Seth Brown | The Pun Also Rises: Shirt happens ... and other dress-for-success stories


NORTH ADAMS >> I'm a T-shirt and jeans guy. In the winter the T-shirts get overlaid with plaid flannel, the official uniform of the Berkshires, but I am still wearing T-shirts and jeans all year long.

I only have a few pairs of jeans, because jeans can be worn a few times before you wash them, and also because they are expensive and I am cheap. But I have many, many T-shirts, because people will give you T-shirts for free — or at least, they will certainly give me T-shirts for free.

And I have accepted them with gratitude every time. I started becoming known for accumulating free T-shirts. This snowballed when a friend of mine who knew my love for free T-shirts started giving me all the free T-shirts he received and didn't want.

I had so many T-shirts, that when I first moved into my house and didn't have curtains yet, I simply hung T-shirts in all of the windows. I called them "Shirtains," although it may have annoyed the neighbors since it looked like I was staging a mass crucifixion. I hope they weren't cross.

Regardless, my free T-shirts have stuck with me through thick and thin, although mostly thin, especially once they've been through the wash a few times. It's always sad when a T-shirt comes out too torn up to wear again. I may hang my T-shirts like Jesus, but I don't like it when they get too holey. Not that I mean to stigmata-ize my T-shirts; many of them are hardy survivors of over a decade.

It's always a sobering reminder of your age when you realize that you own some T-shirts older than the local college students. Although the reminder doesn't need to stay sober for long, because some of my T-shirts are almost old enough to drink. (Admittedly, many of them have already had a drink anyway, because I am a sloppy drinker.)

But as long as we're drinking anyway, I'll raise a glass to some of my favorite T-shirts who have passed on:

I miss my CTY shirt from a summer program I did at Johns Hopkins back in the early 90s. The main advantage of this shirt was that people would inevitably ask "What does CTY stand for?"

And I would then get to respond with "Can't Tell You." Also, I like to imagine Johns Hopkins is a weird pluralization of John Hopkins, sort of like RsBI (which is technically more correct than RBIs). This shirt did not die a natural death, but was ripped to shreds during a summer camp event in the late '90s.

Until a few years ago when it became too frayed and threadbare to wear, my favorite T-shirt was one picturing a brain with an athletic headband around it. This was given to me in 1996 for being a member of the academic decathlon in high school. Many people in high school wanted to be a varsity athlete. Well, I was a (m)athlete, and actually captain of the (math) team. Some athletes carb-load before games. We had donuts at the math meets. Oddly, girls did not flock to my side. Perhaps if I had gotten a letter jacket, with F(x).

My least legible T-shirt for many years was received courtesy of the Dull Men's Club, after interviewing their vice president for my first book. (They don't have a president, because presidents are too exciting.) It was a gray shirt, with small gray lettering and no capital letters, thus successfully communicating the idea that the Dull Men's Club is very, very boring. This shirt quietly fell apart last year, in accordance with the bylaws.

While those are gone, I have many more. And if a friend of mine ever needed a T-shirt, I'd even give them the shirt off my back. Chances are, I didn't pay for it anyway.

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor columnist, the author of "From God To Verse," and shirtainly enjoys free clothes. His website is


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