Wearing Anger on Your Back

Americans are wearing a lot more than hearts on their sleeves these days, as they don angry message T-shirts to pop off on everything from Enron to Kmart to Martha Stewart.

One new Web site started by an ex-Enron employee, www.laydoff.com, features a slew of biting T-shirts that cater to a public disgusted with the high-profile demise of the energy company.

"Enron Fraud: Not a Shred of Evidence," reads one shirt, accompanied by a drawing of a shredder.

The site is the creation of John Allario, who was laid off after six years as a manager at Enron. He has 1,200 shares of worthless stock, which were once priced as high as $90 apiece.

Allario calls his designs "Active Angry Wear." And instead of getting mad, he's looking to get even.

"This was basically inspired from that fact that I got laid off," Allario, 38, said in a telephone interview from his Houston home. "I was angry, I was frustrated. I said, 'you're wrong, I'm good, and I'll show you that I'm creative and I can get out and get it done.'"

Allario sold 600 Enron shirts at $18 each in the first two months the site was up.

There's nothing new about printing snarky sayings on cheap cotton T's, of course. Countless versions of the ubiquitous "My Brother/Wife/Whatever Went to Hawaii/Paris/Wherever and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt" have been selling in roadside stands and tacky tourist shops for decades.

But the dot-com bust and the faulty economy seem to have caused a spike in the angry attire business. And with nearly two million job cuts in 2001 almost three times the figure from just two years earlier there may be a growing market for the goods.

Billy Tsangares, owner of Y-Que (pronounced eKay) Trading Post in Los Angeles, a novelty store that has sold angry-themed shirts for 10 years, said his business is booming.

"I've started pumping up the volume because people are becoming more responsive to these, I call them 'editorial,' shirts," Tsangares said.

Among his most popular designs: the "Enron EvilDoer" shirt, the "Axis of $ Evil" logo and the "God Save the Queen" shirt featuring Martha Stewart's mug.

Tsangares, who once peddled his wares on the street, credits the Internet for a bit part of his business boom.

"With the Internet, the topics don't have to be as consumable by a mass audience. You don't have to wait until everybody on earth agrees with you to make a T-shirt about something these days."

Tsangares, who created the popular "Free Winona" shirts after actress Winona Ryder was busted for shoplifting, said his "angry wear" helps people express their opinions and deal with whatever's happening in the news.

Not everyone's buying that argument.

"Venting anger often backfires," insisted Brad Bushman a "catharsis specialist" from the University of Iowa. "It's just like using gas to put out a fire, you feed the flame. You just activate anger."

But while Allario concedes he may be taking a bit of a risk, he also said he's received nothing but positive feedback from customers and former co-workers.

"I'm a little nervous about this backfiring," he said. "I come from a conservative field. I'm trying to play as clean, as Jay Leno-type jokes as I can, without offending anybody."