Over the years, my appreciation for t-shirts has grown tremendously. In the adolescence of my fashion journey, I thought of them as the throwaway piece in any given outfit, something that could be substituted without much thought and yet retain the essence of the outfit. I still think of them in that way, except now I realise the value they have as a blank canvas onto which we can imprint our personalities.
It is difficult to personalise non t-shirt garments. For some accessories like hats and perhaps denim jackets, the addition of embroidery or patches could be done with with far more ease given how plentiful those sorts of vendors are nowadays. For outerwear, sweaters, and pants, the core of most wardrobes, however, what you buy is what you get most of the the time unless one is handy with a sowing machine.
The garment that makes up a t-shirt is a commodity, but the art that is slapped onto it is not. The popularisation of internet culture has renewed the value of a t-shirt thanks to the selling of “merch”. It serves as a form of self-expression for many people: virtue or clout by association. Some examples include university students wearing their uni hoodie and professionals wearing company merch. It is a physical form of signalling that is becoming increasingly rare in a predominantly digital world. Given how it seems like every mall has at least one store that offers t-shirt printing services, this phenomenon will not end anytime soon.
The sky is the limit with what you can put on a t-shirt like music lyrics, movie quotes, or book covers. It serves almost as a secret signal to those in the know that the person wearing the t-shirt is indeed part of the particular fandom or niche. For the majority of folk, it is just another t-shirt and is of little consequence, making a perfect canvas for expression.