When you think about it the shirt is just about the only piece of clothing a man wears with any color. More than that, it's a statement: the apparel that doth proclaim us. The removable tattoo, bumper sticker, flag, skin as billboard. Not just message-bearing T-shirts...
My preference is for asymmetrical design; splotched and motley. Something I'd hang on the wall. A walking abstract expressionist piece. An unfocused crowd scene. A poem in motion. Visible music. As an extra advanatge I can also spill Ragu sauce on myself and get away with it. (You can't take me anywhere)
Of course a spectrum running from black to grey is also a statement. It says to me, Life sucks and I have stones in pockets looking for the L.A. River or I'm a humble, anti-flamboyant guy or just Stop looking at me. When I was in college, going through a period of profound stupidity, I wore a particular shirt to physical chemistry class which ensured my anonymity and disappearance into the seat..or so I thought.
To stay calm we keep our shirts on. When I bet on the wrong team I'd lose it. To prove friendship we are asked to offer the shirt off our backs. I can remember back in high school I loved my shirt so much I wouldn't have given it off my back. It was a long-sleeved yellow one whose sleeves I rolled two folds resting below my elbow. At the time I thought it was pretty cool. I can't imagine what I was thinking.
Black shirts were the uniform of fascists and Nazis wore brown ones. While two-bit gangsters wore dark ones with pink ties and pimps favored pink ones with black ties. I suppose if you were a Nazi pimp hoodlum you had a tough time getting dressed in the morning.
In our push for some sort of democratization we've eliminated distinguishing shirts. Try walking into a large store and looking for a salesperson. How many times have I asked a fellow lost shopper where widgets are and been directed to the wrong aisle?
Turtle-necks signified poets and rumpled shirts, preferably stained and untucked told us we were looking at an absent-minded nerd or brilliant artist working through the night.
There was a time when Chinese laundries were more common than Starbucks and fast-food eateries are today. In the thirties there were over 350,000 in New York City alone. For nineteen cents you could have your white shirt washed and starched. The way things are going there may soon be American laundries opening all over Beijing.