T-Shirts – Tom Kowalski

I chose to look at t-shirts as a pop culture phenomenon that I felt deserves to be looked at a little closer. T-shirts are something that started out as an undergarment for men and has been appropriated to display a plethora of meanings, advertisements, art, etc. and they are now pretty much unisex. T-shirts have become a way for people to display on their chests and/or backs and tell everyone they see throughout the day what is exactly on their mind or how they like to spend their money or an interest they wish to share their liking for, among many other things. They could also be considered commodity fetishism. Clothes are something we essentially need to survive, most people wear t-shirts without ever thinking about where it was made, who made it, and what it’s made from etc.

            The function of a t-shirt has changed almost completely from its original concept, although it is still used for its intended purpose like nothing has happened. Many industries have grown exponentially from the use of the t-shirt as a selling foundation. Surfing and skateboarding and other board sports rely heavily on t-shirt sales not only for income but, to also advertise their products and spread their exposure. People who have never even set foot on a surfboard or a snowboard buy and wear the t-shirts of the brand names which they feel are “cool”. So that they can feel connected with the culture, be recognized and recognize others who are also interested in the same sports/activities. These few industries can trace their roots all the way back to a single person peddling t-shirts on a beach or at a skateboard competition.

            T-shirts are used to convey so many messages these days it is hard to not notice how many people wear them. Political messages are prominently displayed on t-shirts so people can show their interest for a certain political party. People who go to nascar races wear a t-shirt displaying which driver they are cheering for that day. Sometimes t-shirts are even appropriated into other fashion items, headsocks, to keep the sun off a person’s head on a hot day. Sometimes the sleeves are cut off to give the impression the wearer is extra tough and wants to display their muscles or they might be cut off to be better ventilated, sometimes you can’t tell.

Almost every form of advertising and self expressionism has been done on a t-shirt. They are the mobile billboards of our culture. Whether it be a billboard for a message, or a product, or a funny picture, or just a plain t-shirt, the t-shirt has become an essential part of our outside communication in the real social world. For people who only speak in terms of facebook, that means you carry your “wall” on your chest wherever you go. When we put on a t-shirt, it will have a lot to do with what kind of mood were in that day, what we are thinking about, and that will be the “status” message displayed to everyone throughout the day. And finally, when the t-shirt is all used up, the message has faded; we have outgrown or lost interest in the product, it is appropriated back to its original purpose, used for an undergarment to sleep in or do yard work with because it can be a “getting dirty” shirt.

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