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It’s not exactly news that clothes denote status, but in beachside communities, where even corporate raiders and United States senators slope around in flip-flops and board shorts, the signs of inclusion among local elites are more challenging to convey. And, while there is no formalized uniform to identify which group one belongs to, a lot can be read in an item that upon a time was worn as underclothes.
I am talking about T-shirt printers/t shirt printers, of course, like the one from Ditch Witch in Montauk, sold in one place only: a car adjacent to the Ditch Witch food truck, which Lili Adams has operated for the last 15 years in parking lot No. 2 of the famous surf beach at Ditch Plains.
Unlike the generic tourist fare sold along Main Street, sewn in Sri Lanka but blaring MONTAUK, the Ditch Witch T-shirt printing goes to no particular effort to suggest where or what the Ditch Witch is. Like the Black Dog T-shirt designs/t-shirt design that stood as an insider’s symbol of Martha’s Vineyard until Bill Clinton was photographed wearing one while running (thus propelling the shirt’s silhouetted Labrador logo into the pop cultural mainstream and locals’ own Screen printings into Goodwill bins), Ditch Witch Custom t-shirts telegraph pure insider status to those in the know.
It signals localism, but a “friendly localism,” said Ms. Adams, who cooked for years at restaurants in East Hampton and Montauk before parking her truck in the sand. It suggests that the wearer is in on something, has the key to what Tracy Feith, the surfer and designer who operates a shop at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, called “the authenticity everyone’s trying to find in the marketplace.”
It underscores the somewhat obvious truth that the bogus yacht and beach club T-shirt screen printings cranked out in the millions by retailers like J. Crew and Ralph Lauren — and pre-aged to look like they’d been found balled-up on the floor of a changing room at Bailey’s Beach — represent a hankering for narrative, even if of a fictitious kind.