Sexuality and politics signaled through ‘coded clothing’

BDSM emblem dress shirt from ThirdHex Coded Clothing.
ThirdHex Coded Clothing, a small fashion startup selling through Etsy, produces snazzy black dress shirts with small embroidered logos, not of its own brand, but of icons representing concepts such as anti-fascism, polyamory, BDSM, and vegetarianism.

Currently, the shop offers only eight designs, which are mostly geared toward the fetish community, left-wing politicos, and gamers. What originally fascinated me about the shop was the concept of “coding” through clothing. American consumers are used to seeing brand logos stitched onto dress shirts, but logos for concepts and fandoms communicate so much more than “I can afford a Chemise Lacoste.”

As a teenager when I was dressing in the absolute punkest way possible, I don’t know if it ever occurred to me that one of the reasons was to signal to other “punks” that I was one of them. It’s remarkable to think back about how I could go to a new town and instantly figure out who was “cool” (or “not cool”) just based on what kinds of t-shirts or shoes they wore. For better or for worse, the t-shirt has become the most common identifier people use to signal “where their heads are at.”

ThirdHex Coded Clothing owner, Christopher Kaminski’s seller-statement on his Etsy page resonated with me as an adult who doesn’t find band t-shirts appropriate wear for every occasion:

At the age of 18, I joined the Air Force and found myself without friends that shared interests. I quickly realized the value of having t-shirts that expressed my interests in topics like 80s goth bands to find like minded friends. Since then I’ve strongly used t-shirts to socially code through every major move but as I entered my 30’s I found my style to be incompatible with t-shirts.

When I moved again in my mid 40’s I found myself completely uninterested in t-shirts but wanted some way to still socially code. ThirdHex Coded Clothing was born out of that need.

I ordered a ThirdHex shirt with the “Antifascist Circle,” based on the symbol of the Iron Front, a few weeks ago. I found the product to be high quality and spiffy-looking when worn.

I talked briefly to ThirdHex owner, Christopher Kaminski about the concept of coded clothing.

Aside from appreciating the crisp aesthetic simplicity of the shirts and logos, what really struck me about your shop was your mission statement, in particular, the use of the word “coding” which really breaks down the intent behind a lot of folks’ fashion choices.

ThirdHex: Look at the people around you, really look. They’re all using accessories, grooming styles, colors, body language and more to passively communicate with you, some do it with more intent than others. This is social coding.  Ever drive behind a car with cool bumper stickers and think that they would be cool people to know? I know I have.

How did you first hatch the concept for the store?

TH: The concept didn’t hatch as a store, it started with personal use. I have a closet of t-shirts that I think I look sloppy in. I wanted to communicate with others in a more fashionable way. After I modified a couple of pieces for myself, I realized I was not the only one that would want this.

My favorites of your designs are the ones related to sexuality and politics, but my guess would be that the “nerdier” gamer designs are a hit. There’s something appealing about being an adult and dressing like an adult but still being able to signal in that way. I like the idea of a 40-year-old wearing a dress shirt with a D20 on it over a tacky XXXL all-over-print t-shirt made for teenagers. 

TH: The wives and partners of men that wear t-shirts all the time seem to agree with your statement. My customers aren’t always the end users of the shirts! More nerdy designs are on their way!

When you came up with this concept, did you envision these shirts being “daily wear” or more for conventions, events, and rallies?

TH: Daily wear, but both of course. It’s easy to find people with similar tastes or ideas at conventions. My designs are intended to help you find your community of people outside of those spaces.

Have you taken any inspiration from “hanky codes”?

TH: Not really, although the ideas are similar. I mostly took inspiration from brand advertising. Brands themselves are coded through advertisements. Advertisements sell an experience and attach a brand to it. Wearing that brand tells other people you like that advertised experience. I am simplifying the communication process and targeting peoples passions.

Finally, are there any plans to add women’s styles or (though I personally have no problem with all black everything) alternate shirt colors? Also, any thoughts on future designs?

TH: I do have a business plan that includes both eventually but add sizes to that mix and you end up with a crazy amount of inventory. It’s going to take some time and a big investment to get there. However, new stitch designs will roll out every month. 

ThirdHex Coded Clothing’s website is at

Anti-fascist circle emblem

D20 gamer shirt
More after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel
09:54 am