This is my boyfriend, Mike, in the Calvin Klein parody t-shirt that he probably got at the Bangor Mall in 1997, when Seinfeld was nearing its end and Calvin Klein logos were proudly displayed across the chests of status-conscious high schoolers. Witty and topical then, this t-shirt has now outlasted the garments it parodied: recently I saw a man across the street wearing a CK logo tee, and immediately thought, “hey, that guy’s wearing Mike’s Cosmo Kramer shirt.”
Once ubiquitously emblazoned on perfume bottles, sweatshirts, and tees, the CK logo is no longer the suburban rich kid badge of honor it was when I was a teenager, but it is still familiar and iconic to anyone who shopped for clothing in the 1990s. Seinfeld is a beloved show, and Michael Richards still shows up sometimes in episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm (not to mention the insane racism he started spouting at a comedy club a few years back). Still, this shirt has a strange charisma that is more than the sum of its parts. I have not known Mike to wear it without getting several compliments from strangers. Maybe its lasting power has something to do with the way that even though it is parodying a status symbol of sorts, it doesn’t aim to make a statement about those who choose to wear designer logos. Also, as Mike pointed out, Kramer is rarely called “Cosmo” on the show, and he isn’t the lead actor, which maybe makes the joke just weird and silly enough to not get stale after over a decade.
Last night, as we walked home after First Friday, we passed a lady with great hair who looked effortlessly cool as she sat smoking on the steps of her apartment building. We were a few feet past her when she called after us, “You know, Michael Richards is in town.”