Messages on t-shirts like “This Body is Shaped by Beer” or “I Gave Up Drinking, Smoking and Sex. The Worst 15 Minutes of My Life” are a great way to communicate your personal statements.
In fact, celebrities like Paris Hilton or Britney Spears also love to throw their awkward comments “Teenage Millionaire” (Hilton) or “I am The American Dream” (Spears) into the lenses of the paparazzi.
However, movie directors also use tees as a medium, a detail that sparked my initial motivation to unveil some not so obvious hidden messages on t-shirts that you’ve probably missed, or did you see…
1. How Patton Oswalt Tries to Kill the Pixies in Young Adult (2011)
If you’ve watched Jason Reitman’s fantastic dark humored drama, “Young Adult” (2011), you’ve probably spotted the many band t-shirts that Matt (Patton Oswalt) used to wear in various scenes.
And being a child of the 90s and loving alternative music, I particularly liked Matt’s Pixies t-shirt.
Mike wears the black tee, when Mavis (Charlize Theron) visits him spontaneously in his illegal whiskey distillery that he runs at home in his garage.
His Pixies t-shirt promotes the best-of compilation album of the US alternative band that came out in 1997.
The sound of the band was pretty loud and rough, but the lyrics of the band leader Frank Black are very subtle and became the voice of a whole generation of intellectual hardcore nerds.
Actually, Frank Black became a loud voice of a whole generation of alternative music fans and punk rock misfits by critically analyzing the US society and predicting with his prophetic lyrics a lot of drawbacks.
In fact, the short and overweight Matt looks not only like Frank Black’s brother but he also enjoys cynically commenting to the people around him and analyzes with his sharp tongue what’s wrong in society, like his school mates who beaten him up, because they thought he is gay.
But come on! Why would Matt then want to kill his favorite brand? To find this out, let’s take a closer look at a ‘pixie’.
As you may not know, pixies are better known as ‘goblins’ or ‘kobolds’ which are mythical folklore creatures in Europe and other countries. According to different mythologies and sources, a pixie is very short and cloddy and behaves like a playful child.
They are innocuous but also often described as ill-clothed, like fineries and love to jovially banter with people in the woods, where they live.
In fact, all these characteristics seem to fit a description of Matt’s stature but also to his nature, his shabby outfits and foremost, because he also likes to banter verbally with the people around him and likes to walk through the woods with Mavis.
Another indicator that makes Matt the perfect human pixie is his hobby of handcrafting and painting his fine figurines and creatures that he collects in his small room in the attic.
Okay, but still, why does the t-shirt say “Death to the Pixies”?
Here comes the clue, because Mavis tries literally to kill the ‘pixie’ in Matt, when she sleeps with him in the attic room, where Matt loses his virginity.In fact, Matt finally has sex with his dream girl which marks the point that she turned him, who is still playing like a child with figurines, into a real man.
Therefore, the album title seems like a subtle but vatic hint, that the arrogant prom queen Mavis unveiled her pity and heart, and symbolically killed the pixie in Matt.
Another prophetic, but less radical, pop-cultural media reference can be spotted in Sofia Coppola’s latest drama on Claire Julien’s t-shirt or…
2. What are Madonna’s Lips Doing in The Bling Ring (2013)
The Bling Ring (2013) from movie director Sofia Coppola is all about fashion and the subtle messages the pricy and hipster brands communicate.
The tricky part is that the fashion code is a secret that only the insiders and in-crowd can decode, value and appreciate.
This is especially true when it’s about high fashion brands that don’t have a showy label on the front. Chloe’s (Claire Julien) oversized t-shirt with the red lips on the front, for instance, that she wears while partying in the clubs with her gang, contains two different pop-cultural references and messages that only few have grasp:
Firstly, because the top is from the Los Angeles fashion label Wildfox Couture that is very popular among real Hollywood celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens, Megan Fox or Paris Hilton.… What?
Yes, because if you are familiar with the real “Bling Ring” case, you probably know that the kids robbed Megan Fox and Paris Hilton’s house and stole a lot of their clothes.
This fact turns Chloe‘s t-shirt not only into a sign of wealth and being ‘in-the-known’ but is also an indicator of authenticity. Actually, it illustrates how carefully fashion stylist Stacey Battat researched to get the look of the kids right.
The second interesting detail is not that she wears the “Vixen Distressed” t-shirt but foremost is the red lips graphic with the tooth gap.
Why is that?
Because it‘s a reference to the probably most famous tooth gap in pop-cultural history: Madonna’s.
Actually, the t-shirt graphic is a reminiscence of the cover of Madonna’s greatest hits album “Celebration” that came out in 2009, the year when the real Bling Ring gang broke into the celeb houses.
The fact that Chloe wears a t-shirt that is in fact a references to the “Celebration” album of the pop queen Madonna while Chloe is actually celebrating her new showy lifestyle that is literally the best time she had before she gets arrested, is probably a subtle code that only a few pop geeks realized.
Another hidden message for only those who understand the fashion code contains the t-shirt of the cameo of…
3. Jeff Jarrett - The Preacher with a Black Cross on His Heart in Spring Breakers (2012)
Despite the fact wether you like Harmony Korine’s disturbing coming of age movie “Spring Breakers” or not, you have to admit that he put a lot of effort into many pop-cultural details and references that many of us have probably overlooked on first sight.
Therefore, let’s start and dive deep into cultural learning and unveil, for instance, the story behind the t-shirt of Faith’s preacher man, Jeff Jarrett.
Jeff is in reality a legendary US Pro Wrestler with nearly 30 years of show ring experience, who plays himself which gives his preacher role a lot of energy and authenticity.
Jarrett is the pastor in the bible youth group that the firm believer Faith (Selena Gomez) visits, and where he gives one of his ‘Hipster Christianity’ preaches.
In this particular scene, the charismatic preacher wears a green and black t-shirt with cross prints. In fact, the tee is from the famous fashion brand Xzavier that became very popular among Christians, due to their remarkable cross, crowns and angel graphic print tops.
Xzavier’s brand claim ‘New House Built on Tradition’ and their christianity designs especially are quite popular among many conservative Jesus freaks, straight edge and hardcore fans.
Jeff’s t-shirt in particular is the model ‘Rebuilt on Tradition’. With its two crosses on the front where his heart is and one on the back, it impressively symbolizes, that the bible study leader is not an old traditional pastor but a new and cool believer in god.
While his t-shirt is already a strong symbol, it becomes even more relevant and prophetic with the words Jeff teaches in the student class.
As you may remember, Jarrett ends his preaching with a quote from the bible, 1 Corinthians 10:13, that God provides you a way out when you are tempted, because temptation is Satan.
And while Jeff says these last words to Faith and the other young bible group members, the camera jumps to another scene where we see Brit AKA Ashley Benson and how she smokes dope with a bong.
And with the words from the New Testament, Jeff foresees actually the fate of the friends Brit, Cotty, Candy and Faith.
In fact, the four allied girls will be tempted by the gangster Alien, the wild parties, robberies, drugs and money, and their once-in-a-lifetime trip will prove that they can’t resist the temptation of this wicked side of life.
Wait, in fact, only Faith, who listened to the words of the preacher man carefully, can resist the seductions that the free life during the Spring Break and especially that Alien – Satan in person – has to offer. Actually, Faith leaves the group at first, and thank to her firm believe in the words of the preacher man, the turnaround saves her soul.
Sure, not all these associations derive from Jeff’s ‘Rebuilt on Tradition’ t-shirt, but it looks like a subtle indicator of how the powerful presence of the preacher influenced Faith’s choice.
Okay, Cameron Diaz’s role in the comedy drama The Other Woman (2014) is not as religious, brutal and desperate, but also Cameron’s outfit contains more subtle cues to the story and her character than on first sight, or did you know that…
4. Cameron Diaz’s Role is the Sphinx and Not Only The Other Woman (2014)
Sure, Nick Cassavetes’ drama comedy was probably not your favorite movie in 2014 especially if you are a man, but in fact many girls loved the dream team of Cameron, Leslie Man and Kate Upton and how they are fighting back against the arrogant fraud Mark.
Carly (Cameron Diaz) in particular is a tough business woman and attorney and helps the naive housewife Kate (Leslie Mann), who is close to a nervous breakdown, to take revenge of her husband Mark (Nikolay Coster-Waldau) who betrayed both.
The lawyer is actually like Kate’s good guardian who guides Kate to the Hamptons and the Bahamas to track down the womanizer, Mark.
And when the three women finally arrive at the hotel in Nassau to observe and catch Mark red-handed, we can see Carly wearing a beige print t-shirt.
The casual looking top is in fact from the pricy fashion label Balenciaga and shows an Egyptian pyramid. The Spanish luxury fashion brand fits Carly’s exclusive style as a successful lawyer and shows that she is pretty trendy.
In fact, the same t-shirt model has also been spotted on music celebrities like supermodel Miranda Kerr, Cassie or Rihanna prominently in media and subtly shows how fashion conscious Carly is.
However, the symbolic meaning of the t-shirt graphic itself is far more interesting.
It’s because the picture shows scenery in Egypt with pyramids and the face of the famous Sphinx.
And a Sphinx is not only a stone statue but a mythological creature that appears in different cultures with similar symbolic meanings.
In Greek mythology for instance, a Sphinx is described as a malicious, relentless or gracious but cruel creature that usually flanks the entrances of temples as a guardian.
In fact, a Sphinx protects the people who pass the access but kills and eats those impure humans who can’t answer the riddle for permission to enter the holy places.
Another important cue to understand the full symbolic meaning of a Sphinx is its Arabic name ‘Giza’ which means “The Terrifying One”.
And when combining these characteristics, it sounds like the Sphinx is a great symbol for the cruel revenge that Carly the good angel and tough lawyer, is going to prepare for Mark.
And, when you look even closer at Carly’s t-shirt, you can see that the graphic shows the Great Sphinx of Giza – the most popular of the worldwide Sphinx statues.
This mystical Sphinx in Egypt is in fact a lion with a human head and is the symbol of a wise but brutal guard in front of the holy entrances.
Actually, the Great Sphinx of Giza protects the people in a temple or Pyramid and punishes those people who couldn’t answer the riddle to pass her.
Therefore, the Sphinx of Giza is a great metaphor for Carly’s role as Kate’s guardian.
This is especially so in this scene, when they arrive at the Hotel – symbolically the temple – where Kate needs Carly’s support to track down the fraud Mark and advice when she realize all the brutal consequences in which her husband betrays her with a third woman.
The Sphinx symbolism also works for the final showdown when Carly’s revenge takes place and Mark can’t answer all her open questions about his business manipulations and has to suffer violently.
And finally, Carly’s law office is in fact the ‘Holy Grail’ where Carly can fulfill her role as a guardian and avenger for the innocent Kate.
Sure, it’s not clear if all costume designers really had these references in mind when choosing these t-shirts in all these scene, but they all look like nice trivia and comprehensible assumptions.