Forever 21 Follows Penney in Dumb T-Shirt Category

Discussion
Sep 14, 2011
George Anderson

At what point did it become cool for teenage girls to publicly celebrate their ignorance by advertising it on the shirts they wear? Then again, maybe it’s not the girls at all, but the clothing designers and retailers that sell these d-shirts (d as in dumb).

A piece on The Washington Post’s website reports on a shirt from Forever 21 that reads: “Allergic To Algebra.” A user on Reddit posted a picture of the shirt with a sticky note attached, reading: “Smart girls are cool. Don’t buy this top.”

This shirt along with another recently sold (and then taken off the market after complaints) by J.C. Penney with the message, “I’m too pretty to do my homework, so my brother has to do it for me,” are seen by some as a disturbingly sexist approach in fashion marketing for young girls.

According to ABC News, the “algebra” shirt is not the only one on the Forever 21 site that appears to promote dumbing down instead of higher learning. The retailer announced it was pulling the shirt from its site after complaints starting making their way around the internet.

“Our merchandise is intended to appeal to all audiences, not to offend them,” Linda Chang, a senior marketing manager for Forever 21, told ABCNews.com. “We would like to apologize to our customers as our intent was not to discredit education and we are taking the proper actions necessary.”

Discussion Questions: Are you concerned about the use of negative messages on t-shirts sold to teenagers? Why do you think retailers have not anticipated the pushback that has come with their sale?

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16 Comments on "Forever 21 Follows Penney in Dumb T-Shirt Category"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I don’t see an exact parallel between the screen tee at Forever 21 (“Allergic to Algebra”) and the JCP shirts. You can make a case that the Forever 21 shirt could be worn just as easily by boys if it were sold in the right store (in fact, I might have worn it back in the day). And you can also argue that “politically incorrect” T shirts have been popular for forty years.

I understand Forever 21’s knee-jerk reaction but I’m not sure it was warranted in this case.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The t-shirts are intended to sell and make controversy. There is no concern and retailers love this kind of free advertising. We need to give teenagers a little more credit. The smarter ones are not going to degrade themselves by wearing one. I just got back from Venice Beach, California and these t-shirts are nothing compared to the disgusting ones I saw for sale at Venice Beach. I really doubt the t-shirt police are going to come down hard on t-shirt retailer next to the medical marijuana clinic. But they always seem to like to go after the bigger fish with the money.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
9 years 8 months ago

This is really an interesting situation. Retailers’ mandate is to carry products that sell. If d-shirts sell, then the retailer has achieved their objective. The next question is, does the retailer have a social responsibility? Are they selling toothpaste laced with arsenic? No. Are they selling t-shirts that make the wearer look like an idiot? Yes. Is it against the law to be an idiot? No (thank heavens).

I know for a fact that my wife monitors what my girls want and buy so when is it the parent’s responsibility to educate their kids not to look an idiot in public? Again, there is nothing in the law books that says you have to. This reminds me of the lady who was selling high heel shoes for infants and toddlers. Huge backlash but really, who cares? Consumers (who aren’t idiots) should be left to vote with their wallets.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I think both reactions were overblown. If these kinds of messages really made a difference, we never would have had the women’s rights movement, Civil Rights movement or any other social change we’ve seen over the past century or so. These t-shirts were a joke. The messages sent to women prior to Title IX were NO joke, and still, society evolved.

Truly, there is way too much political correctness where it doesn’t matter and far too little of it where/when it DOES matter. Shouldn’t we be more concerned about crowds cheering over Texas’ use of the death penalty than we are about “Allergic to Algebra” on a t-shirt?

Ben Ball
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Me thinks our generation gap is showing again folks! Having just spent a couple of long weekends with my twenty-something daughters and their friends, it is obvious that the “inverse interpretation” of phrases is as popular as ever — used primarily to confound people too stupid to “get it” (primarily parents and aging CPG consultants).

Besides, this message makes sense. I have always said that the two people I most want five minutes with in a dark alley are the person who invented calculus and the one who invented speed bumps. I’d wear that shirt in a heartbeat.

Lighten up and listen to Herman Cain — “What America needs is a sense of humor….”

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
9 years 8 months ago

Being English I’m pretty comfortable with the concept of irony. I get that not everybody is, but “diversity is the spice of life” and all that….

I think teenagers are generally pretty savvy and get this too, so I personally don’t have a big issue with it. My kids aren’t teenagers yet, but I’d be fine with them wearing an “Allergic to Algebra” top now or when they’re older.

That said, such tactics shouldn’t be over-used or taken to extremes. I’d suggest that the marketing around these products and messages focus on the ironic and humorous angles not a literal interpretation.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 8 months ago

Beyond any moral/ethical considerations, selling these kinds of t-shirts shows amazing cultural tone-deafness on the part of retailers. Unless they are following the “no publicity is bad publicity” strategy, there is no reason for retailers to sell t-shirts that encourage negative stereotypes and low achievement among teens and tweens.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 8 months ago

From my “old” window, it appears it seems cool today to say stupid downgrading things that create controversy. That sets a tone and I admittedly am concerned about human downgrading that creates a “buck.” This might all be about fun and a sense of humor but America is noticeably slipping so I tend to contest that. Still, when something ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
9 years 8 months ago

This is just plain ludicrous. Of all the negative messages in an endless sea of negative messages that are marketed to teens, why would a retailer expect any more pushback on this category?

How negative a message is it for a young girl to wear shorts or sweats with the words “Hot” or “Brat” or “Sweet” plastered across her rear. How hedonistic are the marketing messages embedded in the pop culture “reality” shows that are on every network? How about the negative messaging in video gaming that teens are exposed to?

I don’t expect retailers to be any more concerned or affected by pushback on this category of product than they have been in other product categories.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Maybe retailers and the buying public should stand up and say it is time to promote education. If we don’t start soon (and maybe it is already too late) the Chinese students will continue to outdistance our young people. Then will we wonder why our children have the mediocre positions that report to those who did not buy in to these dumb shirts.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

In solidarity with my wife, who is a 7th grade algebra teacher, I am obligated to hate Hate HATE! this t-shirt.

But irony apparently sells in our warped recessionary culture, and fashion marketers grasp this. So good for you, 4evr21, you’re as smart as a 7th grader.

I’m thinking about releasing a line of t-shirts with slogans like, “epic fashion fail” and “trend-blind”. Taking advance orders now…

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I have to agree with two of the main points already raised. First, this is not necessarily a feminist issue (unless the shirts are only sold in female departments) and, second, this is a classic example of customers exerting PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Simple, as one of our UK TV commercial characters says – if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Retailers will get the message purdy durn soon. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way the difference between funny and downright stupid.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Brands that use negative messages in any capacity are not thinking long-term. It may certainly create a spark response but it never will develop long-term trust and integrity with consumers. Retailers want to become brands that are trusted by shopper’s to bring them products and services that are valued. Shopper’s quickly discover which DIY store has the better lumber, which grocery store has a better and fresher selection of fresh vegetables. The products and services offered by the retailer is an integral part of defining the retailer brand. Any retailer or category merchant that does not anticipate this type of reaction is either naive or ‘asleep at the wheel’.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I agree with Paula and Ben.

First of all, Ben is spot on. Teenagers are SUPPOSED to wear things that upset their parents and other older, clueless folk. That’s the deal.

Secondly, if t-shirts really have the power to influence human behavior, we should immediately make it mandatory that everyone wear shirts with phrases like “Love Thy Neighbor”; “Peace on Earth”; “Save the Planet”; “Cure Cancer Now”.

Oh wait … we already do wear those kinds of messages and it doesn’t seem to change anything. Sorry, don’t know what got into me.

Of course, if we are really serious about banning messaging that degrades, exploits, denigrates and trivializes being young and/or a woman … well … we’d just about have to ban all advertising; make television and movies illegal; and stop broadcasting a good deal of popular music.

Ah … but then all those old men wouldn’t be able to make a profit, now would they?

So lighten up folks.

Young women, in fact, young people in general, are plenty smart enough.

Remember ??????????????

Jonathan Marek
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Smart girls ARE cool. I have no idea what my elementary-aged boys will do when they become teenagers, but I hope they will be “allergic” to the girls in these t-shirts.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

These tee shirt incidents are minor and relatively harmless compared to relentless sexualization of little girls and trashy images thrown at them on cable and in popular music. Frankly, it’s kind of a relief to find that the shirt in question is merely kind of dumb and not disgusting.

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