5[T]: T-shirts

If there is one item that permeates all layers of society then it must be the love, use and enjoyment of the customized t-shirt. There is a never ending demand from all layers of society which agree on one thing. IF there is an event, then you probably need a t-shirt for it. T-shirts cut through wealth, status or class. They can be as niche to as general as one on wants them to be. Before I came to Hong Kong I would never imagine that you could have t-shirts for each particular floor of your student hall. Not to mention the fact that these would be updated yearly, with special event t-shirts and anniversary t-shirts thrown in. How much energy must be spend each year designing and debating which t-shirt design to choose each year! Hong Kong would have already ruled the world if not for this herculean t-shirt designing effort!
Perhaps this obsession with group t shirts begins in primary school, where children are forced to wear uniforms. Did this experience of forced unity (harmony) imprint itself on society? The t-shirt can function as a cheap uniform, smoothing over differences and giving a cheap sense of belonging. In the Netherlands it is rare to see someone wearing a t-shirt of one’s own university. In Hong Kong after only a few months I quickly collected a new wardrobe consisting of a faculty t shirt, orientation t-shirts, floor t-shirts(!) and a t-shirt for most outdoor events I would sign up for. I imagine t-shirt designers must have an esteemed position in Hong Kong society, as without them society would collapse. How would I know which faculty, year, hall, floor or particular event one belongs if the person is not wearing the appropriate t-shirt? While they serve as a way to instil unity and belonging into the wearer they are also items of memory. Wearing my hall t shirt as pyjama’s I am reminded of the time and circumstances in which I acquired the t shirt. As it is a visible item it can also be a conversation starter, an easy reference to point to.
Putting on my amateur sociology hat, perhaps t-shirts are an echo of Hong Kong’s temporal nature. It is a city that thrives on rapid change, being a minor fishing port only a short century ago. The t-shirt is something that can be thrown away at a moments notice. Fully embracing the capitalist boom in which Hong Kong came into being. It is an identity that can be bought and changed at a whim. The logic of advertising brought into daily live. More optimistically however, they are also items of emotion, to be shared with each other. While we try to be individuals in today’s world, pretending to wear unique versions of mass manufactured items, group t shirts happily indulge in their non-uniqueness. From the humble couple t-shirt, shared between two people to the company t shirts worn by thousands. T-shirts are a form of expression that, while not particular to Hong Kong have certainly found their unique expression here. Their strength lies in being shared with people, to be enjoyed together. There is strength and happiness in being similarly unique together. I hope that one day we can all wear the same t-shirt.

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