The T-shirt proliferation

As is my habit whenever I want to relax, which is often, I have been thinking deeply about the world in general. Not in terms of the actual state of the world, you understand, as that normally relaxes me to the point of being depressed. The consequence of relaxing in that way, typically means that I have to take myself off to bed for a few days. Instead, I prefer to think about the more mundane aspects of the world; it’s just safer.

My relaxation this week started with deep and superficially insightful observations about clothing. More specifically, with that item of clothing called a T-shirt. I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but T-shirts are everywhere.This got me wondering about their history: where did T-shirts come from? Who invented them? Were they, in truth, invented? (There is a plant called a tea tree, after all, so why not a tee tree?) But most importantly, why are there so many of them?

Such deep questions, while easily answered, required me to do a little research. And so that’s what I did, a ‘very little’ research. Basically, I looked it up on Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the entry contained no information about whether T-shirts had, at some point in their history, been grown on trees. Nor did it throw any light on who invented them. However, I did learn that this piece of apparel evolved in the 19th Century from a single piece undergarment. This was cut into two parts, with the top being  something like a proto T-shirt.

Apparently, the two pieces of this ‘new’ underwear were worn with the tops tucked into the bottoms. This is probably why, on occasion, one still runs into people who tuck their T-shirts into their underpants (in this sense, such a practice would be ‘traditional’). This may also explain the ‘underpants on the outside’ practice employed by many superheroes. Essentially, Superman really is wandering around undertaking heroic feats, saving the world, and wooing Lois lane, in the comfort of his underwear. It’s obvious once you know a little T-shirt history. I mean, he gets undressed in a phone box. (Perhaps the coolest thing about this, though, is that even Superman wears ‘Superman underpants’. I wonder if he also has Superman sheets?)

It also transpires that T-shirts have a long association with the U.S. military,  being first issued by the U.S. Navy some time around the Spanish-American war. But, according to Wikipedia, T-shirts didn’t become really fashionable until Marlon Brando wore one on screen and cried “Hey Stella!” After this, there was no stopping them, for they were poised to take over the world, become vehicles for personal expression, and be the dreadnoughts of corporate advertising. (Perhaps you now have a deeper interest in T-shirts? In case you do, here’s the link to the Wikipedia T-shirt article. It being Wikipedia, I can’t guarantee that the article I saw will be the same one you do, though.)

Normally – as my ‘little research’ yielded satisfactory answers to most of my questions – this is where my speculations would end. Having had something of the omnipresence and proliferation of T-shirts explained, I’d make a nice cup of  tea and repair to the garden to read a novel. Normally, I would not think about T-shirts in terms of ‘proliferation’, though. I started wondering, could one weaponize a T-shirt? There is that military association, perhaps the military’s interest in T-shirts is not as it seems? If such an interest is more than it seems, and if one can turn something innocuous into an instrument of warfare, have there been civilian adaptations of this technology? Is this why I bought that mushroom juicer when I saw it advertised on a T-shirt?

I found these new questions disquieting. Moreover, it was clear that none of them could be answered by another ‘little Wikipedia research’. Instead, I would be required to engage in the much more rigorous, and intellectually demanding, ‘thought experiment’. I then proceeded to ‘thought experiment’ most rigorously, and for a protracted period.

After much experimentation, I came to the conclusion that yes, one could most definitely weaponize a T-shirt, and that this same technology was being put to use in the public sphere all the time. This, I reasoned, was because T-shirts have special qualities; qualities that exert a weak influence by themselves, but are made much stronger in conjunction with printed symbols. (The reason we don’t see printed symbols on most military T-shirts, is due to the use of stealth technology.) In short, T-shirts, especially printed ones, are magic.

It all makes perfect sense once you think about it. Human beings have been wearing magical items for centuries: religious icons with prayers written on paper inside them, bracelets made out of copper that stop seasickness, crowns that bestow holy authority, and rings that make us married. It seems to me that the T-shirt is just the latest permutation of such objects. In addition, it is a supremely effective one, since the magic of T-shirts can compel us to do things we probably wouldn’t otherwise. Things like buying mushroom juicing machines, or foot spas, for example. (They may also compel us to vote for some politicians, especially the ones we complain about after voting for them.)

I’m not sure how this magical force manifests, although it obviously takes place below the threshold of human perception. But if we could suddenly see these forces in operation, I believe every T-shirt would have a brightly coloured haze around it, probably one that gave off sparks, and sounded like a light saber. Yes, this is how the magical force by which human beings are compelled to buy, or do, certain things, would appear. That is, as a power that emanates from the shirt. I imagine also, that there are both defensive and offensive components to this magic. If we did suddenly acquire the ability to see this force, we would probably see these magical T-shirts – enhanced by the power of corporate symbols – doing battle with each other in the street. (I wish I could see it; now that I  come to describe it, it sounds really exciting.)

Well, maybe this is just so much apple pie in the sky, as it were. But still, there is something strangely alluring about this theory. (Could it be the allure of truth?) On the off chance that there is something to it, I have taken the liberty of sketching out my own T-shirt design (for perfectly benign magical purposes, of course):

final-aw-read-cropped
“The power of this T-shirt compels you to…”

[Blogger’s Note: This entry was originally posted before “Arthur Wingsmith” became a ‘donkey’. Therefore, the power of this T-shirt should now compel you to “READ arthurwingsmith.com.”]

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