You’re walking in the mall, admiring the window displays, when a voice from nearby addresses you.
“Ah, Ludington. It’s beautiful there. You from there?” the stranger asks.
“Oh, no, but I visit there pretty often,” you reply.
When you wear souvenir t-shirts, or a t-shirt with anything of interest on it, you’re sure to get some comments. I have a few articles of clothing that unfailingly draw comments and small conversations.
My Michigan Upper Peninsula hat is a simple brown hat with a white outline of the upper peninsula on the side. When in Michigan, I’ve gotten calls of “Upper!”, “UP?”, “I love that Mackinac Island fudge,” and always— “You from there?” or “You been up there?” If the person who’s taken notice of my hat is not from Michigan, they stare at the design, turn their head sideways, and eventually ask, “What’s on your hat?”
T-shirts and bumper stickers featuring state outlines have grown in popularity for souvenirs. The “LOVE,” where the V
is actually the state of Michigan turned sideways, has become extraordinarily popular. When driving in Michigan, you could easily see every other car with a window decal that incorporates the shape of Michigan. Other states have picked up on this trend as well. Because people identify themselves with places, they find pride in their geography and advertise it as a way of identifying themselves to others. In the same way, clothing functions as a way of showing how we identify ourselves and what we find pride in.
Wolf t-shirts are another big fan drawer. I have about five t-shirts that feature large prints of wolves in fantastical scenes with waterfalls, mountains, dreamcatchers, and moons.No matter where I go, no matter what time of year, I will always get at least one, if not a handful of comments, about these shirts. Comments range from as simple as, “I like your shirt,” to desperate interest in how to find such a shirt down to the brand name of the designer. Wolves, tigers, lighthouses, castles, and dragons are just a few iconic images that spark interest in people. Icons are often exotic or fantasy images that arouse a sense of adventure in people and reflect their imaginations and dreams.
Then, of course, we have the souvenir t-shirts. “YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK” stretched across a backdrop of picturesque mountains with a bald eagle soaring up the shoulder and a bison standing on your hip. It’s no surprise that shirts like these will draw attention, and isn’t that the point. You buy souvenirs for yourself, to have something tangible to represent all of your good memories, but you buy souvenir t-shirts to show other people what you’ve done. If you didn’t enjoy the place or are not proud of having been there, you wouldn’t buy the shirt. With tourists, certain places become ways of ranking you as a traveler. Yellowstone is a very popular park, most people have heard of it, and you’re considered privileged to have been able to go there. Disneyland—no major fan would pass up getting a t-shirt and wearing it proudly to show that they’ve been to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” I’ve heard many people who go to a popular place say determinedly that they must get a t-shirt before they leave because they’re seen other people wear them, and now that they’ve been, they want one, too.
I have a lot of t-shirts from places that I’ve been to all over the United States, but what surprises me most about the comments that I get is the lack of introduction to the topic. I wear t-shirts almost every day, so I don’t always remember which shirt I’m wearing at a given time, yet people start right into a conversation without mentioning my shirt, and sometimes without mentioning the place. I’ve had people randomly say to me, “Did you like it there?” and I glance around to affirm that they’re talking to me and then wonder what on Earth they’re talking about. It happens so often, that I’ve stopped asking, “Where?” and just glance down at my shirt. I think this happens because people are so visual in their experiences of life. If I can see something, you can see it, is their mindset. Some people are often so caught up in their own thoughts, that they forget that the person they’re addressing was probably not thinking about their shirt at that moment. Sometimes, I have been proud of a particular shirt and know exactly what the person is talking about when they address me and can go the whole short conversation without glancing at my shirt. Then, a friend I’m walking with will say something like, “Did you know that person?” or “What was that all about?” and I reply, “I don’t know them. They were talking about my shirt.”
I get comments from strangers passing along the sidewalk, the cashier at the store, the lunch-lady serving food, and people who I wouldn’t have even noticed if they didn’t start talking to me. It’s these friendly, little, surprise conversations that lighten a day and keep me aware of the people around me. Besides proudly advertising the places I love and liking the designs, I like wearing these t-shirts for the community they create and the conversations that would never happen without them.