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Episode 17: Figuring Out Fashion: Conservative (Patriotic???) Dad T-Shirts

Episode #17: Figuring out Fashion–Patriotic Dad T-Shirts

Conservative T-Shirt Online Retailers

Part One: American Adults are babies, and American Men are the kings of all babies.

I’m not sure when I started to notice the phenomenon of conservative Adult men wearing childish shirts, but I’m sure it was sometime after 9/11. We talked about this a little bit on a Patreon extra, but there was a huge surge in overt Nationalism/Patriotism after 9/11. American flags made in other countries were all the rage. If you weren’t flying that flag at all times, then you weren’t a proud American and therefore a terrorist or a communist, which were and are the two worst things you could ever be.

In the past five years, the conservative T-shirt gang has increased exponentially. There was once a time where conservative men thought that wearing a suit was the most manly thing you could do. Or maybe it was flannel or Dickies and work boots. You wore a suit and probably read Ayn Rand, or wore jeans and drank Bud Light. I’m painting with a broad brush, but you get the idea. This phenomenon of the specific Conservative Dad shirt feels NEW. You can’t go to an airport or walk along the beautiful Hollywood Beach Broadwalk without seeing dads in shirts that declare their confusing social and political stances, often aggressively.

American consumer culture has always infantilized us. It’s about dispensing easy-to-digest treats that appeal to our personal beliefs. With the increase in personalization in our consumer goods, manufacturers can cater to specific political ideologies and current events. This applies to other political ideologies as well: there are definitely shirts for liberals and leftists, but they are not as popular because these ideologies don’t really align with overtly political t-shirt stuff. Every now and then you’ll see a BLM shirt or a shirt with a bunch of different colored hands, but next time you’re out in a place with every manner of American humanity, take note of the T-shirts. Having a shirt with a quasi-threatening message and an artist’s rendering of an AR-15 doesn’t exactly work with ideologies outside of conservatism. Most people have a need to declare their identity with their clothing. It’s a part of culture–clothes are signifiers of group and social status. That’s why we have uniforms and fashion and all that shit. It lets us quickly say to outsiders “this is me, and this is where I belong.”

Of course, the conservative dad shirt attacks any subtleties inherent in fashion. A person in a suit could be many things. A person with a shirt that says, "Stand for the Anthem, Kneel Before God," sends a clear message about the wearer. This is a person who has wholeheartedly bought into a particular brand of culture war. These are shirts that recognize enemies and hope for their destruction. We all KNOW what this refers to. It is about black athletes kneeling during the national anthem. The wearer of this shirt wants YOU, whoever YOU are, to know how they feel.

Last summer I visited a place called Cody, Wyoming, which might be the epicenter of conservative dad shirts. I saw hundreds of white dads leading their children through the streets, wearing shirts that indicated how they would kill you with their gun, how angry they hoped you are for reading their shirt, and how stupid you are for being angry at their shirt. Let me be very clear: these shirts don’t make me angry at all. These shirts are hilarious. They represent a sad but virulent strain of nationalism that is rooted in a profound lack of irony, but under the guise of some sort of humor. I’m mostly interested in how full-grown adults could think that these shirts are a reasonable thing to purchase and wear. Nearly all of these shirts are listed as “Humorous Patriotic Tees,” but the kind of humor that I see in them is probably not the intended humor. I don’t think many people are wearing this stuff ironically (like “LOL can you imagine if I believed in this so much that I bought a shirt and WORE IT IN PUBLIC”). I think their intended humor is the potential for “liberal tears,” which is sort of a Conservative catchall for upsetting people with different beliefs.

When I was in the airport a few weeks ago (shortly before the travel mask mandate was lifted), I saw a dude with a simple yet elegant “Pro Gun. Pro Life. Pro God” shirt. He was articulating excitement to his children about the possibility of being confronted by airline staff because he wasn’t wearing a mask. This is a person who wore this shirt hoping for confrontation, and when he didn’t get any, he sought another fight. There’s an inherent hostility to this kind of clothing. I’m not saying that all conservatives are hostile, but the current iteration of American conservatism certainly pursues conflict as a means of establishing itself. Without the perceived threat of the other, there isn’t much to fight for. Both of the major political machines in this country offer no solutions to the very real concerns of working people. They don’t provide material solutions to hopelessness, homelessness, climate disaster, or the gutting of public goods and services for the benefit of the ruling class, so they give us cultural issues to squabble over.

I don’t want to make fun of the people who wear these shirts. I really don’t. BUT, it’s hard not to. It’s such an easy dunk. I’ll do my best to mock the shirt only, and not the person, but remember that people wear these shirts, and companies print these shirts. I have much sympathy (not empathy) for these people, and I believe that many of them arrived at their ideas honestly, even if their ideas are built on a house of intolerance and overt violence. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that many adults are still babies.

I dug up some articles about how these shirts were a big part of the January 6th insurrection or whatever, if that wasn’t completely obvious, and my theory is that the modern iteration of the conservative dad shirt is a mixture of post 9/11 Flag Culture (the proliferation of flag waving) and customizable fashion/novelty tee shirts, with a sprinkle of Tea Party animosity and overt Trump worship. What I really want to do is look at these shirts though. I’m less interested in the HOW than I am the WHAT, because this shirt is hilarious.

Part TWO: The many shades of Conservative Dad Shirts.

I feel like it’s useful to categorize the Conservative Dad Shirt. They are all under the same umbrella, and there are probably dudes with a whole bunch of these in their closets.

HOLY SHIT there are so many companies hawking these shirts.

Category IS: Gun Shirts!

Gun shirts are very popular. These shirts proclaim the wearers love of AR-15s, various kinds of bullets, and the 2nd Amendment. Here’s the thing I don’t get…if you love your AR-15 so much, then just love it. Why do you need to be a baby and wear the shirt? It confounds me. Remember in kindergarten when kids just had a shirt with a truck on it? It’s a lot like that. The gun shirt is meant to provoke fear, because these are never just shirts with guns on them. These are shirts that have guns and sometimes threats. Ask yourself, is your identity built on your ability to inflict violence or fear? Maybe you need to develop a more interesting identity. Read some books? Take a dance class? Have a conversation about your feelings? I dunno.

Category IS: Let’s Go Brandon.

The Let’s Go Brandon T-Shirt Phenomenon should have its own entry, because this is the craze sweeping the nation. Obviously, you’ve heard of Let’s Go Brandon, which means “Fuck Joe Biden,” after a chant at a car race became sanitized by an announcer for a televised broadcast. This thing is so funny for many reasons, but I think it’s hilarious because of how childish this joke is. It’s something that the wearer feels is an “in-group” wink at saying “fuck Joe Biden,” but by now we all get it. The sentiment doesn’t bother me, I mean, look at Joe Biden’s record with the justice system, the “war on drugs,” and the “war on terror.” Unfortunately, I can’t imagine that this is the sentiment of “Let’s Go Brandon” shirt-wearers. “Let’s Go Brandon” people are absurd. This is a shirt for adults. LGB shirts are usually red white and blue. Since this shirt speaks for itself, I’d rather take a look at some reviews from people who bought this shirt.

Reviewed in the United States on December 21, 2021

Love it. Great printing. Fits like you’d expect. Very soft. My husband wears it just about every days and it has held up well to probably about 100 rounds in the washing machine. Highly recommend—only thing better would be getting that idiot out of office!!!

5.0 out of 5

This is a nice shirt that fits well. Upsets some folks but IDGAF! LGB!!!!!

Reviewed in the United States on January 19, 2022

This shirt is already the most complimented shirt I've ever owned. Glad to be a part of the #LGBFJB community!

2.0 out of 5 stars

I wanted to love it but the OCD in me

Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2021

Cant pass the fact the print is crooked. The Lets Go Brandon was NOT printed straight, it is more like a 25 degree angle instead of a 180. Im sad but I still say aloud Let’s Go, Brandon!

Category IS: Sheep vs Wolf/Lion shirts

This is one of the most popular genres right now. There are several design variations, but they usually feature an American flag, a reference to the wearer being a lion or a wolf and other people being sheep. You know what shows off that you’re not a sheep? Buying a t-shirt from Amazon that thousands of other people also bought, then wearing it around the airport knowing that everyone who looks at you will recognize your superiority. Big time lion move. Most lion shit ever. All of the wolves and lions that I know wear these shirts. You know when you’re in the African savannah, and you see the lions wearing their t-shirts that indicate they are, in fact, lions? Also, some biology stuff here, but wolves AND lions are pack animals. They often rely on the strength of their groups to ensure survival…so even the premise of this shirt is garbage. Anyway, I got some good reviews for this kind of shirt too. By the way, there are dozens of similar shirts with this sentiment. There are also a lot of “No Sheep in My Circle” shirts. Thousands of them. There are thousands of the same shirt ALL declaring the wearers individuality.

There’s one that says “Wolves don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep”

I fucking love that. You don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep SO MUCH SO that you buy a shirt to declare it. Wolf shit, brother.

Reviewed in the United States on April 1, 2022

Great product and great advertisement that I'm not a sheep or my family

Reviewed in the United States on December 16, 2021

Believe you should be free and soft cotton does the trick every time, this gourmet comes with tough roar of a lion’s face on it, designed for stand up American freedom, hats of the the designer, wear it with boldness!!!

Reviewed in the United States on January 2, 2022

Making a statement

The shirt is very comfortable And fits as expected

One of these shirt companies apparently printed the flag in the wrong direction. People were so pissed. You’d think that might reveal the thoughtless cash grab that this whole thing is…but no, because they’re not sheep.

Category IS: Shirts about The Idea that “Wokeness” is killing America, and “people are constantly offended by everything.” This is the largest category, because it contains so many possibilities for passively threatening people. Sometimes these shirts don’t have an overtly political message, but it’s clear that the wearer is attempting to elicit negative reactions from a certain group of people.

Category IS: Reagan and Lincoln

I know what you’re thinking…how could someone think that Reagan and Lincoln are similar beyond their shared political party? Of course, the modern Republican Party is so drastically different from Lincoln’s lifetime as to be rendered unrecognizable. But whatever…Lincoln was a Republican. So was Reagan. To the Conservative guy, this shit is ALL you need to know.

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