Instead of Nike’s “Life is short, play hard,” how about “Life is short, pray hard.” That sort of Christian pun is what you will often see on “witness wear.”
The old song goes like this: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Well, as often as not, they will also know we are Christians by what we wear. I’m not really talking about a cross necklace or a James Avery ring or a WWJD bracelet, though those are all pretty solid indicators that the person in question has a “get out of hell free” card in their back pocket.
Today I’m talking specifically about “witness wear”… which is an entire Christian fashion subculture where famous brand names and logos are re-designed and stamped on T-shirts and ball caps in order to propagate a Christian worldview.
For example, a search on Google Images for “Christian parody T-shirts” turns up pages upon pages of results. The image I picked for this blog post is an especially choice one in my opinion—it’s a subtle nod to the University of Texas Longhorns logo. Clever, eh? Hook ’em, Horns!
The term itself witness wear first appeared in print in 1990 and has seen moderate use in the last couple of decades, especially in books written by Christians about the American evangelical subculture.
A closely related Christianese term is Jesus junk, which refers to Christian keychains, plaques, coffee mugs, and other common objects you find in Christian bookstores. (Hard as it may be to believe, it was Christians who coined the term “junk” in that phrase…)
So what do you think about Christian parodies of mainstream memes, especially when it comes to clothes? Is it a pointless exercise in referencing pop culture? Is it a smart way of snagging the attention of non-Christians who otherwise wouldn’t give a Christian slogan a second look? Is it all just harmless fun that lands somewhere between the two extremes?
witness wear n. Clothing and fashion accessories that prominently feature Christian slogans and images. Witness wear often parodies or makes a pun on well-known clothing brands and slogans (see quots. 2004, 2009).
A trademark filing made in the United States on September 2, 1992, for the phrase Witness Wear Christian Clothiers claims that this phrase was first used in 1990 and that it was first used commercially in 1991. The term witness wear has since become a generic term.
See also *holy hardware 2; *Jesus junk.
1990 Wood Companies and Their Brands vols. 1–2 3021 : Witness Wear Christian Clothiers, Inc. 1995 Billboard 107/31 (5 Aug.) 67 : Christian bookstores are usually less compartmentalized than secular ones. At Mardel, “witness wear” apparel and jewelry count for as much as purchases as CDs. 1999 Time 153/21 (31 May) 58 : Teen evangelicals have their own rock concert circuit, complete with stage diving; their own clothing lines, like Witness Wear; and in the omnipresent WWJD (“What would Jesus do?”) bracelet, their own breakthrough accessory. 1999 Howard Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music 50 : Cars are adorned with decals of a fish or dove; and caps, ties, T-shirts, and other “witness wear” allow Christians to be marked by the clothing they wear. 2004 Hendershot Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture 17 : Strolling in a mall in Birmingham, Alabama, a few years ago, I saw a pimply, lanky teenage boy wearing what appeared to be a Gold’s Gym T-shirt. As he walked past me, however, I saw that the T-shirt actually said “Lord’s Gym.” … This was my first encounter with “witness wear,” evangelical clothing, mostly T-shirts, targeting teenagers. The Lord’s Gym shirt is a perennial bestseller, purchased by hundreds of thousands of people…. Nike’s “Life Is Short, Play Hard” becomes “Life Is Short, Pray Hard.” 2008 Radosh Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture 135 : The most ubiquitous form of Christian teen culture is the message T-shirt, and for every semiclever concept—“body piercing saved my life,” with a close-up of a nail in Jesus’s hand—there are dozens that can only make nonbelievers cringe: “1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given.” … They hold that merely seeing a scripture-based shirt is enough to plant a seed in the nonbeliever’s heart. 2009 Schultze, Woods, eds. Understanding Evangelical Media: The Changing Face of Christian Communication 183 : Witness-wear slogans mimic or at least parody mainstream advertising…. “Got Jesus?” Are such parodies fun or plagiarism? Do they communicate real or artificial evangelical faith? Do they enhance mainstream respect for the Christian faith or reduce it? 2012 A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence 219n20 : So-called witness wear, I contend, is part of the problem. Such blandly uncreative marketing that dupes us into purchasing “Jesus wear” is but one more means that relieves us from the burden of actually being a witness to Christ. Anyone who actually takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously will not need clothes telling others that he or she is a Christian. 2013 Eskridge God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America 272 : Even after the Jesus People faded away, the Christian bookstore industry, fueled by the growing sales of music, greeting cards, videos, toys, witness-wear, and curios, continued its tremendous growth. 2014 Walker Godly Ideas: Developing and Protecting Your God-Given Ideas 49 : Still another area of ideas is in the fashion industry. One excellent area that relates godly messages is the area of witness-wear clothing. Many articles, including shirts, caps, and belts, can have artwork and text that conveys aspects of God. The artwork can be various types of pictures, paintings, symbols, or graphic designs affixed to the item. The text can be a poem, statement, or even a slogan.