Through most of my adult life I have had the good sense and/or the good fortune to not have gotten caught up in the majority of ridiculous fashion trends that have afflicted most of my peers. There was my ten years in the Navy, which obviated the need to have much fashion sense; since the majority of time I was in uniform, and when I wasn't, my haircut gave away any hopes I had of blending in. Then there was law school at Stanford, where all I needed to fit in was a few hundred dollars worth of Abercrombie & Fitch (which hadn't become as douche-tastic as it is today). Finally, there was living in Los Angeles, and a decent amount of disposable income to spend on clothing - and by that time, I was over thirty and had just enough life experience to have developed my own understated sense of style. And so it is that for most of the fashion faux-pas that I rail against, I have never participated in them - which either validates my point or ruins my credibility depending on your point of view. But, there are a few fashion tragedies that I have been a part of in the past, that I've subsequently determined to be ridiculous. As tradition dictates, whenever I spot someone who hasn't yet seen the light and cast such nonsense aside, I mock them mercilessly. Hypocrisy, you say? You betcha. But, better to be right late, than never. And, it still doesn't stop it from being funny.
I hate for one brand to bear the brunt of my criticism for an entire genre of clothing, but since they had no problem being the flagship for faux bad-assery (FBA for short) when it was making them millions, I have no problem throwing Affliction under the bus for being the easiest way to spot a douchebag short of having them actually wear scarlet D's. I can recall the appeal of more artistically designed and printed t-shirts when Abercrombie was unwilling to produce anything that didn't have either a large number or cheeky sexual innuendo printed on it. I even bought some of these shirts; willingly laying down $60-$80 per shirt with the hopes that my t-shirt sophistication would make it obvious that there wasn't a futon anywhere in my furniture collection. Unfortunately, the responsible design group soon jumped the shark, and everything they produced had either a cross or a skull on it, along with an obnoxiously-sized and wannabe gothic version of the brand name. This is where I got off this particular fashion train, and none too soon.
Honestly, since when does wearing a cross make one a tough guy? And, the only kids I can remember who had to have skulls on everything were the same ones who thought that denim jackets never went out of style and that Metallica was an actual religion. And what's with the super-sized logo? I haven't seen branding that ridiculous on clothes since, Z Cavaricci (yeah, let that one take you back for a minute). Seriously, if I can tell what brand t-shirt you're wearing from fifty yards away, what are the chances you're not an ass? As if the giant cross and skull weren't bad enough. Every time I see one of these shirts now, my imagintion produces a deep baritone voiceover that yells "Affliction!" like a thunderclap. Which is precisely what I believe the wearer of such shirts to be the desired effect. Of course, I suppose that I'm then supposed to be so overwhelmed by the sheer badness of their clothing that I will be sure to stay out of their way not make any direct eye contact. In reality, I'm just trying not to laugh out loud, and leaning over to whisper to my girlfriend "Affliction bingo, plus one!"
That's right, Affliction bingo. A fun game for all you reasonably sane folks out there the next time you're at a concert, sporting event, movie, mall or other place you can expect find young men under the age of thirty. One point for every piece of Affliction clothing you can spot first, and d0uble points for more than one piece on the same person. Of course the entertainment that you get from this game probably falls under the laughing-to-keep-from-crying category - but it's better than waxing poetic on social decay or worrying about how seriously underqualified the next generation of adults will be to do anything that doesn't involve their MySpace page. If you're looking to get a high score, I'd recommend a mixed martial arts event. Of course, here you'll find even more egregious examples of FBA, in the brands that have grown up around this new sports phenomenon.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of MMA. There will always be a demand for combat sports, and our bloodlust, if anything, has gotten stronger as we've become (arguably) more gentrified. Boxing was swirling the drain like the discarded hair from your man-scaping and we needed something that more real than pro wrestling and that did not involved Don King. MMA answered the call. Unfortunately, the minimal gear and the nature of the combat has made the sport so accessible that every knucklehead who's ever been in a bar scrap now thinks he's two Ju-Jitsu lessons away from being a professional fighter, and wants to make sure everyone knows it. And, the aforementioned apparel companies have been happy to oblige. Now the streets are full of crew-cutted posers who expect that wearing a Tapout shirt is license to act as though they're a Mike Tyson in waiting who ought to cut as wide a swath as possible. I swear that these guys are walking around with the Rocky training montage music playing in their heads. Of course, they're usually performing this menacing gait through a shopping mall parking lot on their way to their silver Honda Civic; the one with the do-it-yourself window tinting and exhaust modified to make it sound like a very angry lawnmower. Please.
I'm certainly not placing these brands at fault. For every quick fix we've ever desired, there's always been someone willing to peddle it to us, at a premium. And the need for wash and wear masculinity has obviously never been higher. The world has certainly feminized in the past few decades, and the opportunities to register one's value as a man are fewer and farther between than they've ever been. But, what sort of man needs to wear his toughness on his t-shirt? And, in a room full of men all wearing the same intended "bad-ass" label, how can you tell who the real bad ass is? Well, the terror imposed by skulls and crosses notwithstanding, he's likely the one whose shirt says nothing at all.