Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Stop reading the title of this post!

File under: Sound And Fury, XX Marks the Spot. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 3:51 pm.

Lord knows you won’t find a less charitable critic of the “your shoes say so very much about you” school of thought than yours truly, but I find myself unable to reject, wholesale, its central tenet, which is this: what you wear can send a message to the people you interact with. For example, if you wear a t-shirt that says “touch my boobies“, you are sending the message that you would like someone to touch your boobies. Yes, you are. Oh, I know that you meant it ironically. And do you know what the horny eighteen-year-old who asked you out after he saw you in that shirt has a really good appreciation of, because he’s been paying extremely close attention in the remedial English class he couldn’t place out of? That’s right, irony.

More generally: if you don’t periodically find yourself thinking, “You know, the problem with the world today is that people read too damned much, perhaps it’s time to discourage folks from reading the stuff they see around them”, then maybe you ought to think long and hard before “[using] your body as a billboard“. Even - no, especially - if you’re only doing that for the purpose of (ironically!) “[showing] corporate America that you’re not one”, and by the way, if anyone who passed Doublethink 101 would care explain that one to me in the comments, why, I’d be much obliged.

Because here’s the thing: I am, for the most part, wholly uninterested in boobies. When I talk to women, I make eye contact with them the entire time, unless they’re gesturing with their hands, in which case I’ll look at their hands as well. I will not look downward. Again: I am wholly uninterested in boobies.

However, if my interlocutor has text printed across her tits, then yes, my gaze will move southward, and linger for as long as it takes for me to finish reading. DESPITE MY LACK OF SEXUAL INTEREST IN BREASTS. English text implicitly invites readers (see also, “society, literacy-based”) even when it explicitly reads “stay away”. You have to first read it in order to get the “stay away” message.

“The show is upstairs”? Fine. I’d never have even ventured onto the second floor in the first place if you hadn’t invited me there. And now? I’m pretty sure I’m not even interested in the show anymore.

(Although, it looks like there’s something going on on the first floor, if you catch my drift. Me, when I want someone to not look at my crotch, I wear something on top of my underpants. Even though that’s not politically progressive! Whatever.)

[Update: This is worse. If you ever see anyone wearing that first shirt, play dumb and ask him to check out that nasty-smelling vaginal discharge you just noticed. Hey, he offered!]


  1. A high school friend of mine frequently wore a T-shirt that not only was tight across her breasts, but had one of those god forsaken yellow smiley faces with the eyes perfectly placed over her (squished-together) nipples. Then without a trace of irony she would complain that the guys were staring at her chest. It took quite a bit of self control on my part not to say anything.

    Of course, this was the same girl who complained that a history teacher was sexist because he made the girls participate in class discussions instead of being sensitive to the fact that girls are quiet, delicate flowers who should be allowed to sit and do their nails instead of being forced to actually answer questions.

    - KimJ — 9/29/2005 @ 6:00 pm

  2. I tried explaining that to judge, but it didn’t help!

    - IB a Math Teacher — 9/29/2005 @ 6:54 pm

  3. KimJ - oh, I weep. I do wish that self-centred twits would just embrace their self-centredness, rather than claim that their actions are formally approved by some ideology. My momma’s generation of women didn’t burn their bras so that their successors could giggle about how stupid they were.

    I’m remembering something from my rather mimimal knowledge of [fashion | art | interior design] - the idea of composing a setting so that the eye is drawn toward some focus. I reckon it’s similar with fashion, and that the boobie-happy-face serves as a helluva focus, and not because Men Are Pigs ™.

    And, just in case it’s not clear - I want to make it explicit that I think that there’s a big chasm between “if you dress like that, people are going to look at you” and “if you dress like that, you’re asking to be raped.” Not that that really needs to be said, correct?

    - Moebius Stripper — 9/29/2005 @ 7:20 pm

  4. Today’s version over in my world was “Satisfaction Guaranteed.” Maybe that’s a little less explicit, but I think the A&F logo rules out any attempt at irony regarding consumerism. Then again, I really don’t like the lettering on the butt of short shorts either. I’m not sure if that should be insulting to your school/sorority or not.

    Oh, and for full disclosure, I am very interested in boobies.

    - overread — 9/29/2005 @ 7:48 pm

  5. I’d just like to state that when I wear my “Ask Me About My Penis” shirt, I’m completely happy to be asked about my penis.

    - Kirsten — 9/29/2005 @ 9:20 pm

  6. Oh, and when you’re a male teacher of high school kids, and girls (underage, but could easily pass for 19) show up with FCUK t-shirts (from some clever brittish company with the initials FC) or shirts that say “get drunk, wake up sandy” over a picture of the beach…well, that’s just a recipe for a career-ruining slip-up glance or comment.

    - Polymath — 9/29/2005 @ 9:45 pm

  7. Polymath - oh, I don’t envy you. But hey, I’m doing my part. (Aside - I wonder how many of these students just don’t understand what those shirts mean. I mean, you have people wearing (or worse) text in languages that they don’t read. Given the many studies that indicate that x percent of high school graduates, where x is large, are functionally illiterate in their mother tongues, I can only assume that some of the people wearing these shirts just plain don’t understand what they say.)

    Kirsten - oh, I believe it; I’ve never seen you not stand behind what you’ve said. But now I’m reminded of another shirt I’ve seen - this one read something along the lines of, Are you drunk? Take a free breathalyzer test, with an arrow at the bottom-centre of the shirt pointing downward. I’ve seen this shirt twice: once, worn by a gangly, pimply-faced fifteen-year-old, and once on a balding, beer-bellied middle-aged guy. Both times I was really tempted to go up to them and say, straight-faced, “Hey, I just had a fair bit to drink, and I’m not sure I should drive. I’d like to take advantage of that breathalyzer test of yours.” Because neither of these guys looked like the sort who’d be able to respond to that with either grace or humour. Not that the shirt was even remotely graceful or humourous, mind you.

    (Only vaguely-related - I’ve long wanted to create a T-shirt that read, “I held up a t-shirt store…and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” Because I’m a sucker for self-reference, and for the type of irony that doesn’t share a boundary with sexual harassment.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 9/29/2005 @ 9:57 pm

  8. Story — somewhat related:

    I went to one of those summer camps for nerds back in 1988 (before Mathcamp, alas). I was 14, and got to know this other 14-yr-old girl there. For some reason, people thought both of us were about 17 or 18 years old… but for completely different reasons.

    Anyway, this chick liked wearing a particular tshirt — in small letters across the breasts it said “Everybody is watching you looking at my chest”.

    What really pissed me off about this chick is that she affected to be an airhead. Ok, to get into this nerd camp, you had to take the SAT, and do pretty well on it. You had to have some level of academic achievement beyond normal. All of us at the camp knew what the standards were to get into the camp. So what was the point of acting like an airhead? Was it convincing?

    Anyway, that girl had the body to fill out that shirt, which is why people thought she was older than she was.

    In body-billboard news, on Tuesday, while I was studying for my next actuarial exam, I wore the Immanuel Kant tshirt you gave me long ago. I don’t know if many people bothered to read it — a little long for a message on a tshirt. But at least I wasn’t straining the threads.

    - meep — 9/30/2005 @ 3:15 am

  9. “I held up a t-shirt store…and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

    I saw one recently that said something like “I looted New Orleans… and all I got were 10 of these lousy t-shirts”.

    - K — 9/30/2005 @ 7:05 am

  10. Most of the people I come in contact with are (like me) foreign students. There is a tendency among them to wear English shirts without ever considering what the English might read. I caught one of my friends wearing a t-shirt that said pretty explicitly that he had sexual interest in dressing up like a stuffed animal. He had no idea and probably neither did the girlfriend who had given him the shirt.

    I have a fondness for the way English text is used on products in some asian countries, and really would wear a shirt with “perhaps love” or “organic fun” written on it.

    And I like stuffed animals. But not that much.

    - Jordan — 9/30/2005 @ 10:52 am

  11. http://www.eskimo.com/~dj3vande/words.gif is something I copied down from _Metamagical Themas_ (a collection of columns Douglas Hofstadter wrote, under the same title if I’m not mistaken), which translated it as something like “these chinese characters I have written are not that great” (I don’t remember the exact wording it gave).
    I’d wear a tshirt with that. Maybe even if one or two of them were Obviously Wrong but still recognizable, but only if I could tell you which ones.

    - dave — 9/30/2005 @ 1:00 pm

  12. Dave, I absolutely LOVE Metamagical Themas! When my paperback copy wore out, I had my sister (who restores books) re-bind it in hardback!

    I totally echo MS’s views on the text across the breast and butt, and would also add to that a comment about cleavage. Cleavage, by the shape of its lines, draws the eye downward. That’s why cleavage is considered sexy– it’s not the breasts, it’s what they’re pointing to. Any woman who displays cleavage, in my opinion, is inviting eyes lower. So a shirt whose neckline would be perfectly fine on my flat-chested friend would make busty ol’ me look like a sexpot.

    Try explaining that, though, to a rules-oriented fourteen-year-old who doesn’t understand why she’s not allowed to leave the house wearing that shirt she borrowed from her flat-chested friend.

    My grandfather spoke the wisest words I know on the subject of modesty in dress. When my mom tried to leave the house in something immodest, he very casually asked her if she were going out to sell her body. Shocked, she replied “no!” and he said, “Well then, don’t advertise what you’re not selling.”

    - Wacky Hermit — 9/30/2005 @ 3:18 pm

  13. I think the chick in that photo really needs to be wearing one of these:


    - John — 9/30/2005 @ 3:50 pm

  14. K - dammit, someone stole my t-shirt idea! I swear, I had that my idea as early as 2001! Ask my friends!

    Wacky - I’m with you for your first three paragraphs, but truth be told, the “Don’t advertize what you’re not selling” line rubs me the wrong way. (In part because it’s not even true in real advertizing: the half-naked woman in the beer ad ain’t selling herself. She’s selling beer. I can’t hold clueless fourteen-year-olds to standards that we don’t even enforce among folks who actually make money, in a non-prostitution way, from this sort of attire.) “Don’t show what you don’t want folks to look at”, isn’t as catchy, but I’ll stand behind that one. Ditto for the tautology truism “provocative clothes provoke.”

    - Moebius Stripper — 9/30/2005 @ 4:56 pm

  15. I love Asian shirts with badly worded English on them, and I have several that (unfortunetly) are way too tight and emphasize the boobs far too much. Unofrtunetly, I can’t bring myself to stop wearing my “Make Volume to the FULL!” t-shirt to concerts.

    The one shirt (not Japanese) that I wish I had purchased for irony purposes was one of those horrible tourist-trap T-shirts- you know the cheap white cotton with poorly silk-screened text that is in four different, uniquily horrible fonts and five colors, with some italics and bold and ALL CAPS thrown in for emphasis. It said “I may not have direction, but at least I have velocity.”

    - K (other) — 9/30/2005 @ 6:09 pm

  16. Even more ironic, since velocity is a vector quantity.

    - Engineer-Poet — 10/1/2005 @ 12:50 pm

  17. 1) I don’t really have a _problem_ with the girl in the underwear and the self-defeating t-shirt. Perhaps she wants to emphasize that her brains are EVEN BETTER than her rack.

    2) HOWEVER, I too pause to read the words printed across busoms, and if the message is pretty long, I’m sure the impression I give verges on creepy. I also tend to ‘read’ people’s necklaces - people where I live are given to big prominent religious symbols - which also involves eyes too close to busoms.

    I wear plain-fronted t-shirts. I also always put nametags up near the collarbone. This may be prudish of me, but it is also quite effective.

    - alextree — 10/1/2005 @ 5:03 pm

  18. To clarify, my interest in breasts is in fact entirely in the platonic range of maternal and child health and so forth. I just wanted to say that I didn’t feel particularly negatively about t-shirt lady. I certainly did not offer the previous comments as an earnest assessment of her busom.

    - alextree — 10/1/2005 @ 5:06 pm

  19. Engineer Poet, that’s the only thing that makes the shirt at all desirable. Otherwise, it was lame as all hell.

    - K (other) — 10/1/2005 @ 5:10 pm

  20. I’m with MS: if you wear things that make people look at you, expect to be looked at, but not more.

    That said — and I like wearing shirts with stuff on the front, so yes, people stare at my chest to read what it says — I understand that you will read what is written on my breasts. This is normal. I do it too, and boobs don’t interest me. However, when it is three words long, it does not take more than a few seconds to read it, so you can move your eyes away now.

    - wolfangel — 10/1/2005 @ 5:22 pm

  21. My favourite tacky outfit I ever saw — apologies if I mentioned this one before — was this woman wearing a skin tight white tshirt and shorts, semi-seethrough, with leopard print (matching!) bra and panties (not a thong) with ‘Tacky’ on the tshirt.

    - wolfangel — 10/1/2005 @ 5:24 pm

  22. wolfangel, that’s not fair. Usually, something printed across the chest is … uh… hard to read because not all of it is readily visible. This means that you get a chance to read it, but aren’t quite sure what the middle letters are (since they were hidden by cleavage) and so you keep glancing back each time the angle changes with the hope that it became clearer. At least, that’s my excuse.

    More seriously, I hate when people wear text. Whenever there is text anywhere, my eyes are drawn to it, over and over. It’s like there is constant shouting in the room. If there is a newspaper lying around, I can barely keep up a normal conversation because the headlines keep interrupting my chain of thought. (But maybe I’m a freak this way.)

    - Sam — 10/1/2005 @ 9:31 pm

  23. Oh, Sam, you’re no more freaky than I am. (Reassuring, I know.) I feel the same way about text on clothing, but I hadn’t been able to explain why until I read your comment. This “constant shouting” comparison especially explains why I can’t stand political statements on t-shirts - after all, it’s considered inappropriate to bring up controversial political subjects with people you don’t know very well, so it would seem that this would apply to in-your-face written messages as well. If I’m explaining some math concept to a student, their stand on the Iraq war shouldn’t be front and centre. (And what if I disagree with said controversial position, whose sloganized version often reduces to something of the form, “People who disagree with me are morons”? Does the adage “silence implies consent” apply here? If so, am I supposed to engage passers-by in lengthy debates about politics? I reckon even the most outspoken of the political t-shirt wearers wouldn’t approach perfect strangers and say, “Hi, we’ve never met, but I want you to know that if you disagree with me about [—-], then you’re an idiot,” yet t-shirts that perform exactly that act abound.)

    So, what I’m saying here is, go Sam.

    - Moebius Stripper — 10/1/2005 @ 9:56 pm

  24. LOL. I thought Go Fug Yourself had a good, pithy take on this, albeit with a misplaced modifier and…er, from the opposite direction.

    - Sean Kinsell — 10/1/2005 @ 11:37 pm

  25. Yes, words are distracting. And I will give a pass for the small letters, because those are sometimes hard to read, but I have never noticed a problem with large ones. And in the end: we’re adults. If it bothers you that much, you can say something (”sorry, your shirt is really distracting”) or walk away, most of the time.

    I don’t comment on people’s political/religious slogans on their tshirts because really, I don’t care, and am likely not in the mood. (Probably they don’t care, either.) I did comment on someone’s incredibly cool tshirt which had the word FALSE and, hidden in it, TRUE. (Talk about shirts you need to stare at for a while to understand. It’s a lot less tacky on a guy. Especially when he is a foot taller than you *anyhow*, so it’s almost natural to look there.)

    MS, do (political) bumper stickers also annoy you?

    - wolfangel — 10/2/2005 @ 7:30 am

  26. Ah, MS, but some people will comment on your Tshirt message when they disagree with it. I remember my first encounter with a certain scary Russian professor in my math department. We were alone in the elevator and I was wearing my “Uniformity is boring” Tshirt. He came very close to me, pointed at my Tshirt, and added very seriously “I disagree with it”.

    Of course, even less enjoyable was my second encounter with it. We bumped into each other in the hall weeks later. He decided to hold me for half an hour while he told me the history of when he was kidnapped and forced to give a math lecture. Ah, scary Russian mathematicians…

    - oxeador — 10/2/2005 @ 8:37 am

  27. You know, political bumper stickers sort of annoy me, but only somewhat for the same reason that poltical t-shirts annoy me. Political bumper stickers are sort of in between political t-shirts and political ads on TV, in terms of in-your-faceness. Text on a t-shirt is confrontational, an ad on TV isn’t, and a bumper sticker sort of is, in that it’s attached to someone you can see, but aren’t really interacting with.

    Mostly, political bumper stickers make me sad, because the idea that five words on a sticker will influence someone’s thoughts…disturbs me. Ditto for lawn signs that say “Vote for so-and-so” and nothing else. Obviously they work, otherwise they’d have disappeared…but, shee. As a means of influencing people, I prefer the ones that have, say, the URL of a website with more information - those seem more geared toward educating, rather than confronting/brainwashing.

    Which is all rather off-topic.

    Oxeador - that’s insane. Insane.

    - Moebius Stripper — 10/2/2005 @ 7:42 pm

  28. Oxeador - to paraphrase a Russian saying - Not every Russian is a mathematician. Not every mathematician is insane. But every Russian mathematician is insane.

    That goes for Russian physicists, too.

    (The original saying is: Not every Russian is talented. Not every talented person is a drunk. But every talented Russian is a drunk.)

    - John — 10/3/2005 @ 7:36 am

  29. Jordan: kind of like this, maybe?


    That was just weird.

    I do also tend to read text rather than, well, looking at people. My girlfriend often says ‘hey, did you see X?’ and I’m like, no, I was reading the text.

    - plam — 10/3/2005 @ 12:21 pm

  30. plam: I think the classic example of this is the closing credits of “What’s Up Tigerlily?” There’s a scantily clad girl dancing while the credits roll. At one point in the credits it says, “why are you reading this instead of looking at the girl?”

    - vito prosciutto — 10/3/2005 @ 6:30 pm

  31. Plam - that reminds me of a billboard my parents saw a few years ago in Israel. Israelis have no concept of what swearing is in English - they use swear words, but to them, everything is on par with “heck” and “darn” - pretty mild, and not worth censoring. Anyway, the billboard in question was for a new chain of restaurants called “Chico’s” - they were about to open, and the marketers had employed an air-of-intrigue campaign - you know, get people curious about the restaurant so that they’ll check it out. So, in the middle of Jerusalem were these massive billboards that read, in huge English letters - WHO THE FUCK IS CHICO?

    Back to text on t-shirts - Vito Prosciutto spots a kid who probably has no idea why he’s not getting laid.

    - Moebius Stripper — 10/3/2005 @ 11:45 pm

  32. I feel like using this opportunity to mention the bumper sticker I wish I could sell:

    In backwards letters, and you put it on the FRONT bumper of your car. It says “If you can read this, you’re driving too slow.”

    - Mango Juice — 10/4/2005 @ 8:56 am

  33. The rest of my comment:

    It pisses me off to see people walking around with stuff written on their ass. For one thing, it’s much more eye-grabbing. There are tons of T-shirts with writing around these days, and I kind of tune them out the way I tune out advertisements. But writing on the butt is new and attention-getting, and it’s never worth reading. Plus it doesn’t make as much sense… they can’t possibly catch people reading their butt very often.

    The young ladies here at my school are pretty reasonable in their dress, though, so I’m thankful for that.

    And I ditto the comment about people not understanding their T-shirts and offer this prime example.

    - Mango Juice — 10/4/2005 @ 9:06 am

  34. It might be textless, but really, I think there is something to be said for this tshirt. The birds are a little high up, but . . .

    - wolfangel — 10/24/2005 @ 2:49 pm

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