Saturday, February 21, 2015

Divestment Archives II: The Shirts Off Our Backs

Another category of items soon to be taking their leave of our household are a selection of two-decade old t-shirts.

Now, I want to stress here that I am not a hoarder. My tendency to hang on to items longer than I should is due to either an ill-judged overestimation of future practical application or excessive degrees of sentimentality, not some variation on obsessive-compulsive disorder. The normal life cycle of a t-shirt in my possession is much the same as anyone else's, I imagine: I wear the t-shirt, proudly, and with intent, until it begins to show overt signs of wear. Then it moves into its undershirt stage, worn discreetly beneath a polo or sweatshirt.
Then it either tears or gains some sort of stain, commonly a grease spatter from cooking, but on some occasions, salsa or something similarly sloppy and unforgiving. At this point, most shirts are typically consigned to the rag pile, but a particularly strong design or commemoration of a significantly awesome concert or vacation may work its way into rotation as a pyjama shirt.
Some shirts, however, have such tremendous provenance that they are rarely worn at all, spending much of their existence cloistered within a storage box. Periodically they are removed, examined, cherished, and then most often, returned, but this time, many of them are not returning.

Consider the shirt I took back from a conference of the ACTISEC (Alberta College and Technical Institutes Student Executive Council) conference, way back when I was president of my alma mater's student association. It was an absolutely excellent group of young leaders, great folk to work with, and we capped our year off by signing each other's shirts with fabric pens. There have been times in my life when I have felt quite a bit less than awesome, and just reading some of the comments on this shirt would put me right back in the groove, or at least make me laugh.

We created a similar shirt in our dormitory, Solheim, at Augustana, this time focused around a group picture of the residents in their pyjamas.
I'm grateful so many people in this picture are still a part of my life (besides the one that I married!), even if the contact is infrequent, but I am astonished at how many names I can remember of folks I have not seen since graduation two decades ago.
The college strata of the t-shirt record includes a couple of other pieces, these ones significant because I had a hand in designing them, like this one for Residence Life:

Or the collage a bunch of us threw together for the campus History Club:
Something for everyone in that one: the Bayreuth tapestry, Lenin, Hussein, Spock, Ringo, and even The Hansard from when the War Measures Act was brought into effect in 1970. Bear in mind children, this is pre-Google, so all this had to be done with a college library and a primitive photocopier!

One of my favourite commercial t-shirts of this period (and the one I wore for my college I.D. picture) was this lurid number inspired by The Joker:
Part of me is sad to think that may be the last time I'll ever wear purple, teal and apricot together again; a larger part of me recognizes that this is probably for the best.
Audrey's Orientation Team t-shirt boasts a history as interesting as its choice of graphics; designed by one of the school's larger than life characters, a man who, though funny, had difficulty managing things like boundaries, and scale. He ended up leaving school unwillingly, but I understand he is happy now, and working in comedy, which feels appropriate.

Unrelated to college life but occurring concurrently was my attendance at several iterations of Calgary's old science-fiction convention, Con-Version. A group of us attended from III to VIII (I believe...), and the VIIth one also happened to be Canada's national con, CanVention.
Fenya has already appropriated another con shirt featuring RĂ©al Musgrave's adorable pocket dragons as a nightshirt, which is certainly a better fate for it than slowly degrading in a banker's box in the basement. I am less sanguine about giving up another custom job though: the tour shirts for our alien rock band, Unpronounceable In English.

We wore these the night before the costume contest and made like we were the group's roadies, and left press releases around to help build interest. The air guitar performance itself was...eventful, and warrants its own blog post at some point in the future. (And if anyone knows a cheap way to digitize old VHS footage, that could play a role as well.)

Prior to these misadventures, however, Earl J. Woods and I took a crack at selling t-shirts at one of the earlier cons. We found a cool design we thought would make for a decent Starfleet Academy tee, got a grant to finance printing them up...and then spent the following year paying it back, as they were not nearly the hot sellers we thought they would be. Still found of those colours, though.
At the lowermost level of textile sedimentation, the very bottom of this t-shirt archive, however, is something that predates all the others, and despite emerging from the same box as a self-produced Star Trek college tee, may actually be the single nerdiest piece of clothing I have ever owned. Those of you with a delicate constitution may wish to bypass this portion of the post entirely, especially if you have even the vaguest interest in maintaining the illusion that there was ever a time in my life when I might have been 'cool'.

Yes, that's right, gaze into the abyss that is the Dungeonmaster ringer t-shirt!

Created by Edmonton graphic designer and comic artist Adrian Kleinbergen (whom I subsequently met several times at Con-Version), this was part of a series of tees depicting various roles likely to frequent a Dungeons & Dragons game. I have no issue with the art, and the ringed neck and sleeves are a product of their time, but the sheer proclamatory nature of the piece, the complete lack of guile or irony, they make me grateful that I can point to the fact that I was still in high school when I bought it.

I have no memory of wearing it outside of a gaming session, although I am sure I must have at some point, probably proudly, since that sort of role-playing was still fairly nascent and hadn't entered the pop culture mainstream the way it has today.

In fact, I have it on fairly good authority that such a design, coupled with its vintage nature, gives it an unmistakable degree of geeky cachet that makes it potentially enviable...

...If the right person is wearing it, I suppose.


  1. How I regret that I've never seen the Dungeon Master shirt in action.

    I still have one or two of our Starfleet Academy Class of '86 shirts. I remember being pretty thrilled when I saw one in the wild at West Edmonton Mall sometime in the late 80s or early 90s.

    1. Well, it is possible you may yet see one there again, as Fenya has also claimed this one for herself!

  2. These are great shirts. I know I did something similar with my floor in residence, and I always smile when I look back through the photos we took. You have a great collection of shirts, and it sound like you had a great time in your twenties – reminiscing is always fun!

    Sherita @ Astute Promotions

  3. There were other designs in that series... That grey shirt was the nicest.