Tales through T-shirts

Story highlights

Do clothes really make the man?

iReporters share the personal stories behind their favorite T-shirts.

In these stories, tales of T-shirts bringing people together and creating memories unfolded.

CNN  — 

A basic cotton T-shirt is perhaps the simplest piece of clothing in most of our closets. But from influencing others to making a fashion statement, a T-shirt can tell a lot about who we are. Or, in some cases, who we were or want to be.

For Douglas Mogle, his favorite T-shirt serves as a memory of the athlete he once was. Now a participant on CNN’s Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program, Mogle said his washed and worn Notre Dame Baseball T-shirt now motivates him to get back in shape.

“I got it at a summer baseball camp when I was 11,” he said. “The sleeves are cut off and it’s a tad too small for me to wear nowadays. But it reminds me of my youth.”

Mogle’s story inspired CNN iReport to ask people to unravel the stories behind their favorite T-shirts. As the stories unfolded, tales of T-shirts forging bonds, sparking emotions and evoking nostalgia emerged.

Connecting to the past

When Cynthia Falardeau got a hot pink T-shirt with a picture of a rickety dive bar plastered on it, she couldn’t help but smile.

Falardeau said the shirt, gift from her brother-in-law, was a nostalgic reminder of when she first met her husband, Jim, at the Paint Creek Tavern in Rochester, Michigan.

“Some might say I was looking for love in all the wrong places. I think I found it when I least expected it,” she said.

A girlfriend dared Falardeau to go into the bar, and when she did she realized they were the only women at the establishment.

“It was obvious we were out of our element,” she said. But that didn’t stop her from meeting Jim, who was getting a beer by himself at the bar to celebrate completing a state champion road race.

The shirt is now more than 17 years old, but Falardeau can’t imagine parting from it. “It’s where our relationship of 22 years first began,” she said. After her brother-in-law passed away, it transformed from a souvenir of her relationship to a bittersweet reminder of family and time passed.

These days she doesn’t wear that T-shirt anymore. Instead, she stores it in a section of her closet that she calls a memory box.

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    “Every time I pull out that T-shirt, it’s like opening a time capsule,” she said.

    Reflecting personality

    Jennifer Townsend’s favorite T-shirt gets right to the point.

    “Also, I can kill you with my brain,” it reads.

    It’s not a threat, the 38-year-old said. Although if she could have one superpower that would probably be it.

    The quote is from her favorite science-fiction television show, Firefly. Townsend wore the shirt to a recent high school reunion – one she dreaded attending.

    “In high school, I was one of the ‘alternative-teens,’ – not exactly punk rock, but definitely not ‘normal,’ ” she said. “You know how high school can be. I got made fun of a lot and didn’t have many friends.”

    She decided to wear the simple black and white T-shirt to her reunion because it’s a reminder of the many positive things in her life.

    “It reminds me of my best friend – she gave me the shirt – my favorite show, and it also reminds me to always be a little bit irreverent,” she said. “Life is too short to take everything too seriously.”

    In the end, she said her favorite T-shirt is more than just a piece of clothing or a memorable line from her favorite television show.

    “It’s me. I feel very much myself when I wear that shirt. It’s just very me.”

    Expressing a connection

    Dominica Lim’s favorite shirt is not only a reflection of herself, but also of her father.

    Lim’s father encouraged her to travel to Asia last February in hopes of learning more about her heritage.

    “It was an opportunity he never had,” she said.

    “He told me about his life growing up in Korea and living through the hard times of its modernization period,” the 23-year-old said. “He wanted me to find my identity.”

    While backpacking through Asia, she picked up her now favorite T-shirt, a black tee with a white graphic of headphones on it. Lim said it epitomizes the love she and her father have for music.

    “He was a hippie DJ back in the 1970s in South Korea,” she said. “I remember him coming home from work and turning up the music. I would sit next to him and always ask, ‘Who is this?’ “

    She said every time she wears this T-shirt, it reminds her of music and her father. “We always listened to music together because that was how we communicated.”

    Falling in love

    When Rachel Lau spotted her now-husband, Chad, wearing a Superman T-shirt similar to hers, she knew they were speaking the same language.

    The pair met two years ago while standing in line at a Superman convention, waiting for autographs from actors from the hit television show, Smallville.

    Despite being from two different cities – Lau traveled to the convention from West Virginia University and Chad drove from Purdue University in Indiana – they kept in touch after their chance encounter. The two started dating and eventually got married.

    On their wedding day, Chad wore his Superman shirt underneath his tuxedo.

    “I thought it was extremely sweet and a creative way to include a memory into our special day,” Lau said.

    Now both Superman T-shirts are retired in their closet.

    “But we may wear them again when we return to Metropolis in the future,” she said.

    Whether it’s emulating a favorite superhero or forging a relationship with a parent, something as simple as a T-shirt can speak volumes about who we are and the stories we have to share.

    Do you have a T-shirt with a story to tell? Share a photo of it with CNN iReport, and you could be added to this gallery.