Sitting in Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans, I kept seeing it: groups of people wearing the same colour T-shirts. At first I thought it was what I’d seen in Mystic last month, a group of young women who all bought the same souvenir shirt and then put them on in the restaurant we were in. Then I looked a little closer.
“I said YES!” proclaimed the white shirt of the woman in the middle. “We said NOLA!” was written on the 5 purple shirts around her. Further away, two other groups were taking pictures. I couldn’t see what was written on their shirts, but the bride-to-be in each bunch was easy to pick out from the white veil she was wearing with her shorts and tank top.
“Kevin is 50!” was worn by a co-ed group of about six. All the shirts were black so I almost missed Kevin (I presume) whose shirt declared, “It’s my birthday!”
Twenty women in matching shirts rode bicycles with LED lights on the tires. What was their story?
Matching shirts are no longer the domain of school groups, where they serve the dual purpose of souvenir and a way for harried chaperones to keep track of their underaged charges.
It was harder to spot the bachelor party groups, as the crazy behaviour by groups of men on Bourbon Street was rarely accompanied by matching clothing. The dozen bearded men in dresses and hats were probably there for Southern Decadence, not a stag, although it wasn’t until I heard the synchronized snapping of fans that I was decided.
When did a one evening event turn into a long weekend in a distant destination? Is it just event inflation? Destination weddings are more common, and I hear many young people lamenting about the expense of being in a wedding party. What once involved a dress or tux rental and an evening out, assistance with seating people in a church or helping with a shower has also expanded. A young relative was delighted to be asked to be a maid of honour, until she found out she needed to fly to one town to help arrange a shower, drive to a resort for the bachelorette party weekend, and fly to a different location for the actual wedding.
But perhaps it is actually a hopeful sign to see these groups of young, and not so young, people travelling and partying together. In a time when personal connections seem to be diminishing due to technology, and traditional social groupings decline as people are more mobile and less likely to be involved, perhaps this is the creation of new rituals to connect us.
I know I love the group that I came to New Orleans to be with. And I know I look for new connections as I continue my brave travels.