Commentary: In search of shirts that fit like a 'T'

According to Merriam's, when applied as an adjective, the word vintage is used to describe something that (i) is not new but that is valued because of its good condition, attractive design, etc.; or (ii) has the best qualities or characteristics of the things made or done by a particular person, organization, etc.

Certain artwork, photographs, cars, jewelry, watches, or clothing may, for example, be vintage. In the context of sports, throwback uniforms are reproduced to give retro effect; while pieces of authentic, historic, period-pieced memorabilia may be viewed as vintage.


Under Armour was built from a simple, basic concept — to build a better t-shirt. Almost 18 years later, Under Armour is no longer a challenger brand. It's built a market in and for performance apparel; leading by constantly innovating.

Eighteen years later, it's nearly impossible to find a simple, cotton t-shirt in a sporting goods store. Cotton has been replaced by performance fabrics; synthetics; polyester and rayon blends. Athletes are no longer sweat-soaked in cotton. Moisture is wicked away; leaving a lightweight and lighter-feeling synthetic shirt.

Have cotton T-shirts become vintage en banc? Not shirts made to look or feel vintage. Cotton T-shirts themselves; are they all now, as a matter of course, and from the passing of time, vintage?

I ask because I've recently learned that I'm fighting a losing battle; one that can't be won. I'm about to lose the last of my favorite-fitting 100 percent cotton T-shirts. Pinholes have become tears across the shoulders and backs of the shirts; one has a semi-circular tear in the seam where the sleeve meets the shirt. They've survived for years; fending off death-by-deterioration. But, when the end comes for 100 percent cotton t-shirts, it comes fast.

The gym is one of the few places I wear performance-fabric-ed T-shirts. Even there, I wear a combination and rotation of nearly 15-year-old basketball practice jerseys layered under or with 10-year-old first-generation Under Armour "performance grey" (synthetic blend) T-shirts. Everywhere else — under everything else — I wear the most broken-in, well-worn, and oldest 100% cotton t-shirts I own; and, I wear them inside out for an added degree of comfort.

My favorite T-shirts/undershirts are probably at least four years old. Most are probably at least six-to-eight years old before they start to get that feel to them.

Today, you can buy T-shirts made to feel vintage; appearing already broken in. Most are made from especially supple-feeling cotton weaves. But, it's not the same. In the case of a cotton T-shirt, vintage is not the same as well-worn; especially faux vintage or vintage-inspired.

After four to six years, each T-shirt takes on a shape of its own, literally and figuratively so; like a well-used, broken-in baseball glove, almost literally and figuratively so. And, as a shirt takes shape, it also takes on a life of its own. A well-worn T-shirt's vintage comes from the memories of what you were doing when you were wearing it. Four-to-six year-old shirts take on personalities. Eight-to-10 year-old shirts earn the attributions of personification and anthropomorphism.

I have T-shirts that have lasted longer than significant relationships and friendships. Those shirts have seen it all. Twelve years is a long life for most dogs; and, most people know how attached folks can become to their dogs.

I'm not even concerned here with logoed T-shirts. Simple. White. V-Neck. 100 percent cotton. T-shirts.

The attack has started. I've been told the T-shirts, if left unprotected, e.g. in the laundry pile or unfolded after being washed, will be thrown away. Doing that would be like putting the family dog down without giving your children or significant other the chance to say good-bye.

Maybe it's just poor prior planning on my part. Maybe I need to phase in new T-shirts every year; not wait until the beginning of the end is in sight for my longest-tenured tees. Nonetheless, the end is near; somewhat sheer has given way to tears.

No synthetic — nor a new vintage — shirt can replicate or replace the familiarity, the fit, or the feel of a well-worn, half decade or longer-tenured t-shirt.

Nothing about my well-worn, decade-old T-shirts fits within Merriam's first definition of what it means for a thing to look, to feel, or to be vintage. But, the oldest shirts, the ones that fit the best, the ones that have a slightly different neck or that are especially soft from being well-worn, definitely fit within the second. They bring back memories every time I put one on. [And, they fit the best when worn inside-out.]