To a Tee

I am a t-shirt connoisseur. A discriminating collector of both short and long sleeves. A 100% pre-shrunk cotton afficianado. As a self-declared t-shirt expert, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned over many, many years of t-shirt collecting.

In Shrek, we learned that onions and ogres (and parfaits) come in layers. Runners will quickly learn that t-shirts come in levels. Even more interesting, t-shirts come in a variety of levels. I imagine them overlapping, some intersecting and some encompassing, sort of like a spirograph. (Sidenote: Best toy ever!)

  • Level 1: The T-shirts You Buy — Ah, the tee. Traditional memento of races gone by. Most of the shirts from races where you did not personally pay an entry fee come at a price…the larger/more important the race, the more ridiculous the price of the tee. Junior High, High School, AAU, USAT&F, (some) College…if you’re on a team, chances are you’re buying the shirt yourself. If you want one, that is. Sometimes, this decision requires some serious cost analysis. The Podunk Triangular shirt might cost $8. Sure, it’s a great deal. But what are you going to do with it? The AAU Nationals or State Championships shirt may cost anywhere between $30 and $60. Honorable meets to compete in, sure, but is the proof of entry worth the investment? In the example of my Drake Relays shirt, the answer is YES! This shirt also  helped me get an A in Rhetoric, but that’s a different story…

  • The “You Want It You Buy It” Tee

  • Level 2: The T-Shirts You’re “Given” — Most runners are familiar with this level. It is where the majority of road races fall. If you paid the entry fee yourself, you can expect to be “gifted” with a commemorative t-shirt. This guarantee is waived if you commit one of the cardinal running sins by failing to plan your races in advance. Those who show up on race day will most likely be punished by missing out on the shirt-gifting or be shamed by the receipt of the dreaded leftover XXXXXXL. I’m not really sure where this tradition began…I’d be interested to find out, but I’m too lazy to Google. I do know that Dad was receiving t-shirts in exchange for entry fees way back in the day. Here’s a gift tee I received from the Tampa 15k last year…note the contrasting collar—you will be quizzed on it.

  • The “Given” Tee

  • Level 3: The T-Shirts You Earn — I like this category. There are some races (particularly at the college level) where you actually race for t-shirts…that is, they give tees to the top finishers instead of medals. The “medal” tees are usually a different design than the Level 1 “for sale” tees, making them an achievement to earn. Some, like the one I “earned” for a 5k at a smallish meet, say something like “champion” or “medal winner” on the back. I’ve heard that there’s a variation of this for some marathon’s, too. Instead of “competitor” tees that come with race entry, there’s a “finisher” tee that you can earn only by completing your 26.2 mile trek.

  • The “Earned” Tee

That is how you get your t-shirt. The remaining four levels cover the design and desirability of what you have bought with cold, hard cash or earned with sweat and effort.

  • Level 4: Bottom Dollar/Bottom of the Barrel — Ugh. This is the level of the “instant dust rag.” A tee that is either the cheapiest, scratchiest fabric available or screams a total and complete lack of effort in design. The very best (or worst?) examples of this level scrape the bottom of both barrels. It’s most disappointing when one of the more prestigious races stoops to this level…for example, let’s take a look at the worst shirt I’ve ever received. This comes from the Footlocker South Region XC meet last year. What makes this t-shirt so terrible is (1) it’s utter lack of creativity, (2) it’s plainness in comparison to the “coolness” and prestige of the Footlocker race itself, and (3) the way it paled in comparison to shirts from the previous 10 years, which were proudly displayed for all to see on the wall behind the registration table. Ouch.

  • The “No Effort, No Thanks” Tee

  • Level 5: The Standard – Eh. This is what you expect from a “free” shirt. The old standard was a white tee, but several thousands of white tees later someone decided to try something different. Now, gray is the new white. An excellent example of the standard is the Reedy River tee…although it loses creativity points by using the same design for multiple years (with different colored shirts), the design itself is distinctive and appealing. I, um, forgot to take a picture of my shirt last night…so until I do, here’s the design they use.

  • The Standard Tee

  • Level 6: The “Unique”/The Upgrade — Sometimes, race directors feel the need to upgrade the gifted tee. This makes some reasonable sense. A unique t-shirt is an easy way to make a race stand apart in the eyes of runners who have received several hundred “standard” tees. The ironic thing is that this practice, too, has become “standard.” It’s pretty much a given that a race weekend with several  distances will have an equivalent number of unique shirts. The shortest race will receive the “standard,” the longer races will receive an “upgrade.” For example, at the recent Greer Earth Day runs, 8k-ers received a green t-shirt while the Halfers got an upgrade to dry-fit. Oooooh…ahhhhh. Sometimes, the upgrade works out great. I like my bright green dry-fit shirt…I’d like it even better if it fit, but that’s a whole different issue. Other times, the “upgrade” leaves runners wishing they just would’ve gotten a t-shirt. I have a bright red mock turtleneck that falls into this category. Mock turtleneck? How is that even possible? If you’re going to go turtleneck, then you go all the way. Weird. Scott once got a jacket that was advertised as “tech,” but has this disturbingly suffocating quality to it. Occasionally, even the “standard” receives an upgrade. This could be from short to long sleeves, or possibly a different style of shirt altogether. Remember my Tampa shirt with the blue collar? Upgrade!

  • The  “Upgrade” Tee

  • Level 7: Top of the Line — The very best t-shirts (for me) are the ones that combine race prestige, creative design, and sentimental value. It doesn’t get much better than the Drake Relays. I know I’ve already gushed about how much I love this meet…but seriously. I love this meet. Add to my undying adoration a nice-looking gray tee with a snazzy and visually appealing design (Sidenote: I actually presented this tee to a graduate level visual design class. It follows all the “rules.”) and, well, it was  worth the $25 I paid for it. However, it should be noted that “top of the line” doesn’t necessarily mean “most expensive.”

Now that you can identify the types of t-shirts you have, the remaining question is…what am I going to do with them? Unfortunately for many runners, the chances are alarmingly good that your newly acquired gear isn’t going to fit. That is the way the cookie crumbles. There is no uniform sizing for tees, and so registration always ends with a sizing debate. Am a small, or a youth large? Am I a medium, or a large? It’s a gamble, and frequently you’ll come away with something unsuitable. My Greer Earth Day shirt, although a small, hangs all wrong. Scott says I look like a flying squirrel because the armpits of the shirt fall nearly to my elbows. Waaaah! This is even assuming that they (Yes, I’m using the ubiquitous “they.” And yes, “they” really are out to get me!) even have smalls available. I’ve had many memorable track meets where Mom couldn’t resist buying me a t-shirt, only to discover that she had a choice between L and XL for her 5’2″, 100lb daughter. Choices, choices, choices.

But have no fear. There is a solution to the size mismatch, and it goes by the name of the t-shirt quilt. There are some shirts that you just can’t bear to donate to Salvation Army or resign to the “home improvement” section of your wardrobe. Gather up enough shirts, and you could make yourself a t-shirt quilt. My Super Fan Mom made me this one…isn’t it pretty? I’m sure you can find directions on how to make one online, but if anyone’s interested I can ask Mom for instructions.

And that concludes today’s fluffy post…stay tuned for tomorrow’s show, when we’ll discuss 101 craft projects using bib numbers. 😀



7 responses

  1. Sure, first I get complaints about slow posts…then I get teased about my lack of social life. I just can’t win! 😉

    I should put the “bloopers” pics up from this photo shoot…the feline population strongly believes that they deserve a spot in any photo op.

  2. You were most gentle..

    My epistles on T-shirts has, historically, been somewhat more pointed and less diplomatic. It is not lack of effort in design, it is lack of compentence. some of those shirts are so ugly i wont even cut them up and use them for gun rags ‘coz my gun would be insulted. Also, a significant number of the shirts being handed out are totally unsuitable for heterosexual males. Then again, I’ve given up on shirts since between color, size and applied design they are useless…
    Together these observations suggest that the day of race shirt is OVER. A complete waste of resources. Imagine the amount of cotton that goes into the 10 000 shirts the track club will hand out in 2008 and then start compiling the energy (oil ) consumed in growing and transporting the materials that eventually will end up in rubbermaid container in the attic (at least that is where mine go).

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