Answer this question, and I may send you a stupid t-shirt.
October 11, 2013 7:20 AM   Subscribe

What is the origin, or the earliest known example, of the "X went to Y and I all got was this stupid T-Shirt?" t-shirt?
posted by Shepherd to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
According to this Yahoo answer there is a line from the 1970 movie M*A*S*H :
Colonel Blake: "Captain Pierce went to Japan and all he got me was this lousy T-shirt".

I have seen that movie a few times but can't remember it; if true that would agree with my memory of those shirts first appearing in the 1970's
posted by TedW at 7:36 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Didn't this start in Las Vegas?
posted by three blind mice at 7:36 AM on October 11, 2013

Here is a newspaper article from 1977, that refers to such a shirt as if it's novel. So maybe around then?
posted by ManInSuit at 7:37 AM on October 11, 2013

The M*A*S*H movie attribution is bogus. It's not in the movie script. Maybe it's in the TV series, but it appears only on that Yahoo answer and a few derivative sites, 7 citations in total and nothing that looks reliable.
posted by beagle at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you mean "lousy t-shirt". At least, that's what was popular in the 70s. No idea if it started earlier, but using "lousy" might help you with your research.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:30 AM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I had to guess, it started as a gag for parents of college graduates. As in "My kid went to Harvard and all I got was this lousy t-shirt"
posted by Thorzdad at 2:18 PM on October 11, 2013

No, it was definitely theme parks like Walt Disney World and quasi-exotic destinations like Hawaii, at least in my experience, and the canonical version was "My Mom and Dad Went".

I doubt a specific origin could be traced at this point, although somebody may have some claim. It is very much a thing that the 1970s were the flowering of screen printed shirts and that involved a lot of creativity and middlebrow wit, not to mention wholesale IP theft from people like Ashleigh Brilliant, master of the goofy, self-deprecating epigram.
posted by dhartung at 3:53 PM on October 11, 2013

ManInSuit: Here is a newspaper article from 1977, that refers to such a shirt as if it's novel. So maybe around then?

That's interesting. I found an article (column?) from the Aug. 27, 1977 edition of the Seattle Times by John Hinterberger about that same gift show. Except, he phrased it this way (all-caps his):
All the usual stuff was in sight. Key chain with attached police whistle at the Far Out Unlimited Wholesale Company. Kid's T-shirt that read:


Bendie Doggies, of course. The switch-blade comb. 24,000 Elvis posters, all sold. And the fluffy singing German teddy bear which, when its abdomen was compressed, emitted:

"Ich bin ein kleine teddy baer, boom, boom, boom.

"Und alle kinder mag ich sehr, boom, boom, boom..."
So, this guy seemed more jaded about the "lousy t-shirt" than the AP reporter in the other article. Also, not sure what Bendie Doggies were.
posted by mhum at 4:31 PM on October 11, 2013

Here's another citation from the Seattle Times in the following year (Oct. 31, 1978), from Stanton H. Patty's travel column ("'Garden Island' luckily remains behind the times"), in a section on reader suggestions for enjoying Hawaii:
We enjoy the shopping on Kauai, too, especially for whimsical T-shirts for friends back home. One is labeled:

"Grandma and Grandpa went to Hawaii and all they brought me is this lousy T-shirt"

We didn't buy that one.
And, here's another from June 27, 1981 ("Square dancing: Fun even when it's work" by Anne E. Christensen):
Merchandise ranges from expensive sound systems used by square-dance callers to children's T-shirts that read, "Grandma went to the nat'l square dance and all I got was a lousy T-shirt."
posted by mhum at 4:39 PM on October 11, 2013

The earliest New York Times reference I could find was from Nov. 8, 1987 ("The Search for the Status Winter Tan", Barbara Klaus):
You could explore the island. Most tourists enjoy visiting the captal, Spritzer & Fuhrmann, where they find such native artifacts as life-size Lalique elephants. In town, you might track down the island's chief native export. Coral beads? Straw baskets? Pottery? No. It's a T-shirt reading, "My parents went to the Caribbean and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
I don't think this author is remarking on the novelty of the T-shirt at this point but rather on the popularity of such a tacky article.
posted by mhum at 4:54 PM on October 11, 2013

I can confirm that they were sold in London in 1979...lousy shirt.
But I remember the adults commentary when it was given to me suggested it was a new joke to them. This was in Australia.
posted by bystander at 3:52 AM on October 12, 2013

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