Power to the T-Shirt

Ahh, the tee shirt (or t-shirt). It is the ultimate fashion icon of the United States as no other country wears more t-shirts than U.S. citizens. We love them. Everyone has got to have a dozen t-shirts (or several dozen like me).

Communicating with t-shirts is something Americans know how to do best, they have it down to a “T” (insert laughter here). It can be at a bus stop, in a classroom, a concert, or anywhere else. A person wearing a t-shirt doesn’t have to talk to show a part of their character. It’s a way Americans brand themselves and reveal a small part of their character: a sports team, logo, city name, humor and more. The list goes on and on.

When I finished my 50-state tour of the United States I returned home and found myself sorting through about 50 tees I had collected on the road. They had stories, they represented where I had been, what I’ve done, and even things I ate.

One small conclusion I made was that there is no joy to wearing a Nike, Burton, or Abercrombie t-shirt. For most of my trip I wore nothing but local t-shirts of places I had been, and it became the starting point for many great conversations.

Why I love the power of a t-shirt

  • Eskimo Joe’s
    Stillwater, OK is home to one of the most famous t-shirts in the world at Eskimo Joe’s restaurant. When I was there I had no choice to buy one for myself, and I wore it a lot! Almost two months later I was in Birmingham, Alabama. While at a coffee shop a college student came up to me and asked, “Have you been to that restaurant or do you just have the shirt?” I told him my story, he was inspired, and became a big follower of the trip. All because of a t-shirt. If I had been wearing a generic Nike, Burton, or Abercrombie t-shirt that inspiring conversation would have never happened.
  • I {Heart} Belleville, IL
    I Heart Belleville, IL

    . I wanted one. When I found out I was heading out on a 50-state tour I made a point to go through Belleville so I could pick up my own shirt. I learned about Belleville six years prior to ever stepping foot in the town, and loved it all that time because of a single t-shirt.
  • Michigan State
    After spending five incredible years at Michigan State I was excited at the opportunity to represent MSU across the country. I can’t count the times I was wearing my MSU hoodie and someone came up to me and asked if I go to MSU. I was able to meet a few alumni this way. Not only was I able to meet some from wearing it myself, but if I saw someone wearing an MSU shirt it was a conversation starter and I knew I had something in common with that person. Once again something that would have never come about if it was just a plain Nike shirt. My Boise State hoodie drew lots of comments too, especially after their undefeated season.
  • Vail, CO and others
    Vail, CO

    and many many others
  • Red Neck Yacht Club, Roseburg, OR
    Redneck Yacht Club, Roseburg, OR

    . Just about more than anyone on the trip I knew these people would look out for me. They treated me like one of their own.

If only I had a Yooper Steez shirt for all of this, but now you will when you go on your 50-state tour.

For all the times I educated people on my trip about what a “Yooper” is, how big the Lake Superior really is, or what a pasty is, I became motivated to come back and start a new project all about the Upper Peninsula. I hope people will be able to experience similar stories and simply be able to point to their shirt to show people where they live.

I’ve always wanted to create a top notch U.P. website and start a college scholarship. And I realized that unlike Belleville, Eskimo Joe’s, Vermont, or countless other places there wasn’t a t-shirt that was thee t-shirt of the Upper Peninsula.

And this is how Yooper Steez came to be.

All the best,
Justin “Bugsy” Sailor

P.S. If you have any similar t-shirt stories, please share.

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