Remember Hypercolors? American Apparel Does
Last week, NOTCOT alerted me to the fact that American Apparel has recently launched a line of ‘Thermochromatic T-shirts’ that change color when exposed to heat or cold. The site went on to point out that this is essentially the same technology used by those unrelentingly awesome Hypercolors t-shirts that were all the rage in the early 90s. And lest you forget just how awesome it was, the official American Apparel site has a nice little video of a model microwaving a shirt and then wearing it into a freezer. But my initial excitement gave way to cynicism when a few days later I read this article in the LA Times, saying essentially: hypercolor is back from the grave, so start counting backwards from 15 minutes again.
Here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with Hypercolors coming back. I lived through the trend the first time around and still think it’s amazing in a 12-year-old boy sort of way. But this isn’t an isolated incident. For the past five years or so, we’ve been living out a massive cultural retrospective in which inclusionary/exclusionary binary of contemporary style has been based on one’s ability to participate in narrow and obscure references to the past. Being ‘in’ is as maddeningly simple as agreeing with your peers’ prevailing opinion on nostalgia items. This phenomenon presents itself everywhere, from the scattershot tron-and-kool-aid-man approach of Family Guy to the ubiquitous 808 hand-claps on every dance-punk album from 2002 to today. In a decade where the archival and cut-and-paste technology of computers has given us authorial access to almost everything, we’ve collectively fallen back on references we know to be safe.
Selling Hypercolor updates is perhaps a smart business decision for American Apparel in the short term, inasmuch as overstocking jazz shoes and keds might be lucrative for Urban Outfitters at the moment. But eventually I have to believe that our cultural vanity for updating the trendy and the turgid from our past will grow tired. It itself will complete the lifecycle of the trends it apes, and I’ll be pretty fascinated to see who gets out in time and who gets stuck wearing the color-change t-shirt. –John