Tropical Shirt Tradition Brightens Mood For Stressed Students

Dr. Pete Sinelli gives a lecture wearing one of his signature tropical shirts.

Peter Sinelli’s wardrobe choices can bring students running to his classroom.

That’s particularly the case when he’s spotted crossing campus wearing one of the many loud, vibrant tropical shirts that fill his closet. Savvy students know the blinding colors signal it’s pop quiz day.

“They’ve caught on,” Sinelli said with a laugh. “The tradition is firmly established.”

That tradition dates back to Sinelli’s own days as a student. Before he caught the anthropology bug, Sinelli was an undergraduate studying finance at Indiana University. He and his roommate were particularly stressed about an upcoming accounting exam, so they decided to lighten the mood by wearing bright Hawaiian shirts to the test. The contrast of two young men in loud shirts and shorts against the dreary gray of a Midwest winter lifted the spirits of their classmates, too.

Dr. Pete Sinelli’s shirt collection.

“We did it just for the hell of it at first, but we kept it up with big, high stakes tests,” Sinelli said.

Life took Sinelli in a different direction after completing his undergraduate studies. He switched his focus to archaeology, earning his master’s in anthropology in 2001, then a Ph.D. in 2010. His specialty is Caribbean civilizations, leading some people to assume that’s what inspired his fascination with tropical shirts. But Sinelli’s collection, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 shirts, transcends tropical patterns.

He has two Christmas shirts, including a surfing Santa; battleships of Pearl Harbor; a pirate one to go with his pirate class; and a Statue of Liberty shirt he wears around 9/11. And, of course, just about everything in between.

“It depends on my mood. This being Orlando I can pretty much wear them year round,” Sinelli explained.

The response is always positive, even if it’s a lighthearted, “Oh my God, that’s the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen.” And that’s really what Sinelli aims for.

“We take teaching and learning seriously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun,” Sinelli said. “This helps students relax.”

Comments are closed.