THE BOULEVARDIER: Hearts and smiles

Every week, our Boulevardier, Marq Frerichs, considers matters related to men’s style. This week: A case for why the smiley face trumps the heart. (Even that cute Comme des Garçons one above.)

I’m just going to come out and say it: I loathe graphics on T-shirts. OK, perhaps that’s too strong, I really, really don’t like T-shirts with graphics, words, or ads for some product that I don’t consume—especially when I don’t recall receiving a royalty cheque for the “space” that is my chest.

But then, as a society of consumers, we give the world a lot of free ad space. I have an iPhone, which is shorthand for “Look at me, I’m a ‘creative’ type. Buy one if you want to be creative.” The same goes for a Blackberry—”I’m a business type etc.”

I do love images, though, and the meanings that they convey. When I was growing up, the image that I remember most was the smiley face, that simple sunshine-yellow circle and line drawing smile. Thanks to Wikipedia I know this: “The iconic smiley face, with the black ink smile and two oval dots for eyes…was created by freelance artist Harvey R. Ball in 1963 in an advertising campaign by The State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts.” Neither Ball nor the company copyrighted it, so it’s one of the few images of happiness that’s actually free. I seem to recall hearing that somewhere—that smiles are free.

Oddly, I haven’t noticed a rebirth of the smiley face yet, even in the midst of our current ‘80s revival. A bit strange, seeing as it was so strongly associated with the acid house movement.

Perhaps this irony isn’t ironic enough for the kids of Ossington and Dundas. Maybe it was Wal-Mart, which was recently embroiled in a copyright fight over their logo, that made the smiley face uncool. We all know Target (“Tar-jay”) is the big-box to be seen at. Or perhaps the smiley face needs an update along the lines of the digital revolution: Would anyone wear a :) on a T-shirt?

That other iconic symbol, the big red heart, arrived in 1977, courtesy of the graphic designer Milton Glaser. Glaser reportedly created the “I heart New York” logo pro bono, so does that mean that love is also free? Nope. You’re going to pay for that T-shirt, especially if Ed Hardy has any say in the matter. I’m not sure when the resurgence of the heart icon started, or maybe I just opened my eyes again. I’ve seen it everywhere that I’ve travelled this year.

I’ve also noticed the heart motif all over menswear lately. Hearts are everywhere, you just have to look—which was what I was doing for the last five months. It’s wonderful how love transforms the way we see the world. But things change.

My current favourite logo is Ralph Lauren’s super-sized polo player, which plays chastely over your nipple. Endless mirth in my childlike imagination. But the best and most enduring logo is still the smiley face. It tells me to smile and have a good day. It’s such a simple message, a clean message. The heart is much more complicated, as is love itself. Maybe I’ll make a tee that says: I heart ME. ‘Cause that’s all I really need to love you.

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