Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt

I like t-shirts. I like buying them to commemorate places I’ve been and things that I’ve done. I like getting free ones from local businesses and other places. In fact, in addition to the post-card collection that I keep to remember the places I’ve visited, I used to get a t-shirt from everywhere I visited as well (that was, until I realized that buying postcards alone were much more effective on the budget).

I have t-shirts from theatre groups I’ve been involved with, and even from specific shows that I’ve designed. I have t-shirts from faith-based functions that I’ve attended. And, of course, I collect Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts. I’ve gone through two t-shirts today alone: the one I’m wearing as I write this is a t-shirt from CNN headquarters in Atlanta that I purchased after touring the studios several years ago. Earlier in the day, I was wearing a t-shirt from a state park here in Virginia.

What I like about t-shirts is that they tell a sort of history. Each one commemorates an event, a person or people, a place, a memory of a time in our lives. Often, a t-shirt reminds us of more than one of those things.

Take the state park t-shirt I wore today, for example. Last summer, I was at this state park for work. I was seated at a picnic table near the water, when I looked down and found tiny orange creatures swarming up the white t-shirt that I was wearing. Horrified (have I mentioned that I’m not much of an outdoor person?), I brushed them off. Except they didn’t go away. I brushed more. For every one that was brushed away, ten took its place. Bug spray didn’t work. Nothing worked. Not knowing what they were, but becoming seriously concerned that they were either a mutant post-apocalyptic insect swarming me to devour my flesh, or, worse, the dreaded South-eastern plague known as chiggers, and since they appeared to have completely infested the t-shirt that I was wearing, I stripped it off, threw it in the trash, and purchased a new one at the gift shop. That was the one I was wearing today, and I have to smile whenever I wear it because of the humorous story that it represents.

Several of my Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts have been purchased while on adventures with Karen, one of which was our honeymoon. I remember those occasions when I wear them.

I remember productions in which I’ve participated, the fellow cast and crew members, the wild journey that each show involves if I dig a show’s t-shirt out of the drawer.

We’re a forgetful people, us humans. We tend to forget very formative and positive events in our lives without reminders, which is why nearly every major religious tradition places marker events and traditions in the lives of its adherents in order to remind them of critical moments in the history of their faith. Sometimes, I think t-shirts are like that for me. I frequently put one on, remember where I was and who I was with when I bought it, and I smile.

Because those good times are a huge part of what makes us who we are. And those moments are so important to remember.

Photo Attribution: deb roby under Creative Commons 


  1. The new quilting rage is making a T-shirt quilt from favorites. My niece made one for her boyfriend from T-shirts of the places they had been together. The front of the shirts become blocks which are laid out for the quilt design. It seems like a nice remembrance.

  2. Any idea at what point in US history, making/getting t-shirts to mark an event became a fixed part of US culture? Was is the 1980’s or earlier? We don’t seem to see this much in 1950’s film, pics. But back then, people wore dresses and button down shirts in contexts where we would now wear t-shirts…. I was looking to answer this question and stumbled upon your blog, which confirmed that getting the t-shirt is indeed a heartfelt part of our culture.

    1. Hi, Jennifer

      That’s a really interesting question. I’m no historian, but, offhand, I would go back as far as the 60’s…the Woodstock era, if you will.

      Wikipedia says that one of the first appearances of t-shirts with logos was actually in the Wizard of Oz in 1939. It also confirms my suspicion that it was in 60’s rock n’ roll culture when they really became popular in connection to events.

      Thanks for reading!

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