How an ‘I Think You Should Leave’ shirt became an evergreen meme

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“I Think You Should Leave,” Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin’s cult sketch comedy show, plumbs the absurdity of small misunderstandings and people’s panicked mentality when they’re backed into a corner. The show’s approach to this rich, cringeworthy terrain of the human experience has taken on another life through the many memes spawned by its characters since its first season premiered on Netflix in 2019.

The forthcoming third season of “I Think You Should Leave,” which was announced Friday, is poised to be no different. Take the enduring resonance of the hypocritical Hot Dog Man, which has been repurposed to describe the likes of the Capitol riot and Donald Trump acting as though he didn’t denounce U.S. Postal service, or the car focus group guy who just wants a good steering wheel that doesn’t fly off when you’re driving. Then there’s perhaps one of the most iconic of all: The Dan Flashes shirt — an image of Robinson donning a loudly-patterned shirt that crops up almost daily online to describe anything from the most detailed-looking photograph of a human cell ever captured to the Met Gala red carpet media blitz.

In the Dan Flashes sketch, Robinson plays a man on a business trip who’s slowly deteriorating because he keeps spending his meal per diem on flashy men’s shirts. “Sir, you’re gonna love this: I found this badass store called Dan Flashes that’s my exact style,” he wearily tells his boss as he lays supine on the couch. “Did I tell you they have a shirt there that costs $2,000 because the pattern’s so complicated? Later, he adds: “Dan Flashes is a very aggressive store. I mean, you walk by a store and you see 50 guys who look just like me fighting over very complicated shirts? You go in.”

The shirt in question that Robinson dons in the sketch — a mess of clashing patterns, a Web 1.0-style screensaver meets a maximalist, knock-off Versace blouse — has inspired a fashion movement since it appeared on Season 2 of “I Think You Should Leave” last year. TikTok is rife with fans decked out in bootleg Dan Flashes shirts or dizzyingly patterned getups that seem tailor-made from the fictional store. In a turn that seems plucked from the show itself, a brewery in Maine has even taken the “complicated” pattern to dress up one of its new beers: a triple IPA aptly called My Exact Style.

“It’s actually surprisingly kinda hard to make,” Robinson says of conceptualizing the now-iconic Dan Flashes garb. When he and Kanin first started writing the sketch, they imagined the shirt as having “s— going everywhere” and overlaying several patterns together. But the two found that “once you start putting patterns over patterns it starts to turn into nothing,” Robinson recalls. After they relayed their concept to Monica Chamberlain, the costume designer for “I Think You Should Leave,” she racked her brain trying to design the ideal Dan Flashes pattern. It had to at once encapsulate something wild and deeply uncool with “some bit of balance,” she says. “So it didn’t look like we vomited a bunch of stuff on it, but something that did not look right.”

Chamberlain initially worked up roughly eight or nine designs inspired by Big Lebowski-esque bowling shirts and images of Jeff Goldblum clad in Prada shirts that mishmash the likes of flames and Frankenstein heads. The shirts still weren’t wild enough. She tried out a look that recalled vintage Bugle Boy shirts, but those were out too. “That started to get too grandpa and almost kind of cool,” she remembers. Chamberlain then thought of trying out graphic patterns.

After mocking up about five synthetic polyester shirts at Silvia’s Fabrics, a costume shop in Los Angeles that often makes outfits for musicians, the team settled on one shirt inspired by the ‘90s 3-D pipes screensaver, with some bold crescent moons thrown in for good measure. “It was such a funny process working with [Tim and Zach] because they just kept wanting it to be crazier,” Chamberlain says. “Almost to a point where I said …, ’Does this look terrible? I think this looks really, really bad.’”

The shirt’s long sleeves were a practical choice: “There’s more fabric for the pattern to go on,” Robinson adds.

The irony of all this is that Dan Flashes-esque shirts are, in fact, cool IRL. We live in a time when “anything goes,” Chamberlain says. “And everyone wants to be unique and dress as an individual. And people can make the craziest things they own and make it work.” What embodies that spirit better than Dan Flashes? Industrious Etsy sellers are hawking velvet polo varieties of the Dan Flashes shirt for $30, but if you care to see the real thing, the original version is currently on view at Netflix’s Museum of Comedy, a Hollywood Boulevard pop-up launched in tandem with the ongoing Netflix Is a Joke: The Festival.

Robinson and Kanin are taking “I Think You Should Leave” to the stage at Hollywood Forever’s Masonic Lodge Friday night to screen outtakes and extended cuts from the show’s first two seasons. “We’re having some friends come in, people who aren’t friends, people who don’t really know the show that well,” Robinson says. “We’re gonna get everyone’s opinion on whether it should have gotten cut or not. There is something fun about joking around and being hard on yourself on whether it’s actually good or not.

“We also lose so much perspective when we’re putting the show together,” he adds. “It would be interesting to see some of these things that we decided weren’t up to par and how they work and have a fun discussion about it.”

“We already cut this stuff. So if people don’t like it, that means we were right,” Kanin says.

“Oh, you’re right!” Robinson says. “We got a built-in out.”

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