Of all the objects that have invaded my life since entering college — promotional flyers, on-the-go-meals, and heavy textbooks, for example — T-shirts have been the most invasive and the most uncontrollable. They’re everywhere I turn, especially during the recent Student Government elections. During election season, T-shirts proved their worth as mobile advertising strategies, instead of more than just items that take up space in my closet. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still take up an unnecessary amount of space in my closet.
Here at The University of Texas, these inexpensive garments act as cloth documentation of where we’ve been, whom we know and with what we are affiliated. At any given moment, I can infer the basic details of any person on campus, strictly based on the shirt they have on. And, unless you’ve consciously avoided acquiring shirts by living under a rock during your college years, there is no way you don’t own an organization-affiliated T-shirt or two.
The cotton-swathed fate is unavoidable and for good reason. T-shirts are the obvious choice in apparel: They hide my freshman fifteen, go with everything, are comfortable and put me in a group with 50,000 other T-shirt-wearing students. Individuality is irrelevant in the face of a perfectly crafted event shirt. The uniform here at UT is strict — forget to wear a T-shirt and you might be cited for “caring too much about your appearance” — God forbid.
T-shirts, however, weren’t always such a frequent sight at UT. A picture from the 1980s featured in the book “The Daily Texan: The First 100 Years” shows men of the the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity sitting on their front lawn wearing button downs and jeans, not T-shirts. My dad, who attended UT in the ’80s and was in a fraternity, still has some of the fraternity T-shirts he wore back then. They are all hand-designed and drawn, and the production level pales in comparison to the carefully branded and crafted organization shirts of today.
But the standard of dress here at UT has changed significantly in the last 30 years. T-shirts have become the dominant clothing choice for UT students. Take a candid photo of students today, and the chance that most of them are wearing organization T-shirts is fairly high.
This shift makes sense. T-shirts embody the current college social mentality: Let’s all generate hype for each other’s organizations by wearing shirts with various logos and words. And, as ridiculous as it may appear when examined outside of the UT vacuum, T-shirts makes sense when examined up close. As a college student, you make your friends through the organizations and causes in which you involve yourself. T-shirts are just a reminder to the outside world that you affiliate somewhere, and that that “somewhere” has a shirt to prove it. And, for those students who don’t often wear T-shirts, I’m sure there is place for you on campus, too — maybe.
Besides the ease and comfort they provide, T-shirts are the most infallible marketing material to which student organizations have access. Whether the shirt sports your organization’s logo, a big “Texas Fight” or a the name of a volunteering event to which you went, the same goal is accomplished: free advertising. During any given walk around campus, the number of symbols, logos, phrases and letters one is subjected to is outrageous. In a way, we are all channeling our fifth grade, Abercrombie and Fitch graphic-tee wearing-selves as we walk around campus in the present day. I am still haunted by elementary and middle school yearbook photos of me wearing tight, neon, “A&Fitch est. 1892” shirts, beaming proudly, completely oblivious of the fashion crime I was committing and the price I should have been charging for advertising space.
Hopefully, the T-shirts I wear now will evoke less future embarrassment because they represent things about which I actually care. I’m still abiding by a trend in the same way I did at age nine, but I believe, when looking back, that I’ll know exactly why I wore those oversized frockets and be able to articulate my decision for doing so — after all, it will say just why in bold letters across the front.
Berkeley is a Plan II and advertising freshman from Austin.