Every morning, senior America Lopez opens her closet and scans its contents, trying to decide which T-shirt to wear.
But behind the heaps of frequently worn clothing is another pile of long-forgotten T-shirts emblazoned with the year “1964,” contemporary owls and an avant-garde stack of books.
Instead of dredging up the depths of her closet, Lopez selects an oft-used red blouse to go with her denim shorts.
Like old trophies, the T-shirts collect dust, forgotten mementos of former events.
The T-shirt was first introduced as a clothing item by the U.S. Navy, its buttonless simplicity and economical cost making it an immediate fashion staple.
Now it’s a powerful advertising tool for nearly anything you can think of: self-expression, brand names and sports, to name a few. So it’s not surprising that it’s the go-to garment when one is looking for representation.
But has Country Day gone too far utilizing the T-shirt as a means of branding and delineation?
According to high schoolers, owning at least 10 Country Day-related T-shirts is not uncommon.
Sophomore Atsuo Chiu, who has attended the school since kindergarten, has 16 spirit wear shirts.
“I have T-shirts from the Jog-a-thon, Fall Family Festival, joining Cavalier Club and the class sweatshirt,” Chiu said.
Chiu said that he enjoys receiving garments for school activities; however, he doesn’t normally wear them.
“I pretty much only wear my class sweatshirt,” he explains.
“Sometimes I look into my closet and I think,‘This is so wasteful,’ but then again, I like getting the shirts because they make me feel like I am part of the larger community.”
Other students – like sophomore Annya Dahmani and senior Adam Ketchum – have 35 shirts or more.
For those involved in Country Day’s athletic programs, most of the shirts come from their respective sports – warm-up jerseys, uniforms, or a team shirt.
Dahmani sounded surprised herself when she explained that almost half of those she owns are from middle-school sports such as track and field, basketball and cross country.
Ketchum agreed, adding that he has lots of shirts from summer camps as well.
“I have a lot of (duplicates) of the same shirt,” he said, laughing.
“I don’t really know what to do with all of them.”
And therein lies the problem: what are students supposed to do with all of these T-shirts?
Like Chiu, many students view them as last-resort options, wearing the shirts only if they have no alternatives.
“I wear my volleyball shirt whenever we have a game, but the rest I wear every six months or so,” Dahmani said.
“I basically never wear them.”
Lopez doesn’t donate or throw away her excess spirit wear, explaining her reasoning with a note of nostalgia in her voice.
“Maybe there’s some sentimental value behind them, too,” she said. “I mean, I’ve been here for four years of my life, so they mean something to me.”
However, senior Zoë Bowlus said the opposite.
“I just wouldn’t wear them in public. I’ve kept some, but most I’ve thrown away,” she said.
The ubiquitous garments come from clubs, sports teams, the school itself, the Parents’ Association, elective classes, extracurriculars and even student advisories – and if it’s not a T-shirt, then it’s a sweatshirt.
Yet despite their economical origin, the shirts don’t come cheap.
The average T-shirt costs $20 or more – with sweatshirts upwards of $40 – depending on design, quality, supplier and quantity.
Senior Max Schmitz said he appreciates the high quality of school apparel, and even wears the T-shirts as pajamas. Schmitz doesn’t mind paying a premium for the material.
“Having class pride and comfort is the best of both worlds,” Schmitz said.
“Our senior sweatshirts came from H&M, and they are so soft. I never want to take mine off!”
Senior Akilan Murugesan, who has been at Country Day since fifth grade, said the quality can vary significantly between different clothes.
“The quality of the Run to Feed the Hungry team shirt is one of the best,” Murugesan said.
“Some people will buy it either way, though, to show pride in the school or their activity.”
Many students, including Schmitz, agree with Murugesan.
Junior Avi Bhullar, however, has a different perspective.
“I think a lot more people would buy the clothing if it was cheaper,” Bhullar said.
“Yeah, it’s cool to have those thermal jackets and stuff, but no one really notices the quality when you wear it to school. No one cares.”
As Lopez leaves her room for school, she shuts off the lights. With that, the pile of old shirts in her closet is shrouded again in darkness, neglected under a layer of dust.