What’s the Story Behind the ‘I Told Ya’ T-Shirt in ‘Challengers’? 

When Zendaya attended a screening of her new sultry tennis drama Challengers this week, she wore a gray T-shirt with the words “I Told Ya” printed in bold black letters. The casual shirt was a noticeable change from the crisp whites and sour greens of the tennis-themed couture the star has donned during the Challengers international press tour, but it too was a callback to the movie.

The ‘I Told Ya” tee is something of a character in Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers — a film that follows tennis prodigy Tashi (Zendaya) who finds herself in a convoluted throuple with childhood friends Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Art (Mike Faist) — serving as a signifier of who in the trio is the most powerful.

Zendaya’s character, a student athlete, first wears the graphic tee during a heated conversation with Faist’s Art in a Stanford University cafeteria. O’Connor’s Patrick also throws on the shirt after a hot and heavy scene with college-aged Tashi that ends in an explosive argument. 

“If you mark the moment when Tashi takes the T-shirt off of [Patrick] after their big argument, she has the power,” O’Connor tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t think Art ever has the power actually. Poor Art. Well, not poor Art, this is the big trick, he’s the biggest snake of all of them.” 

Guadagnino called on his friend Jonathan Anderson, the creative director behind fashion house Loewe, to design the film’s preppy, courtside looks.  Anderson is reported to have been inspired by John F. Kennedy Jr. when designing costumes for O’Connor’s Patrick, a tennis player born into extreme wealth. The late president’s son was captured by paparazzi wearing a “I Told Ya” shirt, a reference to the “I Told You Sobuttons marking John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration.

Josh O’connor attends the UK premiere of “Challengers” at the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square on April 10, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)

Mike Marsland/WireImage

“It’s such a cheeky T-shirt,” O’Connor says. “Just so cheeky, and I really liked wearing it because it was just a bit like [raises shoulders and winks] ‘told ya.’” And funnily enough it’s something that a lot of my friends [have] been saying for years.” 

Daniel James Cole, a New York University costume design professor and fashion historian, says JFK Jr.’s style was on the conservative side, but he and his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy gave a youthful twist to Nineties minimalism.

“JFK Jr. would do things like wearing his baseball caps backwards, so, he has this ad hoc way of putting rather basic pieces together,” Cole, who co-authored The History of Modern Fashion, tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t think of JFK Jr. as being somebody who was a fashion risk taker but because he had natural good looks, and undeniable charisma whenever he appeared, you looked at him.”

Zendaya stars as Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino’s CHALLENGERS

Niko Tavernise/MGM Pictures

Anderson, who also sported the slogan tee at the film’s Rome premiere, has since launched a collection of “I Told Ya” T-shirts and sweatshirts, with a rendition of the cotton shirt at $330. Other retailers like Etsy and Amazon, have marketed more affordable alternatives for the viral shirt. 

The unisex “I Told Ya” shirts and sweatshirts are part of a Loewe’s special edition Challengers collection, featuring apparel worn by the film’s protagonists. 

Throughout history, fashion designers have worked on film productions: Giorgio Armani dressed Richard Gere in American Gigolo (1980), and Hubert de Givenchy designed costumes for Audrey Hepburn, although uncredited, in Sabrina (1954). Anderson continues to dress Zendaya along the press tour; she sported a glittering Loewe dress at the Australian premiere in March and tennis-ball Loewe pumps at the Rome premiere.  


“Because they have someone as charismatic as Zendaya, she’s got charisma in spades, because they’ve got somebody like her as their star who can wear the T-shirt and promote it, they’re certainly on the road to making a splash,” Cole says.

CT Jones contributed reporting.