It got only 5 1/2 minutes of screen time on a single episode of Seinfeld, but the puffy shirt became enough of a signature prop on the signature sitcom of the 1990s that the Smithsonian Institution wanted it. Jerry Seinfeld was happy to oblige, donating the notorious garment to the Washington, D.C., museum in a ceremony on Thursday night. The shirt now takes its place alongside such iconic pop culture fashion items as Dorothy's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and Fonzie's leather jacket from Happy Days.
The ruffled, pirate-like top was designed for the episode called ''The Puffy Shirt,'' in which Jerry unwittingly agreed to wear the shirt during an appearance on NBC's Today as a favor to its designer, Kramer's ''low-talker'' girlfriend. Smithsonian officials told the Washington Post that their acquisition of the shirt was not a publicity stunt timed to coincide with the Nov. 23 release of the long-awaited DVD of the first three seasons of Seinfeld. They'd been seeking a prop from the show for years, but there weren't many memorable ones from a show better known for catchphrases than objects. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) ''What you remember most are the characters,'' curator Dwight Blocker Bowers said. ''But short of becoming a taxidermist we can't collect them.''
''This might be the first joke inducted into the Smithsonian Institution,'' Seinfeld said at the ceremony, calling the enshrinement of the puffy shirt the most embarrassing moment in the Smithsonian's history. In fact, he said, he believes people should toss out all their junk. Regarding people who ask to be buried with their keepsakes, he said, ''Good for them. Take your crap with you. We don't want it.''