Disclaimer: This article addresses heterosexual nerdy men with a lot of conference t-shirts. If you see yourself in this definition, or you see someone you know or love in this definition, this article is for you. The purpose here is not to define what a nerd is — that’s an epically longer article.
I recently moved in with my boyfriend. You think you know someone right up until the point that you’re unpacking suitcases and boxes and you see all of their stuff for the first time. As we were unpacking our clothes and deciding whose stuff would go where, I noticed for the first time the scale of his conference t-shirt addiction.
There weren’t 5 conference t-shirts. There weren’t 10.
There were at least 50 conference t-shirts — the overwhelming majority of his wardrobe.
I’m writing my Master’s thesis on Pick Up Artists and their view on the relationship economy, and he’s working on a blog post series about Dating for Nerds. For us, dating is a regular topic of conversation, and so I couldn’t help myself.
“From what I see here today, there’s one thing that you CLEARLY need to tell the Dating for Nerds audience about.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“That if they want to have greater success in dating, sex, and relationships, then the conference t-shirt must die.”
Let’s look a little more at the conference t-shirt. Generally, they are basic t-shirts in a limited number of sizes, and generally not fitted so as to address the largest number of people with volume orders. They’re marketing swag, feature a company logo or slogan prominently, or show the logo and dates of the conference itself.
Nerdy men, on average, go to far more technology related conferences than other types. Tech conference giveaway t-shirts have a special flavour, which I’ve dubbed Haute Sarcasm. Haute Sarcasm is sarcasm with the added layer of in-tribe references or jokes that aren’t necessarily understood by the general population.
I get it — nerdy guys LOVE tech conference swag t-shirts because Haute Sarcasm appeals directly to them, and it saves them the hassle of going to the overstimulating environment of a clothing store (crowds, bright lights, large selection). This essentially exacts a ruthlessly effective 2-for-1 appeal to nerds that plays directly into the hands of marketers. Nerdy guys wear these t-shirts, they often have few other clothes in their wardrobe, and because the messaging is geared to in-tribe, other nerds see these shirts and get the jokes. These other nerds are the target market for these companies.
It’s all pretty genius, until you stop and consider that appearance is a huge factor in dating, sex, and relationships. You have to give people a chance to appreciate your wit, intelligence, and other positive qualities, but if you dress in an unattractive way, you’ll never get this chance. Out on a date or when looking to meet people who might become dates, you don’t want to signal other nerds for in jokes — you want to signal your desirability to your date.
You do not signal desirability by wearing a t-shirt that is distracting and does not fit you well.
Heterosexual men by and large, and nerdy men in particular, do not spend nearly as much time developing their appearance as do women. The sociologist Catherine Hakim has spent the last several years developing her theory of erotic capital as the 4th personal asset (together with economic capital, human capital, and social capital). Erotic capital has 7 elements — beauty, sex appeal, liveliness, dressing well/presentation, charm, social skills, and sexual competence.
Of those, by far the easiest and most immediately addressable characteristic is dressing well and presentation.
“However, attractiveness is in large part an achieved characteristic… Getting fit, improving posture, wearing flattering colours and shapes, choosing appropriate hairstyles and clothes — such changes can add up to a completely new look. Yet many people fail to make the effort.” — Catherine Hakim, Honey Money
Hakim’s body of work evidences that men also stand to benefit even more than women by developing their erotic capital — they receive a higher pay premium in the workforce for having higher erotic power, and this is even more pronounced in management roles. Despite the potential relationship and monetary payoffs, Hakim points out that women generally devote far more time and energy than men to grooming, maintaining their figures, and fashion.
It’s not just serious sociologists that point this out. Every single Pick Up Artist gets this right by advising men to pay attention to their appearance and grooming in order to be more attractive to their dating partners.
“There are certain bad habits we’ve groomed our whole life — from personality flaws to fashion faux pas… But it’s not enough to just be yourself. You have to be your best self. And that’s a tall order if you haven’t found your best self yet.” — Neil Strauss, The Game
“…a relative improvement to your appearance will give you a short-term confidence boost, which will help you approach girls. Your goal is to improve your self-image by making a change that will put you in a better mood to approach and game. This change can be in the form of a lasting improvement, like working out at the gym or something that gets you more excited about going out, like changing your hairstyle, growing facial hair, or buying a new outfit.” — RooshV, Bang
“Yes, Game is vitally important, as is root level, dynamic personal change. I don’t think I need to explain just how important this is. However, looks COUNT, looks MATTER. What I find amazingly ironic is that looks are one of the few areas of change that a Man has DIRECT control over — his body. Barring physical disabilities, you have no excuse not to be in better shape. Why wouldn’t you want the full package? Stop being so Goddamned lazy and accept that you’ll need to exert some effort and sweat to make yourself more attractive. “ — Rollo Tomassi, The Rational Male
“Many straight guys are averse to exploring their style and how they dress because they think it’s “gay” or intrudes on their masculinity. It makes most men feel uncomfortable… If this describes you, then it is going to be a mental hurdle that you’ll have to overcome. Recognize that unless you’ve already spent a large amount of time focusing on fashion and style already, chances are what you think looks good right now is not accurate at all.” — Mark Manson, Models
Nerdy men— listen up! You could benefit the most from this advice.
By and large, your conference t-shirts are ugly, too big, don’t fit, and look like shit.
And, as much as I hate to say it, on this point — take RooshV’s advice. You don’t have to become a fashion icon overnight, but by making a relative improvement to your appearance, you’ll reap rewards.
Simple 3 Step Relative Improvement for Conference T-Shirt Addicted Nerds
After I explained this to my boyfriend, we went shopping together at H&M with the aim of getting a very simple, very basic wardrobe in flattering colours and sizes that fit. Most give away t-shirts at tech conferences in the US are sizes L — XXL and they are not fitted. Fitted clothing should sit comfortably on your skin, not hang off of it. Shirts that aren’t fitted don’t look good on anyone, and wearing a shirt that is several sizes too large looks universally bad.
To build a basic, relative-improvement wardrobe as a nerdy man, do this:
- Take a style-savvy friend or hire a personal stylist to go with you and go to one clothing store. This will minimize overstimulation/overwhelm and make sure someone else gives you feedback
- Buy 5 t-shirts in solid colours that are fitted and that are your size. If you do not know what your size is, pick one shirt in one colour and take several sizes of that colour with you to the fitting room. Try them on one by one and get feedback from your friend/stylist. You can also ask a member of store staff to give you feedback.
- Buy two pairs of fitted jeans (skinny jeans if you are slim, slim fit if you have an average body size, and bootleg if you are larger) in a complementary, solid colour that are the correct size for you. If you do not know your size, do as you did for the t-shirts: grab the same colour jeans in several sizes and try them on one by one
If this is the first time that you are wearing clothes that fit, expect that it will feel a bit weird. This is because you are likely used to wearing clothes that tent off of your body rather than clothes that touch your skin. The key is to make sure that your movement isn’t restricted — in the fitting room, try sitting down and walking around to check this. Get feedback from your friend/stylist or a shop assistant — if they notice your clothing riding up or sticking in weird places, this can indicate needing to go up one size.
Simple 3 Step Relative Improvement for Swag Producers
If you are organizing swag for your next tech conference, or you know someone who is, help out your fellow nerds of all genders by not making dating, sex, and relationships harder for them. Some companies manage to make swag that is both Haute Sarcasm AND attractive, or at least swag that does not harm appearance rather than making it objectively worse.
Here are 3 simple steps to help your in-tribe build their erotic capital:
- Produce Conference Socks Instead — This is so good on so many levels. It helps with sock matching, it’s distinctive, it’s eye catching, and because it is different, nerds will talk about it. Props in particular to deepsense who produce absolutely awesome conference socks.
2. If you just can’t give up the conference t-shirt, pause first and think to yourself: WWND? That is, What Would NVIDIA do? The only SILD (SWAG I’d like to date) t-shirt I’ve ever see come back from California was an NVIDIA shirt, which was:
- Available in several sizes
- Designed beautifully
- Made from touchably soft material
Even if you have to charge for these shirts to make it feasible (NVIDIA swag costs money; it is not given away free), it will do absolutely everyone a favour — the nerds you want to appeal to, as well as the people who would date them.
3. If you can’t be bothered to WWND your conference shirts, then at least buck the trend by offering your oversized, non-fitted shirts in V Necks. You’ll stand out, and a V Neck looks more flattering on men of almost all body types when compared to the standard crew neck.
Regardless of gender, generally we all like to date someone that we find attractive. Appearance is only one dimension of attractiveness, but it’s one that you have direct and immediate control over. It’s also an area where a relative improvement can make a big difference. And, nerd guys — you like looking at attractive women. Why do you think it would be any different for the women looking back at you to want to see a well-presented man, too?
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This is one in series of articles that was funded by my awesome Patrons. Special thanks to Piotr Migdal, Valeria Chuba, Marta Marczykowska-Górecka, and one anonymous contributor for your proofreading and input — Death to the Conference T-Shirt wouldn’t have been the same without your feedback.
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