Suzanne has a couple of bags sitting in the corner of the bedroom; she intends to leave them for pick up by the local thrift store. Guess that means I can finally abandon the fleeting hope of fitting into two or three pairs of walking shorts I've had tucked away for the past four or five years.
I liked those shorts, but I guess there was little to no chance of getting back into them. Not without a crowbar. I'm not going to blame it on the difficult-to-prove fact cotton can shrink over the course of ten years. I'm also not going to blame it on the easier-to-prove fact I'm close to the beginning of a middle-age spread. Not as close as I was last year, but still close.
It's all right. I've got a lot of shirts which should have NEVER come through the front door of my home lurking in my closet. There are a dozen ties which will be out the door faster than you can say "Jimmy Buffett."
Most of all, I have more t-shirts than any one man should EVER have.
I'm not ridding myself of the technical fiber running shirts, nor the ones I earned while running college cross-country. Those shirts still fit me like a champ.
I'm parting ways with the two dozen cotton t-shirts which lay at the bottom of my bottom dresser drawer, the ones from races way past. Which got me to thinking about shirts.
A friend from the local running community once said on a Wednesday evening run the factors he considered necessary for a perfect race: An accurate course. Plenty of beer. Accurate timing and scoring. A good shirt.
Like Socrates, asking the question of what particular quality or qualities makes a shirt good is not going to make you friends with race directors. The vast majority of races where we live either have what I consider to be great or poor shirts. I prefer to judge a shirt on these qualities:
Wearability. This particular quality places some shirts on a very fast track to the donation bag. Long-sleeved "windshirts" and cotton "wife-beater" tank tops are at the bottom of the wearability spectrum. Solid or near-solid-colored short-sleeved (or sleeveless) shirts...even if they're dark...are better, in my humble opinion. And, why do I rarely if ever see a race shirt in a heather gray or a tan? From the race director's view, white is less expensive to buy and less expensive to screenprint. Please. I beg you. Less beer; better shirts. Trust me...I'll be happy.
While I'm on the "anti-white-shirt" rant, don't want anyone to think I'm not patriotic, but shirts for events around Independence Day loaded with American flags, red, white and blue, fireworks, firecrackers, and the like are absolutely NOT wearable. Except on the Fourth of July. Let's start to use a little bit of artistic imagination.
Artwork. How many times have you gone to a race and seen the same artwork recycled from year to year? One particular race has variants of the club's mascot; in their defense, the past three or four years they have seen fit to commission very good artists. But if you do a race over the course of a few years there's only so many ways you can tweak a logo.
There's a race I've run a couple of times in which the awards are what I've heard described by local runners as "shirt-on-a-stick." Yes, it's the race shirt mounted on a wood-frame, much like a canvas. To the event's credit, the artwork is a take on one of those gorgeous Gulf Coast sunsets. However, if I'm running well "enough" I'll have the art on the wall, which means I won't consider wearing the art on my chest. Ah, but it's a white, cotton "wife-beater" so I guess that's a moot point. To the donation bag.
Advertising. Who sponsored this race? In so many words: who paid for this shirt? The location and size of the logos can push the decision of whether the shirt gets to stick around for a few years. One of the first races I ever worked, a college cross-country program fundraiser, was sponsored by a law firm. The printer conveniently forgot to print the firm's name, so we had to send the shirts back for a re-printing. We made the printer pay penance for the crime by printing the law firm's name and information on the sleeve, nice and high.
Some of the local runs seem to have a thing against either too many sponsors - or too many sponsor logos perhaps - on their event shirts. I'm not certain as to particular reasons, except for perhaps aesthetics...or economics.
Speaking of printer screw-ups, the shirt for the local 5K prediction run, one of the largest in the country, had the word "STAFF" conveniently placed on the back about three years ago. What possessed the printer to do that, I'll never know. Perhaps it was due to a communications breakdown. But it's one of those things which makes people hang on to shirts.
Value. Suzanne and I are most likely to hang on to a shirt, regardless of how badly it was designed or how cheaply it was produced, if it came from a race we did as part of a business trip, or an RRCA convention, perhaps a personal best...or personal worst...are hung on to a little bit longer than others. In fact, many of them are neatly folded and tucked away in a closet which I don't go near, save for right before Thanksgiving and right after New Years'. There are a couple of windshirts and rain parkas in the mix, so the shirt type doesn't matter too much.
The race shirt, especially the really good race shirt, is an inexpensive and enduring method of event advertising. Good shirts stay around and draw the attention of runners. Bad shirts draw the grease from bicycle chains and the dirt from automobile hubcaps. Both have a value, but to different communities.
Think about your favorite race shirt. What makes it special? Why is it still in your drawer?