wearing one, but I WOULD question your taste.

The only shirt that can make you a terrible person is this one

Arielle Sorkin

Generally nervous human being.