I own too many t-shirts. Recently I have been introduced to a few favorite t-shirts that are produced by American Apparel. One is a Phish concert shirt, one is from Hatch Show Print and the third is a custom 17 shirt that my wife had made for me (long story, Star Wars related, and by me typing that I just realized how lame I am). As with many of my posts, you may already be wondering where I am going with this, but hang in there. American Apparel shirts are great, and in the interest of not boring you with details of the quality of craftsmanship, softness, and fit, I will move on. If you are geek like me, they make one of the coolest t-shirts around but more on this in a minute.
American Apparel had defined itself by its products and its image. A huge part of the American Apparel image is conveyed through the typeface Helvetica. As with many of our posts, you may be thinking here we go again (Shea + Paul heart Helvetica). American Apparel’s use of Helvetica may be more tongue-in-cheek than steeped in typographic tradition.
I recently came across one of their retail stores, and due to my compulsive need for another t-shirt, I took the opportunity to check out the store. I learned two things, that I am detached from mainstream fashion community that shops at American Apparel (no surprise) and why they use Helvetica. First things first, the majority of the clothing that they sell in the store is either really cool or makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. It is a strange juxtaposition, I know. T-shirts are great, tricot men’s swim brief, awkward; Seersucker Robert Kennedy Shorts are awesome, Shiny Suspender Swimsuit, bizarre; Calf-high Memphis Socks are sweet, Acid Wash Cotton Spandex Leggings, downright freaky.
With such an eclectic collection of clothing, featuring wild colors, styles and fabrics, Helvetica is the perfect typeface to use for their image. When you want the focus to be on the product and want something that is simple and easy to read, Helvetica is a great choice. I’m not sure that’s why they chose it, though. Helvetica, along with the suggestive images that they use in advertising, is another cross of the classic and contemporary that creates an interesting interaction.
This rebellious combination could reveal the reason behind their choice of Helvetica. This is remarkably similar to my rebellious combination of Lipitor and gravy. Much like many pieces of their clothing collection, I find their advertisements beautifully strange. So beautifully strange that I hope my daughters never shop there unless it is, of course, for a t-shirt. The consentient use of Helvetica throughout the store and catalog is well thought out and purposeful. Regardless of their reason for choosing the typeface they are using it well.
Okay, back to the “one of the coolest t-shirts around” that I alluded to earlier. It is the best of both worlds—an American Apparel t-shirt featuring the all of the letterforms of the typeface Helvetica. They can be viewed here. I told you it was cool. Check it out, you can order a shirt with any letter for which you have an affinity. “G” for me (again Star Wars related, still lame). It is advertised as “the softest, smoothest, best-looking T-shirt available anywhere with Helvetica writing.” Who can argue with that?
I have another t-shirt post coming soon featuring “designer-type” (pun intended) t-shirts just in time for Christmas.