In the latter part of last week, Trapper Blu, a ski and snowboard instructor from Wanship, Utah, stopped into Christopher’s, a Christian t-shirt store in Greenwich Village, with his family and tried on a shirt with the motto “Put Down the Drugs and Come Get a Hug.”
Mr. Blu, 23, stated while closely examining his image in the mirror, “I would wear this, you bet.” He said, “The shirt is hilarious, but it does not make fun of Jesus or anything,” as he adjusted the brim of his cowboy hat.
Jurek Grapentin, a visitor from Germany, watched as a young buddy glanced over a shirt that was decorated with a rosary intertwined with the words “Everybody Loves a Catholic Girl” a few streets south at Urban Outfitters, a component of a youngsters chain that sells Christian T-shirts along with shag rugs, coffee mugs, and multitiered hippie skirts.
Mr. Grapentin, 22, added, “It is a wonderful message. “Catholics are often so conventional in their views. This seems more modern and current to me.”
Mr. Blu and Mr. Grapentin are two of the countless believers—or simply fashionable—who are becoming more and more drawn to the religious themes and symbols—portraits of saints, passages from the Bible—that have recently made their way from billboards & bumper stickers to baseball caps, t-shirts, flip-flops, and even designer clothing. A rising number of individuals, mainly young people, are embracing these messages and wearing them as a sign of their faith or, paradoxically, as a mark of coolness.
There is no denying that religion is becoming the next big brand, according to Jane Buckingham, head of trend-forecasting firm Youth Intelligence. Wearing a “Jesus Saves” Christian tee, a skullcap, or a cabala bracelet is a means for a generation of young people who are hungry to belong to something to feel both distinctive, a part of a particular culture or clan, yet at the same time part of something far larger.
Such emblems used to be discretely worn and generally obtained from gift shops or Bible bookstores. Now, wannabe hipsters, fashion groupies, and the faithful are displaying similar things, which are easily available at mass-market chains and online, maybe inspired by celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Paris Hilton, who are pictured waving spiritual slogans on shirts and hats.
Hundreds of Christian t-shirts, bowling bags, belt buckles, and dog tags with slogans like “Inspired by Christ,” “Give All the Glory to God,” “I 3/5sheart 4/5 Hashem,” “Moses Is My Homeboy,” and “Buddha Rocks” could be found online last week, even from well-known retailers like Amazon.com.
The aisles of pharmacy and cosmetics retailers like Walgreens are stocked with plastic tote bags and tank tops with pictures of Jesus and the saints. Some items have made their way up the fashion food chain to shops like Intuition, a Los Angeles boutique that sells rosaries, cabala bracelets, and St. Christopher medals as fashion jewelry, and Atrium, a New York sportswear store popular with college students that sells polo shirts with images from the Sistine Chapel.
In the coming season, members of the fashion crowd—at least those with deep enough pockets—will discover chunky sweaters from Dsquared that read “Jesus Loves Even Me,”; a blanket wrap from Derek Lam with a torso-length cross embroidered on it, and coats and evening dresses from Yves Saint Laurent sprinkled with religious allusions.
The best-selling “Left Behind” series of novels based on a fundamentalist Christian interpretation of apocalyptic prophesy appeared on bookshelves, and “The Passion of the Christ” became a movie office success; these are only the latest examples of religion as a mainstream phenomenon. Their appeal comes when religious concerns, such as the dispute over school prayer and the concept of life, are separating Americans. This division is partially mirrored among people who wear the new trends.
Tanya Brockmeier, 19, also from Germany and a recent customer at Urban Outfitters, wears a cross and believes that is OK “so long as it looks current.” These actions serve as a demonstration of my faith. However, 41-year-old Larry Bullock holds onto a t-shirt that depicts Jesus as a DJ. Mr. Bullock, the general manager of Fire Island, New York’s Civilian homosexual club, was raised as a Roman Catholic. However, he said, “for me, wearing this religious themed shirt is a means of making fun of the language used over religion, which I find completely absurd.
According to Randall Balmer, a professor of American religion at Barnard College in New York, the monetization of religion “is born of a realization that any religious organization, to be alive, needs to speak the vernacular of the society.” Dr. Balmer also noted that it has become normal to express one’s religious beliefs publicly, which was formerly seen as impolite or even arrogant. “We are in a multicultural, diverse atmosphere, and we implicitly recognize that people have the freedom to self-identify. In actuality, it has cachet.”
Whatever is fueling the need for message-driven products results in brisk sales. According to https://sanctify.clothing/, a popular Christian clothing site, sales of clothing and accessories in Christian bookshops & store like and gift shops totaled roughly $84 million last year. One million “Jesus Is My Homeboy” Christian t-shirts have been sold, and the Los Angeles company Teenage Millionaire claimed $10 million in sales last year, up from $2 million three years before.
The Columbus, Ohio-based Solid Light Group, which sells faith based t-shirts with sayings such as “Jesus Rocks,” does not provide sales data but anticipates a 40% rise from a year ago. Debbie Clements, a sales manager for the firm, said, “Ours has become a mainstream industry.” “It will not be long before you see more designers creating religious clothing for the secular market.”
Chris Rainey, the marketing director for Berryville, Arkansas-based Kerusso, which sells items like “Live for Him” bracelets and T-shirts with the slogan “Dead to Sin, Alive to Christ,” claims that his products make religion look contemporary. He said that we are just following the lead of many churches in marketing to connect with a new generation.
However, some customers find it offensive that religion is a worn item. Megan Schnaid, a 27-year-old graduate student from Los Angeles at New York University, remarked, “I would not wear apparel with a religious message.” I am not used to basing my beliefs on such a blatant exhibition.
Additionally, many merchants are reluctant to offer clothes with an overtly religious slant. When Aurelio Barreto originally sought to sell his Not of this World line of tank tops and sweatshirts to secular retailers at California malls, he was turned away. Aurelio Barreto now manages a Southern California network of five boutiques named C28 (a reference to the biblical passage Colossians 2:8). “There is no way we will purchase this,” I was informed,’ Mr. Barreto stated. “We will not do not have God in here.”
When he saw the Dsquared collection in Milan last winter, Saks Fifth Avenue’s men’s fashion director Michael Macko admitted he was a little surprised. “Religion as a fashion topic, I noticed. That differs somewhat from camel or corduroy. What should we do with this?” ‘ Saks acquired the Dsquared collection anyhow for its shops all around the nation. Ronald Frasch, the head of Saks’s retail, stated, “We purchased it as a fashion piece, not as a moral statement. We sell crosses, so moving from crosses to sweaters is not a great leap.
Unsurprisingly, some nonreligious merchants carry religious knickknacks because they do not want to pass up a sale. The proprietor of Marino Valley, California’s Christian T-Shirt Stop, which sells the Not of This World brand, Priti Lavingia, stated, “We do not simply want all the punks and rockers to go into the shop.” Maybe 20% of the locals are quite devout, according to Ms. Lavingia. “I want their patronage as well.”