How clothes with super heroes on them help me express myself

geekcultureWhen I was a kid, I had to wear 'nice clothes' to school most days, which meant I had to wear clothes without my favourite Saturday morning cartoon characters on them. I would sit in class wearing a boring grey hoodie or a nice collared shirt, and I honestly didn't feel like myself.

Occasionally I was allowed to proudly wear Spider-Man or Batman t-shirts to school, but that was only when it was laundry day and I had nothing else left to wear. Sometimes I felt like I was putting all my favourite characters on the bench, and in some weird way I was betraying them.

These were the characters that came from stories I cared about as a kid, stories about the hero triumphing over evil and getting the girl. Even today when I go to watch movies like The Avengers or Batman, I manage to feel inspired to be a better person.

Now, whether it's laundry day or not, try to catch me not wearing a t-shirt or sweater with some kind of pop-culture reference on it. These range from obvious references, like a big spider across my chest, to the obscure, like the Master Splinter School of Ninjitsu.

Despite my mother's best attempts to get me in the habit of dressing in nice clothes as I went into adulthood, my geeky side won the battle. She always told me it wasn't normal to wear those kinds of clothes, and that it was nerdy and my peers would tease me. I guess I am a geek, but I am pretty normal too.

Maybe the next big trend

But I'm not getting teased or insulted because it seems I'm not the only one who enjoys these kinds of clothes. Regardless if you're walking through a high school, a university or a mall, I guarantee you'll see someone proudly showcasing their favourite pop-culture icons on their clothes. A friend of mine even works at a clothing store that specializes in selling geeky merchandise where you can get shirts, sweaters, pants, wallets and even underwear themed to look like Iron Man or Jake and Finn from Adventure Time.

There are lots of store like this one now, so there's clearly a demand for this type of merchandise. I remember when I was in the Grade 2 I got made fun of for wearing Gargoyles underwear, and now one of these new stores sells bright red pairs of Superman undies for adults.
While I'm not saying wearing a Batman shirt to school is becoming the next big fashion trend, there was a time when wearing that shirt to school would have ended in tears and or a swirly.

Richelle Keel, a fan of comics since childhood who loves to wear these kinds of clothes, agrees that there has been a shift from when she was a kid.

"I used to be made fun of all the time for wearing X-men shirts to school and reading comic books on my lunch break," recalls Keel. "Now it's such a big thing and everybody wants to do it. It's really neat how it's changed."

I still remember when I was in high school and had just gotten my hands on a t-shirt with the logo from the video game series God of War on it. I was so excited because I had bought it down in Montana, and it was one of my favourite video games. I wore it to school the first chance I got, and one boy in my class gave me an incredulous look.

"Really – God of War, Jeff? Why would you buy that? Super cool man," he said, sarcasm oozing off the last sentence.
It took me a while before I wore another geeky shirt to school, and that time I wore a hoody over top to hide it. However, by the end of high school things were changing, and I grew more comfortable wearing nerdier shirts to class. No one seemed to question it anymore, and you bet I took advantage of it.

A culture that's geeky

I'm sure I'm not the only one out there with a story like this, and there seems to be a lot of reasons for the rise in popularity of geek culture. Some point to movies like The Avengers and events like the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, which are becoming more and more popular.

Others, like Mount Royal University professor Richard Harrison — who actually specializes in comic books and teaches courses about them — thinks a big part of it is geek culture is just a lot of fun.
"Geek culture overall is a great thing," says Harrison. "I mean, look at what I'm doing. I'm teaching what I read as an eight-year-old."

But I think when you look at all the possible options, it comes down to the fact that people just like to wear this stuff. It's what they're passionate about. Whether it's Batman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or The Walking Dead, these clothes give people a chance to show the world what they care about.

What these clothes have done for me

Take me for instance. Geeky things are just what I'm passionate about — I could talk your ear off for hours about Spider-Man. However, I also sit quietly in class and let everyone else do the talking on a normal day.

SpidermanclothingSpider-Man was always one of my favourites growing up, and now getting to wear the infamous red and blue out in public is empowering in its own weird way.
Photo by: Riad Kadri

So as a guy who can be an introvert but with a desire to express myself, this is really the ultimate compromise. Now people know something about me the moment they see me. Really, this explosion of geeky clothes is one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Shortly after the 2012 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo where I met Stan Lee, the co-creator of infamous super heroes like Spider-Man, I was at a party at a friend's place. The get together was my friends attempting to meet new girls, which I had pretty much given up hope on. Then I saw a girl my age wearing a red and blue Spider-Man hoodie.

Okay, I think to myself, that's kind of awesome. But for all I knew, she was just wearing it to jump into this fad. I decided to talk to her — at the very least she had the good taste to pick Spider-Man. So we got talking a little bit, and I discovered something else about her hoodie. It was signed by Stan Lee at the very same Expo where I had just met him.

Now we've been dating for two years, and I seriously owe a lot of it to the fact that she came to the party wearing a Spider-Man hoodie. I had met her several times before, and while I was polite and shared a few words with her, there was never really any interest.

But because she came to that party wearing something we were both passionate about, showing off some of her interior on her exterior, I was instantly able to make that connection. There's a reason fans of My Little Pony, many whom are guys in their twenties, are so tightly knit.

It's because they let each other know they exist the easiest way they can — by wearing those toques with the rainbow manes.

So in many ways, I'm grateful that geek culture has given us the chance to wear these clothes fearlessly. It's given me the chance to express myself in a way I wasn't sure how to before, and that's led me to meet the person who's now both my best friend and my girlfriend.

That's not to say I'm not grateful for my mom pushing the need for nice clothes on me. At least I have something to wear on laundry day.

Wearing my geeky past times

Left: I like to think I'm pretty stylish in my Batman housecoat.

Centre: There are times I kind of feel like Bruce Wayne when I wear this.

Right: Maybe not obvious at first glance, but this is actually a Joker themed tuxedo t-shirt.

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