A promotional t-shirt, like chicken pox and broken hearts, is something we have all had at one point in our lives. You know these tee types- wearable advertising given to you from a fun run, swim event, annual conference, retail, promo, team activity, branded giveaway, charity cause or election campaign. The 90’s was the golden era for promotional t-shirts. The internet hadn't yet taken hold and marketers were looking for an alternative to print, so the 180 gsm cotton t-shirt reigned supreme.
I still remember my first. I received it in 1992 when I was 10. The promo was for a lite milk company celebrating their endorsement by then Olympic swimming champion Kieran Perkins. It was decorated in a full-body Kieran Perkins signature, accompanied by about 17 milk logos. The best thing about it was the color- a muted fluorescent yellow that looked like the ink from an impotent highlighter.
‘Milky Kieran’ as I affectionately referred to it, would go on to see me through summer nights as a pyjama top or occasionally accompany me to the beach, like a 10 year old boy’s equivalent of a sarong. Casually thrown over Speedos, a golden tee to protect me from the sun’s golden rays and golden Ray the resident beach pervert. I don’t specifically remember other kids complimenting me on the tee, but I have the photo and memories that more than sustain me to this day.
What is it about a promo tee that makes them cease to have a life outside of their moment? They are the Cinderella of the clothing wardrobe. They have their moment at the ball then are quickly relegated to the role of gym gear, pyjamas or work wear. Granted not all elements of our society hide them away. Farmers and tradesman are more than happy to indulge in some campaign-chic, donning inspiring numbers from the studios of our top paint, plumbing, fertilizer and insurance brands. You only need to head to an op/thrift shop to find whole aisles dedicated to them, represented by the likes of: “Organten 34th Annual Hamster Jamboree” “I ate Big Bill’s Fish Boat Roll” “Beekeepers Union Spring Conference Canberra 1996” “A vote for Fabian Legg is a vote for uni-cycling”
The great thing about the op/thrift shop is they act like a museum to the art of the promotional tee. Here all the elements of a good promotional t-shirt are on display. Poor cuts, unused pantone colourways, horrid typefaces and prints that look like they were created by injured animals walking across the keyboard of a Mac. However, I think there is something wrong with a society that relegates these archives of advertising to sub-standard clothing roles. The first promo tee was produced for The Wizard of Oz in 1939 (true fact) which was made from cats wool and steel (unconfirmed fact). That is 75 years of fashion history which we can’t just throw away. This weekend, I ask you to not wear your promotional upper-garment during physical activity. Instead give it an iron, match with a dress pant and take it out somewhere nice. Show the world your best kept fashion secret!