T-shirts. Casual or Culture?

If you were looking for a barometer of trends in politics, culture, fashion or social status you could do worse than study T-shirts.

Few garments have stood the test of time better. You might say jeans have lasted as long, but apart from altering in shape [from straight to flared and back, for instance], getting a few strategic rips and patches or sequins they don’t vary much.

The previous generation to my own [ie pre-babyboomers] were not T-shirt wearers. My father got up and put on a proper, ironed shirt-collar and all-and unless he was going outside to dig the garden he would add a tie, considering that he was not suitably attired without one. He continued to adhere to this dress code until poor health condemned him to pyjamas.

The T-shirt, according to Wikipedia originated in the 19th century from undergarments worn by factory workers then became a staple for US military personnel before becoming glamorous in its plain, white form pasted on to the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando in the 1950s. Who could not fail to admire the rippling white fabric stretched across young Brando’s chest as he reared over Blanche Dubois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’?

These days T-shirts fall into various categories, sometimes getting adopted as high fashion on a designer’s whim, proclaiming which side of the stadium a fan shows allegiance to, which rock band is beloved by the wearer and which festival tour they’ve attended, being used as a vehicle for showing off a ponsy holiday destination-as in a map of The Galapagos-, or to inform company that the wearer is up for it [eg inscribed with ‘Angel’ or ‘Hot’]. This last is as alluring as driving around with a personalised number-plate such as the ‘I5EXY’ I spotted once and it is tempting to add ‘not’ to it somehow.

There are also the ones that climb on to a droll slogan or idea and overstay so long as to become wearisome, such as ‘Keep Calm and …..’ or pictures depicting the ‘evolution’ of pursuits like cycling.

The best T-shirts are ones that are laugh-out-loud funny, although they only have this capability for the first sighting, like hearing a joke. Husband, whilst holidaying in Tenerife once was much taken by one that read on the front ‘The Older I Get’ and on the back ‘The Better I Was’. A recent favourite of mine was worn by a male passenger climbing on to the bus to Bridgetown, Barbados and read: ‘Six Pack-Coming Soon’.

My own T-shirt wearing is limited to plain colours except that I am guilty of wearing a New Zealand [black with a white tree-fern leaf of course] only when temperatures plummet at night and something extra is needed under the duvet [no-I am not a nightwear fan either!]

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Spring Chickens and Tough Old Boilers

                Some years ago I was invited to a hen party as a colleague of the bride-to-be. In recent times, hen ‘dos’ have become more elaborate affairs, as have stag parties. They often consist of an entire weekend of activities-even, as in the case of one of our neighbours, a whole holiday of sailing around the Greek islands. For women there will often be some kind of ‘pampering’ like nails, massage or facials, followed  by something more active, such as ballet, followed by cocktails, followed by a meal, followed by getting extremely drunk going clubbing and tottering around on spindly heels/falling over/throwing up/stripping off/lying in the gutter and generally having a great time. The whole of this may be undertaken in some kind of themed fancy dress, or simply the tartiest get-up that can be assembled.

                For a number of reasons I consider rites of passage such as these to be the realm of the young. If you are of more mature years and get invited the best policy is to select the part that is most appropriate [in the aforementioned case it was the cocktail and the meal]. As the meal drew to a close, the two of us who had opted out of the clubbing part waved their taxis off with a shared sigh of relief. I must add that not all the older women had opted out of clubbing-indeed one or two threw themselves into both the late night revelries and the taxis with an excited anticipation that appeared a little incongruous alongside their younger companions; still, no matter.

                Subsequent feedback during coffee with one of the [thirty something] married revellers of that night only served to reinforce my theory. Had she had a good time? ‘It was ok’, she replied. ‘but you know-however young, fashion conscious and fit you may be, there is always going to be someone younger, more fashionable and fit than you are’. This, I might add was from a beautiful, intelligent and witty young woman. No surprise then that she has risen up the career with meteoric speed.

                It is currently Red Carpet Season. Consider the likes of Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. They are held up as shining examples of older women who are ‘still gorgeous’-and yes, they are, though the unspoken phrase ‘for their age’ lurks in the background of the chatter column like an eavesdropper.

                So what are we ancient crones to do? The answer, I feel is to do nothing. We can continue to scrub up the best we can for the sake of our own dignity. We can be good conversationalists, good listeners, constant learners, entertaining, interesting, interested, fun, witty, wise, creative. But we cannot, and should not attempt to compete in the sexual arena, for there will always, always be younger, lovelier beings; such is life.

Overdone

                When does something cool, new and edgy become tedious and boring? I’d say within moments, or as soon as it gets copied. I’ve no doubt whoever thought of the idea, creation or saying will have long moved on to more innovative thoughts, by the time the original takes off. Trends continue long past the tired level. Travelling gives you a perspective on how novelty has been eroded everywhere. Here are some of my current, personal pet yawns:

Decorated animals

                A few years ago we stopped to spend a few days in Bordeaux, en route to the West coast of France. Bordeaux is a beautiful, old, elegant city and a world heritage site, with a wide, curving river and streets lined with gorgeous edifices. It also has chic modern touches like a plateau of water spouting intermittent fountains, ideal for the warm climate. Whilst visiting this lovely place I was much taken by the cows. These were life-sized statues, dotted around in a random fashion in various poses and painted in a variety of styles and colours. One sported a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. I’d seriously never seen anything like it before.

                Now though, it seems as if no town or city can bear to be without some sort of decorated creatures littering the streets. In my own home town it is lions. I read that even Sydney, that most symbolic of modern, stylish cool, is getting ‘snails’. Why? When Sydney has such iconic and beautiful attractions?  

Knitting all over everything

                I appreciate that knitters like to have an outlet for their skills. Whatever happened to blanket squares for refugees? Or why not clothing items for charity shops? [which have struggled to compete in recession ridden times]. I fail to see how knitted sheaths enhance tree trunks or stone columns. I’m happy to see exhibitions of cleverly knitted objects in my local library, but I’m unutterably tired of seeing everything outside covered in woolly wrappers.

‘Keep Calm’ etc

                I honestly believe whoever started this one needs to be charged with crimes against sanity. Posters, mugs, aprons, tea towels-it is all a gift shop nightmare. What on earth are tat-touters going to do when this one finally dies a death? Maybe there could be a new trend of the antithesis of Keep Calm. Panic and… followed by any number of suggestions; faint? Throw up? Take valium? Binge eat?

                In starting this list I’ve deliberately kept off fashions in clothing, because once I began I’d never be able to stop-but scruffy, bum skimming denim shorts would be there alongside those jeans so low slung they all but fall down [when are they ever going away?]-

                I’m sure there are many more overdone trends and welcome suggestions-on a postcard-or in the comments section?

Lost in the Fog of Incomprehension

                I think I may be turning into my mother. It is an unnerving thought. Why do I suspect this? Well, in a somewhat painful acknowledgement I have to confess there are many aspects of today’s fashion, culture and lifestyle I simply do not understand at all, and this lack of comprehension elicits the same pitying expression and incredulous remarks from my offspring as I once presented to their grandmother.

                There are the same, mismatched conversations about film, TV or music; the same confusion over technological issues; the same enquiries of ‘you mean you’ve never heard of…?’

                I remember breezing in from school as a thirteen year old, slinging my satchel [yes, reader, a satchel-and not the current Fiorelli or Mulberry type] down and delightedly regaling my mother with a seedy tale about a girl who’d been yanked out of class for flaunting a necklace of love bites.  The sad truth for those of us in thrall was that we all wished it was us, since it was indisputable evidence of a steamy encounter with a member of the opposite sex…! There was no possible method of self inflicting these fetching, purplish-blue bruises even if one was gifted with a talent for contortionism. My mother’s reaction? She was bewildered.

                “What? Biting?…Why would anyone bite someone?”

                I told her. I explained that it wasn’t a bite, it was a suck, but she remained resolutely mystified-and somewhat disapproving that I’d related the incident. At least, in this respect I differ from her, that is I am reasonably shock-proof. How can I be anything else? I was a teenager in the sixties.

                The following is a random sample of some things that mystify me.

 

Puffa Jackets.

I don’t get these. For anyone who is not anorexic they render the body obese. To wear one is to resemble the bulbous ‘Michelin Man’. I don’t doubt they are warm-but then so are bedsocks, and balaclavas.

 

Teenage Vampires.

I’ve read ‘Dracula’. It was great. I enjoyed the Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. But the plethora of viewing of ‘Twilight’ ilk is all total bilge…[to me!].

 

Rapping

I should probably not include rapping in this list, since it has been around for so long-but it still does not pre-date my musical tastes. I have never understood its appeal, being neither poetry nor music.

 

Shots

As far as I can make out, this is simply a way to get strong alcohol down the gullet without tasting alcohol, hence the bizarre flavours. You only ever see people tipping them down their throats, as if imbibing nasty medicine-which it might just as well be.

 

Tattoos

I agree there is a modicum of fascination about someone who is covered in inky pictures, but I’ve yet to see how they enhance anyone’s appearance. It looks eccentric to the point of farcical to sweep up the red carpet towards the Oscar ceremony in a Balenciaga gown with a lurid tattoo on the bare shoulder or exposed leg-and a related body decoration-

 

Piercings

Yes I do have pierced ears, although only one, discreet hole in each. The worst are those studs in the indentation of the nostril that simply look like a nasty boil on the nose, or dangle from the nose like snot. Similarly, I can’t see anything attractive about those HUGE cotton reel things that young men wear in both ears, forming a large, gaping circle in each.

                I could go on, except that it may well turn into a rant, which would be unseemly. It’s not, you understand, that I disapprove of any of the above, more that I can’t see the point of them. But hey-each to their own. [oh and I know how irritating old people can be!]