Travel T-Shirts Puzzle

Why do people so frequently wear t-shirts with names of other places when they’re traveling? In my unscientific study of travel t-shirts, people don’t wear such shirts as often when they’re not traveling as when they are. What’s more, they generally wear t-shirts from other places than the one where they’re currently touristing.

Three theories:

  1. They wear t-shirts when traveling, and they buy travel t-shirts when traveling, so it’s not surprising they mostly wear travel-shirts when traveling.
  2. Their travel t-shirts are like plumage, showing off the other, better places they have been.
  3. They wear t-shirts from other places as a way of maintaining ironic distance from the current location.

Other ideas? Tomorrow, A Unified Theory of the Incidence of Aeropostale T-shirts at Major Theme Parks.

[Update] From a comment to this post, someone else who has been studying this important problem:

I conducted a sub-study of this in which I spent a year seeing if I could locate some form of Ohio State athletic gear at every airport I attended, each time I attended it. The answer: Yes, except for Omaha, NE. I flew 160,000+ miles last year. Even customs in SYD and the gate at MEL satisfied my criteria. Truly disturbing.

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Comments

  1. cbae says:

    My take: It starts conversations. "Nice Montreal t-shirt, love that city. Did you ever try the smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's?" etc.

    People also often wear t-shirts representing where they're from – I've made some great connections with other travelers that stemmed from a conversation about their t-shirts. For one, I met a woman in my hostel in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, that happened to go to college where I grew up. She turned out to live about 20 minutes from me, so we met up again several months later… in the U.S.

  2. Bill says:

    Travel t-shirts as shirts I don't care about. I have my favorite t-shirts and then I have travel t-shirts. I bring travel t-shirts on trips because I don't care what happens to them — spilled wine, torn, worn 5 days in a row — doesn't matter with a travel t-shirt.

    As an aside, I use to wear my university t-shirt on flights back to school so I could find other people and we could either split a cab or I could hop in their car.

  3. @johndbro1 says:

    I was wearing a Florida Gators national championship T-shirt on a recent visit to Las Vegas. Met several Gator fans while I was there. Definitely a social outreach thing.

  4. Shock says:

    I agree with point 1. I think that there are people who travel frequently and purchase t-shirts and because they like to travel, they are often in other tourist destinations and due to their unique nature, the t-shirts stand out (particuarly in comparison with a solid polo or button front shirt). In addition, people generally have some sort of work uniform, whether it's a suit or a polo or an actualy uniform. When you travel, you can wear anything you want, so maybe the t-shirt is just their casual style.

  5. BRM3 says:

    I conducted a sub-study of this in which I spent a year seeing if I could locate some form of Ohio State athletic gear at every airport I attended, each time I attended it. The answer: Yes, except for Omaha, NE. I flew 160,000+ miles last year. Even customs in SYD and the gate at MEL satisfied my criteria. Truly disturbing.

    • Paul Kedrosky says:

      I'm going to lift this to an update on the post itself. Too good tobury. Thanks.

    • Chris Harto says:

      We Buckeyes are everywhere! I was in Portofino Italy (a town of only 500 on the Mediterranean) wearing an Ohio State t-shirt and ran into another Buckeye who gave me an "O-H".

  6. omnivore says:

    Agree with all three theories to a point but the commenters distinguish between 1) tshirts that are social identifiers (steelers fans) and 2) those that aren't (at least not as much) such as the "Ski Terlingua" tshirts, which are only sort of funny on the border but much funnier in Vail (the irony argument). Hard Rock (anywhere) tshirts are never cool. But it could be that place tshirts just get one in the mood. I read midnights chiildren on a train in russia, not because the two experiences are at all alike but bother transported me to experiences very different from my everyday life.

  7. Transor Z says:

    I actively borrow (ok, steal) t-shirts and fleeces from friends and relatives for places I've never been but wish I had.

    Paul, your entire theory is predicated on the naive belief that people have actually been to the places on their t-shirts!

    Fess up, fellow d-bag t-shirt stealers. Am I right or am I right?