Celebrities—America’s “creative community”—start getting agitated when-ever the country is on the verge of war.  They march in antiwar rallies; they publish antiwar ads and petitions; and, most significantly, they don antiwar clothing.  

Well, it’s a free country, and I can abide the speeches, the petitions, and the ads, even when they are imbued with that unique celebrity combination of self-satisfaction and terror of being thought airheads.  What is hard to take, however, is the protest clothing.

USA Today recently ran a piece, accompanied by photographs, on antiwar T-shirts and the celebrities who wear them.  The article began with the glib prose that is the trademark of entertainment reporting: “As war looms with Iraq, some celebrities are trading their designer duds for anti-war garb.”  Among those mentioned was singer Sheryl Crow, who appeared at a recent event in a shirt that was, according to the paper, covered across the chest “with the message ‘War Is Not The Answer’ in sequins.”  For the record, the shirt surrounding the sequins was tight, tiny, and low-cut.  Also featured was actress Shiva Rose, who went public in “a blue T-shirt with the slogan ‘No Blood For Oil’ in red letters by designer Hayley Star.”

It is easy to understand why, when it comes to politics, celebrities fear not being taken seriously: They are forever doing things that make it impossible to take them seriously.  In reality, neither Crow nor Rose was making a political statement with her slogan-spattered clothing.  Instead, both were trying to make a fashion statement while hoping to be credited with political commitment.  But if you truly want to communicate that war is not the answer (by the way, what is the question?), you don’t do it with sequins stitched across your bust line.  (Is there any female adornment—with the possible exception of feathers—that suggests less seriousness than sequins?)  And if you really believe in the notion of no blood for oil, you don’t need a fashion designer to express your thoughts.

All of this seems lost on both the fashion world and the celebrities who inhabit it.  Regarding political T-shirts, USA Today quoted Lesley Jane Seymour, editor of Marie Claire magazine: “You can measure the zeitgeist of the nation with them.  It’s a cool retro fashion trend and a serious issue.”  Miss Seymour, of course, has it exactly wrong: It’s a cool retro fashion trend or a serious issue.  It is not the Zeitgeist of a nation that is being measured here; it’s the Zeitgeist of nitwits.  Sheryl Crow and Shiva Rose looked ridiculous precisely because they combined a fashion trend with a serious issue.  While desiring to appear profound, they succumbed to the need to look cool.  Vanity: that big U-turn on the Profound Highway of life.

This was especially true in the case of Rose, whose “T-shirt” was actually more of a bib, a skimpy garment that tied under the arms and hung revealingly off one shoulder.  She accessorized her outfit with a facial expression of utter solemnity—a requirement, I suppose, when one is dressed in a designer antiwar bib with the word blood on it.  Most noteworthy, however, was that Rose was not, as USA Today stated, doing anything so radical as trading her “designer duds for anti-war garb.”  In fact, she did no trading at all.  Instead, she bought herself some antiwar garb that qualified first as designer duds.  Issues of war and peace may be important, but they are no reason for a girl to lower her fashion standards.

Message T-shirts are repellent, whatever the message—and whatever the Zeitgeist.  They are aggressive and juvenile, which is why they seem to appeal mainly to celebrities and college freshman.  No opinion is so interesting that it must come screaming off an article of clothing.  In fact, anything printed on a T-shirt, from antiwar sentiments to Bible verses, is trivialized by virtue of its context.  Add sequins to the mix, and you go from the trivial to the absurd.  You go from the statement “War Is Not The Answer” to the message “War Is Not The Answer And Check Out My Breasts.”

If you absolutely must use your clothing as a billboard, however, a little integrity is called for.  If Sheryl Crow and Shiva Rose had cared first and only about their political beliefs, they would have taken a Magic Marker to an old Fruit of the Loom and worn that in public.  It might not have looked cool, but it would have suggested a certain purity of purpose.  There are times, the Zeitgeist not-withstanding, when it’s simply uncool to be cool.