Unfortunately, I was not able to be part of the workshop with artist Shelby Head last week. I was disappointed because I am always looking for ways to recycle clothes or accessories I no longer us and try hard to avoid the guilt of simply throwing them away. Nevertheless, for this post, I had the chance to think in depth about the role of the t-shirt, a garment which is usually underestimated for its simplicity and – in some cases – even considered banal and boring. While looking at the Fabric of Cultures website, an item in particular surprisingly caught my attention: a white, plain but classy t-shirt. This fact made me think about the role of t-shirts in my personal experience but also in modern society.
The T-shirt in general is considered a comfortable and practical piece of clothing for everyday life, usually perceived as too basic to be worn in a professional environment or an elegant occasion. But yet it is used in varied circumstances, showing adaptability among its hidden properties. It is often underestimated because it is cheap and easy to wear: it is ready-to-go, it does not need much embellishment and it fits different body types. It is a symbol of fashion equality, as everybody can afford and wear a t-shirt (i.e. let’s think of the t-shirt business in impoverished nations).
When I think about the t-shirt, I associated it with the idea of western culture and modernity: born at the beginning of the XX Century, this piece of clothing became a universal symbol of democratization that can be declined in many different ways, without losing its simplicity or becoming irreverent. It is linked to youth and spontaneity but it is also worn by people of different ages, cultures and social statuses.
If we follow Eco’s thinking, in his article Lumbar thought, that clothes are make us assuming a specific demeanor (Eco 316), we can conclude that t-shirts affect human beings the least: as they are comfortable and easy to wear, they do not lead us to think about what we are wearing and how we are perceived by society in that moment. However, if we are, we are associated with the idea of conformity and neutrality. If we think about someone who does not want to be noticed, we can picture them wearing a plain t-shirt.
Nonetheless I pushed myself to redefine my idea of t-shirts and in particular the white one. This is probably the article of clothing in my wardrobe that I consider least and yet it is the most important and has never been missing. Since I was a teenager and I started to make fashion choices for myself, I can remember having a white t-shirt. Whenever I am shopping for something to wear, I tend to go straight to the pile of the white t-shirts. It almost seems my subconscious pushes me to the piece that I know I will always wear whenever I feel challenged in my outfit decisions. A white basic shirt has all the potential I need: it is almost like an empty space I can fill with my imagination (i.e. jewelry, jacket, pants, shoes); I can play with it, reshape and redesign the surroundings of my own person, and once I am done, I can always go back and start from the beginning.
I like the idea of thinking that, instead of having only one piece in my wardrobe to rethink, I could use my white t-shirt to create something new every time. A white t-shirt that I can erase and modify and finally bring back to its original self.