Every T-shirt Tells a Story


Surely I am not the only American of boomer vintage who clings to a pile of imprinted jersey tops.  I pulled these out of a bag in the basement closet and thought:  a life told in t-shirts.  And these are just the ones I put aside, after they became too worn, too dated, or too small to wear.  There was some other attachment that I wasn’t ready to relinquish.t-shirt memories

A friend of mine told me of making a quilt for her father from his old t-shirts, while he lay in the hospital.  After he passed away, she wrapped herself, and her grief, in it.  I thought of doing something similar with my collection, but I think I’ll be content with their images, and the stories that go with them.

Until recently I also hesitated to dispose of any t-shirts, because of stories I was hearing about the secondhand clothing market.  Where would all this stuff go, and who would want to wear it?

My husband helped narrate portions of a documentary on the subject, SECONDHAND (PEPE), and I had seen another, T-Shirt Travels, on PBS’s Independent Lens.  The two films take somewhat different viewpoints, and the question remains:  is distributing clothing in this manner a benefit, or a drag on developing economies?  And what difference will my choice of disposal make?

So earlier this year, I attended a session on clothing recycling, at a conference sponsored by MassRecycle.  Our Commonwealth, aiming to keep textiles out of landfills, is hoping to educate people about what else happens to old garments that we donate.  Not only are some sold as-is, for secondhand wardrobes, but some are cut up or shredded to become industrial wipes, building insulation, carpet padding and all manner of recycled goods.  They urged us not to judge our castoffs as “wearable or not” but to leave that to professional sorters.  The key is to keep them out of waste streams and help build an international textile economy based on recyclables.

So I will likely let all these shirts go.  But first, I’ll photograph them individually.  There really is a story connected to each one – enough stories, perhaps, to quickly build this blog!

One thought on “Every T-shirt Tells a Story

  1. I share your uncertainty as to what to do with that accumulation of t-shirts. Every season of basketball, track, soccer or swim team my kids got a new t-shirt. Every event I ever helped with gave me one. The only thing I ever won in a raffle was … a t-shirt (advertising tequila). I had boxes of them – they filled my kids drawers – and but they never wanted to be rid of them. When my oldest graduated from high school I unpacked all the accumulated shirts and made him a coverlet that he proudly took off to college. I never saw it again so I suspect it met an untimely end after he realized that it was radioactively un-cool.
    One of my friends covered the pillows in her rec room with her stash of unworn t-shirts. They looked like headless, legless torsos lined up on her furniture – a little disconcerting but bright. Another friend assured me that t-shirts made very attractive, durable sling bags but my attempts looked like something twisted beyond recognition in a space/time vortex. I still have those shirts I can’t get rid of and yet can’t bring myself to wear. I keep packing and unpacking them, vowing that this year I will give them to the local rummage sale but.. don’t.. because I suspect that it would be unsettling to see them walking toward me – the Ohio conference gathering staff shirt, my white and green college reunion shirts, the black El Mazote shirt with the smiling children and butterflies – the resurrected remnants of my life living out a new chapter in someone else’s closet. It somehow doesn’t seem right…

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