Message T-Shirts I Never Thought About

Think about this for a minute, or just a few seconds, the next time you don that favorite T-shirt with a great snarky message that really lets the world know how you feel: do I really want the world to know how I feel?

This great article by John Nicholson @JohnnyTheNic at about the meaning of the new list of top ten most popular Premier League jerseys brings that question sharply into focus. It sounds like we are about the same age and probably went through the same “bearded hippy” phases. Albeit, mine was a spiky haired punk phase.

I would go to the store, or to a concert, or out for a night on the town with a great T-shirt that read “If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a…” You either know, can guess, or must Google the rest. Why did I wear that T-shirt, and not expect a hostile reaction? Of course, I expected a hostile reaction. I wanted a hostile reaction. Except, I was also looking for members of my tribe. I quickly learned the shirt was quite appropriate for a night at a live gig at a band I liked, versus just a random night out where it could be counted on to offend the biggest baddest drunk in the bar, or worse, create a mutual air of anarchist bon vivant, and I’d end up spending the evening as a sort of show piece for the biker crowd, “Hey, check this Dude’s shirt out!”


So, why do it to yourself? The obvious tribal aspect is important, but really, does wearing a T-Shirt suddenly lift someone to a level of camaraderie where I feel compelled to embrace them as part of the global revolution, just because they have a posterized face of Che Guevara on their chest? No, not really, and I suppose I should expect the same.

And, of course, as we age the messages on our T-shirts become more banal and generic. I have loads of T-shirts from road races I’ve run in. Ditto, places I’ve been on vacation and needed a spare shirt. Or, places where I have friends who thought it would be nice for me to carry around a graphic of their hometown. Not to mention the mountain of orange and black T-shirts accumulated as my children grew through the recreation & sports programs in our (Go Hilton Lake Tigers!) community.

For several years now, an industry has existed to turn all of those message T-shirts into wonderful memories compressed into quilts made up of squares cut from the various T-shirts. That’s a great solution for discarded T-shirts. But, first, I’ve had to decide to discard all of my message T-shirts.

I’m dumb. For years, friends of mine have made asinine comments about message T-shirts that I wear, but I’ve never taken the hint. Nobody cares that I support the Lung Research Center in Poughkeepsie, NY. They don’t care that I supported the Packers the year they won the Super Bowl. The Patriots the year they won they Super Bowl. And both teams when they met in the Super Bowl. I don’t care about the messages on other people’s shirts, so why should they care about mine?

Or worse, I do care. And, here is the only reason I ever care about the message on someone else’s T-shirt. It proves to me that they are an idiot. Call me shallow, but I think I speak for the vast majority of the T-shirt reading populous. If I agree with your message, I probably either ignore it, or wonder how a punk like you became a fan of the greatest football team in the history of football forever. Or, as @JohnnyTheNic points out, I probably think you’ve made a boring choice of player to support.

In the EPL, or BPL as it is now known, I became a Chelsea fan back in the days of Zola, DeGooey, Poyet and Vialli. Chelsea were even then, the flash club in the Premier League that claimed to always be trying to play football. They were the first club to start 11 foreign players and through out the 90’s seemed like a slumbering giant, capable of greatness, but not quite prepared to take it on. That’s my standard Chelsea CV that I must recite every time I wear a Chelsea jersey near an Englishman. Why? Because, it’s just assumed: American, Chelsea, wanking, glory hunting, wanker.

So whose name do I have on the back of my Chelsea shirt. Well, Zola of course is on a shirt too dilapidated to wear now. I’d of had Gronkjaer as he was a player whose game I could relate to: sprint down the wing and lash a cross into the seats behind the goal. Our careers paralleled each other, mine in the Sunday leagues, his on the grand stage, but both of us basically performing the same stunt. But, the Internet was just in it’s glowing infancy and Gronkjaer shirts were hard to come by.

But, I wear ZOLA on the back of my shirt in one part tribute to the great man, but also to ward off the “Glory Hunter” label. I want to be recognized as one of the fans who initially rejoiced when the club was saved by Abramovich, but with ever increasing doubts about the long term benefits. Maybe Chelsea would have been better to have suffered as Leeds have suffered. But, that conversation will never get started with TORRES or DROGBA or TERRY or LAMPARD on my back. Those names will get you quickly dismissed as a lightweight.

But, regardless the message, whether it be a sport’s team, a 5K fun run, an auto parts supplier, or my favorite local diner, a message T-shirt opens the wearer up for the easiest form of derision. We all have friends and family members (usually older sibings) who enjoy nothing more than commenting, ironically, on T-shirt meanings. “Oh, I see you ran a whole 5K race. Is that the T-shirt you get for winning?” “Oh, I see you support a charity for injured football players. Do you also support injuring them first?” “Oh, that’s a cute race car on your shirt. What are you twelve?”

Probably, there is a place for message T-shirts. At the track, at the concert, at the ball game; when I am with my tribe. So, for me anyway, the message T-shirts are going in a special bin bag today, probably never to be pulled out again. Oh, I’ll save some of the newest that arrived as presents for puttering around in the garden, but in general, you will meet me in public wearing the plain T-shirts and simple casual and dress shirts of the silent majority.

Inside, I might still be a seething punk rocker, whipping around a Che Guevara flag in the away section near the Sud Curve as my heroes from Chelsea take the field at the San Siro to battle either Inter or AC Milan. But the world will see me from now on as the man I have become, a middle aged guy who chooses to ruminate more on the battles we face in life, rather than wear them on his sleeves.


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