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My friend studies at a very prominent university and has invited me to visit her. Coming across the university shop, I was considering buying one of the t-shirts with the university logo.

I am possibly over-thinking this, but the following scenario popped up in my head: What if, while wearing it, I am approached by a person who thinks I went to the university, and who'd ask me what my major was, etc. And when I'd say that I wasn't affiliated with the school, wouldn't it look like I'm taking a credit for what I haven't done?

Does wearing a university t-shirt imply that the person wearing it was/is somehow affiliated with the university?

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    It's a T-shirt, not a uniform. Wearing it implies that you or someone else bought it for you. – DCTLib Mar 10 '15 at 19:52
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    I would naturally assume that someone wearing the t-shirt of a particular university has worked or studied there... Just like I'd assume that someone wearing a band t-shirt likes their music. There's nothing stopping you from wearing the shirt, of course, but it's perhaps an odd thing to do if you have no real relationship with that university. – Moriarty Mar 10 '15 at 19:58
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    @Moriarty Not really: for example I have a couple of notebooks of the Colorado University at Boulder, but I've never attended any lecture there or lectured there or worked there: I just passed from their shop when I was in Boulder and needed a notebook. Indeed, I could have bought a t-shirt too, just because they were nice. – Massimo Ortolano Mar 10 '15 at 20:54
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    You are also welcome to wear professional sports hats and jersey's, even if you never played for them :) And if asked you can just say that you visited and a friend of yours attended, if you are feeling chatty. – BrianH Mar 10 '15 at 21:05
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    I have a bunch of university t-shirts that all mean something. Usually that I passed by the respective gift shop and had some local currency to burn. – xLeitix Mar 10 '15 at 21:36

10 Answers 10

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No. Many of the top universities are tourist attractions and it is not uncommon to see tourists wandering around campus taking photos and eventually buying paraphernalia. While in the US it is not uncommon to see students wearing standard school t-shirts and sweatshirts, in the UK, students generally do not wear clothes that are available in the bookstore. Rather, they wear clothes made for particular clubs that they are involved in.

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    US High schooler here. On fridays the seniors are allowed to wear college sweatshirts but in reality everyone wears them all the time. – Faraz Masroor Mar 11 '15 at 0:10
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    To add detail to your answer : in collegiate universities (in the UK at least), students wear clothes related to the college they belong to (and clubs related to that college). In Oxford for instance, you are almost always right if you assume Oxford University clothes <=> tourist , specific college clothes <=> student. – SylvainD Mar 11 '15 at 8:09
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    Yes, certainly true in Oxford and Cambridge (and I assume in other UK universities). The tourist shops sell clothes with the university logo/name, so that is what tourists wear. Clothes with the college logo/name are generally only available to students of the college (and even then, generally only from specific sports clubs or societies - it would be unusual to wear clothing that just said e.g. "King's College" and wasn't associated with a particular sports club or society). – Chris Taylor Mar 13 '15 at 0:27
  • College scarves are (or were) common though, and would be included in "students wear clothes related to the college they belong to" (and not to specific clubs), if less relevant to the original question. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_scarf#University_of_Cambridge College sweatshirts that aren't club specific exist, but I've never seen one being worn, by tourists or students (e.g. ryderamies.co.uk/shop/range/hoodies-sweatshirts/… - I have no idea if Ryder Amies would check if you are actually a member of the college you are buying a sweatshirt for). – armb Mar 13 '15 at 14:32
  • Ryder & Amies or Clothiers will check whether you have a Blue, if you want to buy scarves / blazers / etc that suggest you represented the University against Oxford though. They don't check whether you belong to a College. – Floris Mar 13 '15 at 14:36
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This may vary from country to country, and from culture to culture, but in the U.S., wearing a shirt with a university logo may indicate nothing more than that you root for that school's athletic program. In some places, it's very traditional, particularly on Saturdays in the fall – and it's not just alumni wearing the garb. Sometimes the entire staff of a business establishment, such as a bank or a restaurant, will sport team colors. Some fans even paint their skin or dye their hair, or fly flags from their doorsteps, in addition to wearing numbered jerseys or sweatshirts emblazoned with team logos.

Aside from athletics, there are other legitimate reasons to sport a jersey, too. Perhaps your child aspires to attend that school someday. Maybe you visited campus and wanted a souvenir. Or maybe you just like the colors. No harm in any of that.

Unless the t-shirt says GRADUATED FROM USC or something like that, you're not doing anything misleading by wearing the shirt.

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    Frankly, I would take a t-shirt saying "graduated from <university>" as an even safer sign the person has never been to that university than just the name of the university, akin to t-shirts saying things like "Attention - VIP passing through", "I am the president!", or showing the Superman S. – O. R. Mapper Mar 10 '15 at 22:16
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    "My parent went to Harvard and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 11 '15 at 4:17
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    If you see someone wearing a sweatshirt saying something like "Property of <University Name> Athletic Dept." you can bet they never saw the inside of a locker room. – tcrosley Mar 12 '15 at 9:01
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    Man, I want a shirt now that says that. "I am the president of the United States of America." – neminem Mar 12 '15 at 22:38
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    I live in Washington State. The most prominent/classy university in the state is UW (University of Washington), which has the Huskies as the mascot. The second most prominent university in the state is WSU (Washington State University), who have Cougars as their mascot. I live 90+ minutes from either University, but people regularly wear shirts/jackets/hats with a UW or WSU logo. It is just meant to imply that they are a Husky (Husky fan) or a Coug (Cougar fan). I'm many of them have nothing to do with either university; especially the children. They just favor one of the football teams. – TOOGAM Mar 15 '15 at 6:05
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Not at all. In Madrid it is in fashion to wear UCLA t-shirts (fake). It would be rather weird if so many graduates were from Madrid ;)

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    Interesting. Do you know why the UCLA trend in particular started? – JNS Mar 10 '15 at 20:51
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    Not really. I guess the UCLA logo is quite easily recognized and typical American one so marketable (although without permission). Also Real Madrid is doing part of its summer training at the UCLA campus. Strangely enough, I remembered that there is an additional fashion there with Oxford University hoodies (not t-shirts). Weird indeed. – Marion Mar 10 '15 at 21:01
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    europeans secretly wish they're american. – easymoden00b Mar 11 '15 at 14:24
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    And pay thousand of dollars to have university education ;) – Marion Mar 11 '15 at 14:48
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    When I read the question, I immediately thought of all these people running around with UCLA t-shirts. No idea where this comes from, but most of them have no idea what UCLA is. Then I remember a time when a lot of girls had CI5 t-shirts (but didn't know the tv show). This is in Germany. – Zane Mar 12 '15 at 18:46
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And when I'd say that I wasn't affiliated with the school, wouldn't it look like I'm taking a credit for what I haven't done?

Certainly not. If those items were meant as any kind of certificate, they wouldn't be publicly available to everyone. Universities sometimes sell various kinds of university-branded paraphernalia, and while anyone associated with the university might buy them for themselves, they can just as well be used as gifts or directly sold to visitors who want to have a keepsake.

I can't imagine anybody assuming that you actually study or have studied at a place just because you wear their t-shirt. That would be just as silly as assuming that all the people who are wearing t-shirts or caps labeled "New York" (or some other toponym whose ring is considered fancy) are from, or have been to, New York.

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When I was younger, I'd buy a sweatshirt or T-shirt at every university where I gave a talk. In more recent years, I'd buy ditto for my daughter at many universities where I give talks. So, yes, some connection, but not necessarily "affiliation".

  • I also used to buy T-shirts for my family wherever I went to give a talk. Eventually, they had more than they wanted. But more recently, they've given me T-shirts. So you might see me in a T-shirt saying "Tulane Medical School" ( where my daughter was a student) or "Carnegie Mellon" (where my son was a postdoc). The first time I was in Marseille, I had great difficulty finding "Marseille" T-shirts, but department stores had T-shirts from lots of U.S. universities. – Andreas Blass Aug 16 '15 at 3:30
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Another point is that many Universities have great sports teams. American universities in particular have great sporting events and tons of people not in anyway affiliated to the university buy branded merchandise simply because they support a sports team from that University.

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    Very true. But having seen my share of Ivy League football, I suppose that's not a plausible explanation for all of the Harvard shirts you see around. – Corvus Mar 10 '15 at 21:19
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    With Harvard's reputation, and considering how difficult it is to be go to school there ... most people will just assume your wearing it for show .. – Sid5427 Mar 10 '15 at 21:32
  • Great point, another difference between the US and rest-of-world. This whole branding thing, and operating student athletics as a money-making franchise and attractor for alumni fundraising, instead of, umm, a mere student athletics dept. Somebody once pointed out that if you ranked individual US college athletics depts' Olympic medal tallies as if they were separate countries, they would come in midtable. See Rio 2016 Olympics: Which college won the most medals? – smci Aug 22 '17 at 13:08
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No. When I entered college, one of the first things my parents pointed out to me about the other students was that wearing the shirts of other colleges was clearly a popular fashion. (For my own part, I never had more than a couple of school-related shirts for my own school.)

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While T-Shirts don't imply university attendance, I only wear shirts from places I have attended/worked.

Once I was on a desert hike in Arizona and a lady asked me if I had been to UC Irvine as my shirt alluded. We then proceeded to talk about my experience at UCI and the research I did there -- it was a great conversation starter. Being an extrovert and not wanting to miss future conversations, I choose not to dilute my wardrobe?

Besides, having attended the university on your shirt gives you better posture. ;)

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No, but you may still confuse people, since many of the people who wear such clothes do have an affiliation.

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There will be an association that people have when they see you wearing this shirt - or using anything with the university logo - that may initially make them think you attended the university, especially if you're of an age, or look like you are of an age, that would have recently graduated or attended the school. This happens to my wife all the time when she wears my sweater with a logo of my Tech school on it.

It is not, however, duplicitous to wear it, and you shouldn't feel bad for wearing it either. Some people will assume this based on you wearing the shirt, others will correctly assume you know someone who went to that college, and still others will assume something else entirely (like maybe you are a professor at that school). People do this with shirts that have logos, regardless of the accuracy of this assumption.

Don't be too concerned about it - no one is going to accredit you the full rights and privileges of an alumni based solely on seeing which t-shirt you wear, and they'd be considered pretty silly for doing so. It is not wrong to wear a shirt in support of your friend's college.

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