A couple months back, I was shopping in a department store. A large display of Marvel t-shirts in the ‘Young Men’s’ department caught my eye. Assuming this was part of a movie tie-in promotion, I hauled ass to the ladies department to find…nothing. No Cap, no Iron Man, nada. I did find one shirt somewhere randomly on the racks that bore a Batman logo. In pink. Sigh. I ended up buying at Captain America shirt in a men’s size. Which, fine. I can wear a guy’s shirt, that’s not the issue. The point is, if you are a retailer and you think guys want to buy shirts with comic book characters on them, why on earth wouldn’t you offer the same selection to women? You separate clothing by gender because, by nature, male and female bodies are different, but why should the selection for something like this differ in those two departments? Yes, a woman can wear a man’s shirt, but should she have to, just to be able to proudly display her love for her fandom of choice? I say no, so I decided to take a closer look at the world of geek fashion to see how far this has spread.
A bit about my methodology: First of all, my research was conducted entirely online. I believe this affords a more realistic look at what a company offers, rather than the selection available at any given brick-and-mortar location. My research was conducted in early spring of 2016, so if you are reading this at a later time, my findings may be out of date. I used t-shirts as a metric, as this is an item universal to all geeks. Man, woman, young, old, gay, straight, trans, or cis, we can all wear t-shirts. My theory is, if you’re going to sell geek-based merch for one segment of the population, you should offer an equal selection for its counterpart. In some cases, other types of merch for women (jewelry, dresses, etc.) are available, but this is about equality and it’s not fair to judge retailers for not offering equal selection in items not traditionally worn by both genders. In general, I drilled down in a website’s menu to find their selection of tees or graphic tees, unless doing so gave too wide a selection without including a good representation of the type of item I was looking for, in which case I used a keyword search for graphic tees. I included any graphic that I felt related to a geek topic, including comics, movies, music, video games, Disney, TV shows, etc. I left out shirts with funny sayings or with sports team logos, as I felt those products don’t appeal exclusively to geeks. In retailers that cater to families, I looked at kids’ clothing as well as adults. I divided the stores into 4 categories: department stores, big box stores, boutiques, and online-only. These were my findings.
I looked at all the major department store chains with middle-class price points, at least the ones I’m familiar with, living in the northeast. JC Penney proved to be the best of the bunch, which isn’t saying much. In all these stores, there was a stark imbalance in the selection available as divided down gender lines. JCP at least had a decent selection available to women, even if it was a fraction of what was available to men, and none of it is what I call “pink-washed” or printed in a color scheme meant to appear “girlier.” This has to be my least-favorite trend in fashion and the one I find the most insulting. What makes anyone believe that a female consumer thinks, “oh, well I don’t really like superheroes/videogames/etc., but since it’s PINK, I must have it!”? Maybe it’s just me, but as a fan, I want to show my geek love by representing my favorite subjects as they appear, not altered to appeal to my gender. Anyway, if you have daughters, Kohl’s seems to be your best bet, they have the most options available in the girls’ department, again it’s horribly outpaced by the selection available to boys and pink-washed all to hell. Macy’s is your worst option for clothing geeky little girls. I could not find a single item of geeky clothing in the girls’ department, but there were tons of options available to boys. Sears appears to be a friend to no geek, since their selection was weak in all departments. That at least, I can accept.
Big Box Stores
Here, I looked at the big two: Target and Wal-Mart. Target did really well. The women’s and men’s selection were actually about equal. Women’s options were offered in standard and plus sizes, with no pink-washing in sight. In their kids’ department, boys’ options outnumbered the girls’ and there was some pink-washing, but overall a really solid showing. Wal-Mart displayed about the same level of imbalance as most of the department stores. One interesting note about their selection; it had the most variety of intellectual properties represented of any mainstream store. I saw shirts for Doctor Who and Attack on Titan available here, which I hadn’t seen anywhere else.
Here, I looked at the kind of stores you’re going to find in malls and shopping centers across suburbia. Hot Topic is the clear winner in this category, especially with the recent release of its DC Comics Bombshell line. You probably didn’t need me to tell you this. Geek fashion is what HT does. Spencer’s Gifts has a similar selection, though I suspect you’ll have an easier time finding it on their site than nestled among the sex toys in their retail locations. However if you’re a little too old, or a little too embarrassed, to be shopping in these places, I’d suggest looking below in the Online Only category. It’s not HT’s or Spencer’s fault, but we all grow up, and while there’s nothing wrong with holding on to those geeky loves from your adolescence, our bodies change and don’t always fit the juniors sizing commonly available there. The mainstream stores I looked into in this category weren’t great alternatives. H&M had a few band t-shirts for guys and nothing geeky for ladies, but then again geek doesn’t really seem to suit their brand, so I can’t fault them. Old Navy carries a couple dozen shirts for guys and a few for boys, but almost nothing for ladies and girls.
If you are a geek, you probably already knew to turn to the internet, but in case you maybe aren’t a geek but are shopping for one, or haven’t heard of these for some other reason, allow me to enlighten you. Thinkgeek.com simply is the go-to place to fill this need. Not only do they have a ton of selection, but everything that can be gender neutral, is. In addition to their wide offering of unisex t-shirts, which are sold as Tees with no gender-designation attached, they have a selection of tops cuts for women’s bodies in a variety in geeky motifs. Similarly, in the kids’ department, the tees aren’t marketed toward girls or boys (though almost all the models shown on the site are boys). The only downside to shopping here is giving money to their corporate parent, GameStop, of whom many geeks I know are not fans. But fear not ladies (dudes are SOL), for there is an alternative. Much of their cool geek apparel for women is made by Her Universe, whose wares you can purchase directly from their site, thereby directly giving all your dollars to a company you might be happier supporting. If you’re looking for a more stylish approach, you can check out Modcloth.com. Traditionally known for more retro/vintage fare, they do offer a couple of fashionable takes on geeky pursuits.
We’re living in a golden age of geekery. Now more than ever, the things geeks have always loved have seen a surge in popularity and geeks are better able to display that love in public without fear of persecution. As with any other sociological advancement, female geeks have been left a little more behind in this trend than their male counterparts. While I am comparing, I am not trying to EQUATE geek acceptance with any other, far more important feminist issues. All I am trying to say is, any place that attempts to cater to geeks should offer at least some measure of equality to all geeks. Hopefully, I’ve helped some of you know where to head when you’re out and about shopping and find places to target when you’re ordering from home and if you know of any hidden gems I’ve left out, hit me up with them!