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Shirts come in S,M, L and @&%$*!+

Designers go for shock value (and sales) with obscenity-laden labels on their apparel lines for youth. Some, though, insist the names are misunderstood.


At the Electric Chair, an alternative clothing store in Huntington Beach, the only thing that sometimes shocks customers is the labels on the clothes.

Some labels read like the titles of adult videos. They use words like "whore," "pervert" and "porn" as part of their names.

And that's just the stuff we can print. One clothing line has named itself after the F-word, substituting a T for the K--a point that becomes moot when one calls up the company and is greeted by someone using the company name.

Profanity has proliferated among apparel lines aimed at youth. Clothing companies, eager to stand out in a crowded and competitive marketplace, have adopted the attitude that obscenity sells.

Even if the names aren't downright dirty, many try to tap into their customers' feelings of alienation with names like Stoopid, Suicidal Tendencies, Bored Inc. and Crap Culture.

"Being offensive on purpose works in underground streetwear. Your clubwear customer likes it," said Jennifer Johnson, the clothing buyer for Electric Chair. "These labels are not trying to sell to the malls."

Those who use provocative names argue that their labels are merely intended as dark humor or satire.

When Gary Adams was thinking up names for a new clothing line that featured a lot of T-shirts with retro punk bands, a brainstorm session led to the unappetizing moniker Pukewear.

"We wanted a name that would grab attention. We wanted something sick," said Adams, founder of the Westminster-based line. "It's something people can't forget."

Some parents have objected to the name, but for teens, their disapproval is part of the line's appeal.

"The more they object, the more kids want it," Adams said.

Bodybagz, a Santa Ana-based clothing line that specializes in clubwear, generates "laughter and a lot of questions," owner Tracy Edwards said.

"The name just popped into my head. I started thinking, what are clothes? They're bags for the body," he said.

Bodybagz fits the line's unorthodox image, which Edwards himself fosters by driving around in a vintage limo with a red parrot.

Some claim their names, like the teens who wear them, are just misunderstood.

Pimpgear "wasn't chosen for shock value. It has meaning," said Rocky Batty, owner of the snow-skate-streetwear line in Boston. "It's about how, in society, you really are a pimp no matter who you are. You prostitute yourself for your work, your family, your friends."

Batty acknowledges that, for most people, the word "pimp" has "a million negative connotations."

"I do remember the day I called home and said, 'Hey, Mom. I trademarked the word 'pimp,' " he said.

Batty credits the name with selling the line. Pimpgear is sold in 18 countries and has 300 retail accounts nationwide. Most buyers wear the name as a joke.

"I don't think a lot of pimps are walking around wearing Pimpgear. My mom and dad even wear it. But if George Bush ever puts this on, we've failed. This is not about mainstream America. It's by and for the underground," he says.

Some industry watchers have started to question whether outrageous names are an effective marketing tool.

The clothing companies intend for their names to shock, but the shock can wear off pretty fast. With foul language saturating the media, it's become harder to attract attention or even raise an eyebrow.

"Younger people have grown up on raunch and Howard Stern," said David Stewart, chairman of the marketing department at USC. "The environment has changed. What would have been provocative in the past doesn't get attention any more. The bar has been raised."

X-rated names might initially draw attention to small, unknown clothing lines, but in the long run names can hurt when those lines try to move from alternative to mainstream markets.

Already some companies have started to watch their mouths.

"This market is really about catching young people's attention. We went through a phase where the attention-grabbing included obscenities and borderline porn," said Pat Cochran, editor of Action Sports Retailer, the trade magazine for the surf-skate industry in Laguna Beach.

Now a few lines have started to turn away from bad language, mostly because of the bottom line, she said.

"It's almost an '80s thing. Everyone wants to broaden their reach," she said. "And you have a broader audience who won't buy that merchandise."

At the Frog House, a Newport Beach surf-sportswear shop, foulmouthed merchandise isn't allowed.

"We're trying to keep a pretty clean image," said Bobby Tang, Frog House manager.

To appease such retailers, some companies with raunchy names have added separate lines with tamer labels that can be sold to larger markets. Porn Star, a Santa Barbara-based clothing company, has added a Starlette brand to gain entry into big retail chains.

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