It’s not the price. It’s not the stitching quality. It’s not even the amount of blood, sweat, and lost childhoods collectively sewn in to every garment by laborers in Bangladesh.
It’s true, whether they’re whites or coloreds, not all t-shirts are created equal. Some shirts are destined for greatness from the initial printing. Other rot in drawers and closets for decades, enduring moths and musk, only to be rediscovered one day for now being “retro” or “vintage.” And, an unlucky few are fated to make the clothing-drive rounds, perpetually passed from one lower-income family to the next, like an old minivan brimming with generations of wear and filth.
Finding the perfect t-shirt is an intuitive method. Whether you’re shopping at the thrift store, looting a church donation box, or even browsing at one of those upscale, fancy-boy boutiques, the first thing you impulsively need to consider with any shirt is whether or not it’s trying too hard and blatantly crossing the line between fun and obnoxious. Subtlety wins in the t-shirt game; an uncomplicated reference or clever picture always beats a tired joke that becomes abhorrently stale after first glance.
“Show, don’t tell.” Sure, it’s a disturbingly creepy-sounding maxim when taken out of context, but it’s what they say in Hollywood and it’s what they should say about t-shirts that try to force their way into being funny or reference-y. The straightforward, simple design that doesn’t overexert itself is a paragon, especially when compared to the gaudy, detestable, overtly-broadcasted graphic tee that screams, “Everyone, look at my personal tastes on pop culture and humor!” The latter oozes desperation; it’s the clothing version of the overly-enthusiastic coworker who insufferably shares every trivial bit of his or her life with you in a vain attempt to seem mildly interesting.
Unlike a classic jersey, the best t-shirts are unique. Novelty will separate you from the mobs that simply snag a prescribed shirt off a chain store’s rack. Now, for a shirt to stand out it needs some character; it can’t just have one of Abercrombie’s silly fictionalized events printed across it like “Cunning Linguist Spelling Bee” or “7th Annual Humane Society Pussy Fiesta.” Common, mass-produced shirts like that end up everywhere and are completely forgettable. Sure, you can co pout and buy one, but you’ll end up encountering other copies of said shirt in public and, much like any Martin Lawrence movie, you’ll hate it more every time you see it.
Lastly, always consider your current wardrobe when adding to it. Drastic style changes can take time to go unnoticed; we’ve all seen the reaction when the rich kid who typically wears khakis, Sperry’s, and other white-people-going sailing attire shows up for class one day in a 2 Live Crew tall-tee.
Perfect t-shirts aren’t easy to find, but stay vigilant. Trust your instincts and you’ll know to snap it up when you see one, be it in a store, at a garage sale, or just in an unzipped suitcase on the baggage claim carousel.
Justin Gawel is an adult baby from Michigan. Look for more of his writing, his BroBible.com archive, and his updates at www.justingawel.com or follow him @justingawel on Twitter.