Every week a different FADER staff member will pick a clothing item or accessory that he or she has lately been spending a lot of time with—or would like to—and write a little love letter to it. We would’ve done a column on who we’re dating but that seemed a little bit much. This week Matthew writes about Cape Cod Big Hed T-shirts. Modeling help by the FADER staff.
For my tenth birthday, we went to Hershey Park. I rode a roller coaster for the first and last time in my life. Every other year, we went to Cape Cod, which is shaped like an arm. Since as long as I can remember, we went to the elbow, to Chatham, a small, sweet town. When my sister and I were very small, we had to share a bed. As we grew, we had different rooms. The rental houses size grew in proportion to my parents’ incomes. We took a detour for a year or two to the next town over, Brewster, stayed in a nice condo with a swimming pool. But mostly we went to Chatham, to the small beach with hermit crabs, to Chatham Bakery for AM donuts, to Amara’s for Italian ice, to the Dead Zone to smell incense and Mean People Suck stickers, to the giant house with an antique store in the garage and green clapboards, to the Yellow Umbrella bookstore and to the Big Hed shop next door. In the spirit of tradition and pop art, every year I got a T-shirt.
Keith Haring was basically a cartoonist. I’m not saying he wasn’t an artist, a really good one, but those little dudes dancing and stopping crack were definitely cartoons. Whoever created Big Hed T-shirts definitely saw resort wear dollar signs in subway graffiti (and those first wave of Simpsons bootleg shirts) and put funny faces and primary colors to work. Though not specific to Chatham—or Cape Cod as a whole—Big Hed shirts, with their sunny puns and harried non-vacationers were perfect for the skewed preppy market. “Cape Fever” is the most ingenious shirt, showing a crew of wilding figures who’ve lost their marbles for the beach. “Chatham Blues” has a green-faced, sunglassed man catch wily bluefish in a red sea. “Cape Heads” and “Cape Dog” the pun is lost on me. Maybe there isn’t one. It’s better that way.
This is what it says about Big Hed on Big Hed’s not super fruitful website: “Since 1987 Dr. Hed and his minions have been homegrowin’ some of the finest, funkiest, more funner T-shirts on the Planet Earth. The longevity makes Dr. Hed the Original Gangster of imprinted sportswear for the resort market, so hopefully we know what we’re doing.” If you dig around their Facebook page, you can see a photo of them from the early ’90s at a trade show, wearing a fake rasta dread wig, an undeniable hallmark of fun. Trying to posit this kind of bong ripper freewheeling with my parents’ middle, then upper middle class, vacations, is a sticky puzzle. At their house, I unearthed these shirts, some of which were mine, some of which were my mothers. They were in different Rubbermaid bins in different closets, the attic, my old bedroom, folded neatly but long unworn. They generally get progressively less awesome as the years get older—though 2001’s orange was a nice touch. It feels funny to wear Big Hed shirts, though I have been consistently all summer. They zigzag over the line of caring too much/not at all. My personal mantra has always been something like “a lack of style is sense of style.” These shirts are a stupid amount of pizazz, but the kind I’ve apparently been wearing for 19 years now. Apparently my style isn’t transparent it’s just timeless