A Remedy for Vulgar Teen T-Shirts

Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

If you spend any time near a mall or a high school these days, you’ve probably seen them: provocative T-shirts. Young girls walk by wearing tight T-shirts reading “Your boyfriend is a good kisser,” or “Yes, but not with U!” or “I am too hot to handle.”

Good grief! Whatever happened to those T-shirts with the smiley face — the ones that said, “Have a Nice Day”?

Washington Post writer Ian Shapira says T-shirts today are “blatantly sexual… and often loaded with double meanings.” The shirts are “emblematic of the kind of sleazy-chic culture some teenagers now inhabit.” It’s a culture, he says, “in which status can be defined by images of sexual promiscuity.”

Teens in Washington-area high schools told Shapira that they wore the T-shirts, in part, to rebel against school dress codes that they felt were too restrictive. Others wear them to give themselves “a little edge.”

Parents don’t like the shirts, but they say they’d rather pick other battles with their daughters. One mother acknowledged that her daughter’s racy T-shirt might give people the wrong impression about her daughter, but says: “I know that she is not sexually active. Who cares what [other people] think?”

The article caught the eye of several bloggers on BreakPoint’s new blog site, The Point. The writers — some of whom have daughters of their own — tore into the piece.

Regarding that mother who didn’t care what people thought about her daughter’s raunchy T-shirt, blogger Catherina Hurlburt wrote: “Oh, Mom, you should care very much what people think… actions are birthed in thoughts and imagination. The message invites a conversation. The conversation leads to flirting and suggestions [which] lead to, ahem, after-school activities — and I don’t mean football practice or band,” she wrote.

She’s right — but unfortunately, “There are few alternatives to the dirty T-shirt trend,” said blogger Christina Holder. For instance, abstinence groups design apparel “as political billboards,” but they have little appeal “to adolescent fashionistas.”

While fashion may not seem important to you and me as adults, it is to kids. While Christian daughters may agree that vulgar T-shirts are out, they still want edgy, fashionable clothing.

As Holder put it, “Ever since the fall, when Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves into clothing, fashion has been part of our world — whether we like it or not. Reaching the culture with the Truth means we have to find channels through the culture. Fashion is a channel in a teenager’s life” — which means fashion is a field some Christians ought to enter.

What might be an “edgy” T-shirt for Christian girls? How about “Pet Your Dog, Not Your Date”? Or, “He’s Leading You On,” a T-shirt citing Hebrews 12:2, about how Jesus guides us. Both of those are available through Christian-run companies. Better still, mothers and daughters could get out the glitter and design their own T-shirts.

Shirts with hip, edgy messages about Christ just might attract the right kind of attention from the kids at school — one that allows teens to share, in a sleazy-chic world, the cleansing and life-changing power of a holy Christ.

And while you’re at it — have a nice day!

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  • Guest

    How about sane people just refraining from being human bulletin boards?
    Countering offensive messages with Christian messages is just likely to taunt the childish into being more offensive with “can you top this” abominations.

    Years ago noone with any sense would be stupid enough to give lucrative, free advertising to clothing manufacturers but common sense seems not to be very common lately. So some have gone from the mental dimness of advertising “Tommy” clothes to advertising their own depravity.

    Please don’t get into – thereby encouraging – their game. Cool it with the clothing messages. Even this will pass.


  • Guest

    Yes, John Regan, we seek peace and the fashion world yields not a hint of serenity . . .

    To me, fashion has meant that my fly is zipped. I have never gotten excited by anything much more than my daughter prefering the ‘clearance’ rack at stores. The raciest thing she owns is full-length leather coat that looks like something some field marshall could admire. In all this, she takes after me.

    The only ‘suggestive’ T-shirt my daughter possessed in her teen years read on front: “Wanna get laid?” On the back: “Crawl up a chicken’s a** and wait.”

    My late wife made her own clothes, as well as our daughter’s, when Mom was alive. Fashion was to be demurely different, a dress that flowed-over her womanly lines but let her femininity speak out. She sure was no guy!

    And, no, her daughter would not have been permitted to wear the “Wanna get . . ” T-shirt, had Mom been still alive.

    I remain your obedient servant, but God’s first,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @mail.catholicexchange.com or …yahoo.com)