The other day, as I was leaving Camellia Grill, I overhead a couple of men ahead of me talking about Texas. They kept mentioning Longhorns and looking back at me. Although I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, I realized they were talking about me. When I asked them why, they said, “We thought from your shirt you were from Texas.”
OK, so I had on my “Keep Austin Weird” shirt, a personal favorite in eye-watering lime green with royal blue lettering. It never occurred to me that wearing it identified me as a Texan (not that it’s a problem). Given that line of reasoning, someone reading my T-shirt on any given day might think I’m from Dauphin Island, Ala., or Greensboro, N.C.
I have a friend who buys T-shirts for all occasions and every trip and special event she’s involved with. We trade shirts a lot. If you’re identified as being tied to your T-shirt, people might think I attended the Campout of the Century, sponsored by the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the BSA in America. I wonder if people think she’s a lone Saints supporter among the Falcons fans in Atlanta. After all, she has the World Champions T-shirt I sent her.
It never crossed my mind that T-shirts were like nametags: identification. I don’t look at a T-shirt from Disney World and tag the wearer as a Floridian or assume that everyone wearing a New Orleans T is from the Crescent City. But apparently some people do.
Now, if I were smart, I’d figure out how to make some money in the T-shirt business. According to the Promotional Products Association International, wearables are the biggest category of promotional products, what we used to call specialty advertising, a $15 billion-a-year industry. Wearables include T-shirts, as well as golf shirts, aprons, uniforms, blazers, caps, hats, headbands, jackets, neckwear and footwear, but it’s a safe bet that T-shirts make up a big part of that category, which totals about $4.5 billion annually.
When I teach the Intro to Mass Comm class, we talk about T-shirts as advertising and how folks wearing them rarely consider themselves walking billboards. Few consumers realize they’re paying someone else for the privilege of advertising a product or company, rather than having the company paying them to communicate their message.
Maybe we should follow the lead of Jason Sadler, who’s figured out how to get people to pay HIM to wear their shirts. He gets the money AND the T-shirts from businesses that want the visibility. He’s sold out months in advance.
If you see me in the dark purple T-shirt that says, “Got Jambalaya?” the answers are no, I’m not being paid to wear it; yes, I do know I’m promoting a product; and yes, I AM from the Jambalaya Capital of the World (Gonzales, La.).
What does your T-shirt say about you?