Slogans on Shirts

January 18, 2020

She was, I guessed, around 60, which meant she might have been a Ramones fan during their heyday. But somehow I doubted that a village woman in central Mexico would have even known they existed. The t-shirt she was wearing with their name on it, therefore, was a hand-me-down, and like so many people here, she had no idea what her clothing said.

A couple of years ago, every third shirt around here seemed to say “Fly Emirates.” Until someone explained to me how used and second-quality clothing is shipped to Mexico and sold in small stores, I kept trying to figure out how all these people had found the money or inclination to use a Middle Eastern airline. As a marketing campaign, it might have been a brilliant move, except the people seeing the company logo everywhere had neither the cash for overseas travel, nor any real conception of the Emirates or their airline.

Other oddities include things like unsold shirts from school reunions, and concerts by half-forgotten bands. (“The Bangles – 2000 Reunion Tour“). One man I saw recently had an unspotted shirt from a 1996 college event in Ohio, which had probably sat in storage until someone had the sense to re-purpose it and some related leftovers. Mostly, though, it tends to be the Abercrombie & Fitch logo ad nauseam.

I wanted to take some photos to illustrate this post, but I immediately hit up against some practical issues. Foremost was having to respond to that famous opener for the start of a male bonding session, “Dude, why are you taking photos of my girlfriend’s chest?” Explaining that my blog is a form of light-hearted anthropological research could have been hard to do in my so-so Spanish, so I’ve decided to use only some stock art. You’ll have to take my word for it on the rest of this.

Not legs.jpg

Probably not my neighbours’ 17-year-old daughter. She’s dark-haired.

Apart from the Emirates shirts, what often strikes me is the number of f-bombs appearing on the streets in town. A matronly woman in her forties with a t-shirt tell people to “F– Off” was, I realised, blissfully unaware that her latest bargain was not something to wear to a family gathering.

Some people, of course, are aware of what they’ve chosen to wear. At least a third of the men in my village, maybe more, have at some point come to Canada to pick tomatoes or other fruit in the summer, so they know a few basic phrases in English. Their English often mirrors my halting Spanish, which I sometimes think is deteriorating rather than advancing. But I could figure out a scatological message, so probably they can, too. On a worksite, it’s not important how you’re dressed, while the slogan might relieve some of the frustration of having to do hard work for poor wages.

The kids are taught English in school, though only a few seem to master simple conversation. However, I’m sure most know the meaning of the racier messages.

The latest trend I’ve noticed is shirts with ‘Honey‘ across the front.  Was this last summer’s vogue elsewhere? I don’t recall it. My neighbour’s 17-year-old daughter no doubt knows what her t-shirt with this on it means, but I’m not sure her strict Catholic (and unilingual) parents do. So, English can become a code between teenagers, who can, if challenged, claim not to have understood that the neat lettering they liked was provocative. I still remember translating a message being passed among eleven-year-old schoolgirls for a mother who lived next to me, and her expression when I explained it said “CPR training – only cute guys need apply.”

I still sometimes wish I’d said it merely meant “I love fluffy kittens,” but I didn’t think of that at the time. But yes, Juanita, these days they do grow up early.

Obviously, in a poorer society, it’s easy to mock people’s clothing choices when they must buy what they can afford. A family of five can live here on income that wouldn’t support a single adult in Toronto, but that does require constant attention to bargain-hunting, whether it’s buying your vegetables in the Sunday market in nearby Ixcatepec, or previously rejected t-shirts that might need a stitch or two on the seams.

It is, though, hard not to be amused when someone’s unconscious fashion statement crosses a particular cultural line, or configuration of lines.  I noticed a man trying to sell ice-cream from a cart last weekend, whose shirt slogan was “Who Needs This Shit?” I still think he might have achieved more commercial success with a different selection.