First: here’s a must-read, quite funny, animated primer on how we use irony.

Another way we use it: according to a new study (“Irony Is the New Black”) conducted by the University of Arizona, we use irony to “secretly signal our identity or beliefs” to people we know.

As an example, Assistant Professors Caleb Warren and Gina Mohr suggest a hard rock-loving friend who “shows up to a death metal party wearing a Justin Bieber T-shirt.” (Note: As a longtime metalhead, I don’t know what a “death metal party” is, but we get the point.)

In this example, we’re co-opting a brand or behavior that signals a trait or belief that’s the opposite of what the product intended. And this is where friends come in: people have to know you well enough to know that you’re not, well, a Belieber, but rather, a smartass.

“Throughout history, consumers have re-appropriated products to make a statement,” Warren says. “For example, trucker hats were at one time low-status products and originally came into fashion through rural workers. They’ve since been revalued by young urban consumers.”

So conferring ironic status upon lowbrow brands can easily work in favor of a business — the study cites the newfound popularity of Pabst Blue Ribbon, for example.

In other words, hipsters, be careful: you may (ironically!) extend the cultural zeitgeist of Justin Bieber with your sartorial antics.

Photo: Sean Davis/Flickr Creative Commons