peer pressure

Exit 21. An interesting fashion trend.

As you know, I started a new job this school year, and I’ve noticed an interesting fashion trend among the students at this school: Pizza My Heart shirts.  All over the place.  On any given day, I’ll probably see an average of at least one or two Pizza My Heart shirt in every period, with a comparable proportion of students wearing Pizza My Heart shirts as they pass by in the hallway.

Let me explain, for those of you who don’t live around here.  Pizza My Heart is a chain of surfing-themed pizza restaurants located in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Coast regions of California.  They have 23 locations between Emeryville to the north and Isla Vista to the south, according to their website.  I don’t feel qualified to write about the restaurant itself, because I’ve only been to Pizza My Heart once.  It was the one in downtown Santa Cruz.  I do remember it being good pizza, though.  They also sell t-shirts at all of their locations, usually featuring surfing-related designs, and they have a meal deal type thing where you get a slice of pizza and a t-shirt for ridiculously cheap.  It’s actually genius marketing on their part, because they get their brand plastered on thousands of walking human billboards all over California.  I’m still a little bitter that the largest t-shirt they carry is still too small for me.  I just checked on the website, and the online store also only carries shirts up to one size too small for me.  I’m a pretty big guy.  Come on, no XXL shirt?  I’m sure some of the biggest Pizza My Heart fans probably eat enough pizza that they’re pretty extra-extra-large by now.  I wore my XL Pizza My Heart shirt a few times, but after I washed it once it was too small to be comfortable.  It’s now sitting in a box in my garage, along with all the other shirts that are too small for me now but too nostalgic to throw away.  (If any of my crafty friends read this, how much would it cost me to get you to turn these shirts into a quilt?)

So why would it be such a big deal that so many students at my school have Pizza My Heart shirts?  It’s because the nearest Pizza My Heart location is an hour and a half drive from the school.  (And the nearest Pizza My Heart location that is actually in a touristy area is a bit farther than that.)  This is not a place where the kids hang out after school on a regular basis or go out to eat after their baseball or soccer games.  They can’t get to Pizza My Heart unless they take a day trip to the beach with their families.  They have to make a significant effort to acquire these shirts.  And I just can’t figure out what the big deal is, although I have a theory now.

I wondered first if many of the kids took some sort of school-sponsored trip to that part of California and all ate at Pizza My Heart together.  For example, I thought maybe a science class did a field trip to the aquarium in Monterey, or to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to discuss physics while riding the roller coasters.  But I asked a few students about their Pizza My Heart shirts, and I didn’t get answers that suggested any sort of group activity.  Most of the answers I got involved the pizza being good and the shirt being comfortable.  Those are good reasons, but still not enough to explain such a huge number of kids wearing shirts from a non-local restaurant.  I have another theory.

Let’s not forget, these are still middle schoolers, with all their middle school quirks.  Like peer pressure.

At some point in the relatively recent past, there was probably some kid who took a day trip to, say, Santa Cruz with his or her family, and on the way home the family had dinner at Pizza My Heart.  The kid got a t-shirt and wore it to school, and all of a sudden everyone wanted to look cool, just like that kid.  So they all started bugging their families to take them to Pizza My Heart next time they went to the beach.  (Again, genius marketing on the part of Pizza My Heart executives to get their brand out there.)  I remember being a kid and wanting to wear stuff that all the other kids were wearing.  Most of the time I didn’t get my way, but I still blame a fascination I had with Hard Rock Cafe shirts in my 20s, as well as a fascination with concert tour shirts that continues to this day, on things that I’d see other kids wearing when I was a teenager.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.  It’s just funny to see how these trends spread.  And it’s kind of sad how so many engage in that herd mentality, where being like everyone else is more important than being oneself.  Fortunately, some people grow out of it as they get older.  I just wish more did.  And in the big picture, fashion trends really are a relatively harmless form of peer pressure.  If I had a kid that age, I’d encourage them not to care what the crowd is doing, but if they wanted to dress like everyone else to fit in, I wouldn’t be as worried as, say, if they wanted to do drugs to fit in.  And I’ve definitely seen much more bizarre and irrational fashion trends than Pizza My Heart shirts among students in previous years.

And the genius marketing is showing itself again, because all this makes me want to give Pizza My Heart another try next time I’m in that part of the state.  Except I’m still bitter about the lack of XXL t-shirts.