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Why Adam Levine’s Super Bowl shirt looks like furniture

A textiles professor explains.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

For the brief period during his performance at the Super Bowl halftime show when Adam Levine was wearing a shirt, people watching at home all wondered the same thing: Does he look like my couch?

In many cases, the answer proved to be yes. Not just couches but throw pillows, curtains, and other random upholstery all seemed to share the same geometric pattern as the tank top worn by the lead singer of Maroon 5.

So why does this strange pattern seem to be so ubiquitous in American homes? I called Preethi Gopinath, a textiles professor at Parsons School of Design, who explained that although to many people, the vibe seems rather ’70s, its origins go back much further than that.

“So the funny thing is, people are showing off a lot of upholstery fabric because it’s a very common weave structure,” she explains. “There’s an old traditional American woven structure called ‘summer and winter,’ [where] the face would have a light color and the reverse would have a dark color so you could turn it over for the winter and have a light color for summer.”

Aside from its usefulness, that particular structure is also easy for weavers to accomplish using a hand loom rather than more complicated equipment, which contributed to its popularity. “Any Middle American hand-loom weaver would learn how to do this,” she says.

But those who say the pattern feels a bit mod or midcentury are also onto something. Gopinath says the particular shirt recalls the work of Bauhaus artist Josef Albers, known for his influential Homage to the Square series in the 1950s. (Coincidentally, Albers’s wife, the artist Anni Albers, also happened to be a weaver.)

Josef Albers’s “Homage to the Square: With Rays,” 1959.
The Met

Even though Levine’s shirt is likely a printed knit rather than an actual woven fabric, the designer may have taken inspiration from furniture. The reason it blew up and became a meme, however, is probably because we’re not really used to seeing that happen.

“Normally, most of the time the home furnishing industries often draw from what’s happening in fashion; for me, it was a thrill to see the reverse,” Gopinath says. Trends in home furnishing tend to move far slower than those in clothing because people aren’t purchasing new curtains nearly as often as we buy, say, a coat. “Any home furnishing has to last much longer — you’re not going to change your upholstery for your sofa every year, so it has to to be more of a classic pattern to survive in the home furnishing industry, whereas in fashion, you can throw out that T-shirt in two months.”

That’s partly why the squares-within-squares and circles-within-squares weaving pattern exists in so many homes: It’s been around for a really long time. The subdued colors and simple, geometric pattern can survive multiple waves of trends, making it a popular, safe choice for furniture.

“Like with any design, the person who actually designed it may have had none of this in mind and just drawn squares that worked on the T-shirt,” Gopinath notes. (The designer of Levine’s shirt is still unclear, though please reach out if you happen to know!) “It’s just that we’re connecting with it because we’ve seen it at home.” Regardless, here’s to more furniture-inspired fashion in 2019.