Sunday, September 12, 2010

What Would be Written on the Pope's T-Shirt?

As I sit in my favourite cafe (Satellite Expresso, still hoping for a free coffee) I look around and realise that virtually everyone, myself included, is wearing a black t-shirt. With a single exception all the t-shirts have witty or humorous or socially relevant comments on them (the exception has a dalek on it).

Once upon a time people needed to develop opinions and be able to expound on them at length either verbally or in print. Now they just buy the appropriate t-shirt. All of the philosophical and political beliefs of humanity have been boiled down to the cloth equivalent of twitter. I'm not the first to notice this; one of my favourite Americans, PJ O'Rourke, once wrote that if Martin Luther were alive today he would have had to nail ninety five t-shirts to the door of Wittemburg church to have the same effect.

Nevertheless wearing a t-shirt with a supposedly pithy saying is still better than the current habit of "designer" clothing having huge labels announcing their provenance plastered all over them. I've never quite understood why people would pay a large amount of money to act as a walking billboard for a clothing designer. In days gone buy people used to be hired to wear sandwich boards advertising clothing shop's wares. Now apparently people will pay good money for the privilege. Imagine if you went to a tattoo parlour and as well as giving you your tattoo the owner insisted on branding the name of the shop across your forehead.

People seem to be prepared to put up with a lot from clothing designers. Clothing long ago lost its primary purpose of keeping us warm in the cave during ice ages and has now become a method of self promotion. Every hierarchically inclined organisation seems to insist on a form of clothing and self presentation that will announce their presence and status. One automatically thinks of the army or the church but masons or indeed an office with a dress code are doing the same thing. I wear a suit to work, something I wouldn't do if my employers allowed me to turn up in my pyjamas.

But people expect it; I very much doubt if the pope would command quite as much respect when speaking from the balcony over St Peter's square if he did it while wearing jeans and a t-shirt. At least not until we get some younger, hotter popes. Clothing is one of the ways we identify ourselves to others. We indicate to some that we might be agreeable to their approach while discreetly warning others to stay away. If we didn't have clothing we would have to write down various facets of our personality on cards and hand them out to strangers. This would be very irritating, especially as we would have no pockets to keep the cards in.

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