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Why Is There a Viral Shirt for Every Type of Guy?

Technically the shirt-wearer is a different person in each photo, but he's really the same guy, you know?

With the changing of the seasons in New York comes an annual social media event I look forward to each year. It’s a thread that appears in my feed displaying selfies of various friends and friends-of-friends, all with one thing in common: Somewhere lurking in the background is a guy wearing salmon-colored shorts.

The Salmon Shorts Thread runs through the summer, and its entries number in the low hundreds. Most posts are presented without text or comment. They’re simply a way of noting, “Hey, I spotted another one.” It’s like birdwatching, except the goal of birdwatching is to spot as many different bird species as possible, whereas the Salmon Shorts Thread always features the same guy. I mean, technically the short-wearer is a different person in each photo, but he’s really the same guy, you know?

This same composite-character-by-way-of-menswear energy was encapsulated in a viral tweet last month, when Nick Morrow wrote about This Shirt, an ostensibly innocuous long-sleeve blue-and-white gingham button-down:

Morrow was swiftly inundated with likes and retweets, as people immediately recognized The Shirt Guy, and of course, had opinions about him. Throughout that afternoon, my feed was littered with people dunking on both The Shirt and the shirt-wearer. I hadn’t seen this much Twitter discussion about a shirt since, well, the last time my feed blew up over a very similar blue-and-white button-down that provoked a very different reaction.

That is, a week shy of Pride season last year, @trans_tho asked the universe (or you know, Twitter) this question:

The universe (again, Twitter) answered — by screaming, mostly. But rather than commiserating about how garbage the shirt and everyone who wears it is, the replies in this thread were flooded with a sort of self-deprecating joy:

Other replies included photographic evidence of Trans Guy Shirt ownership and/or demanded @trans_tho (who goes by Cole) “get out of my house.” The entire reply thread is full of selfies of transmasculine folks wearing the Trans Guy Shirt, or otherwise commenting on how mind-blowing it is that every single one of us owns this thing. Mine is navy blue, with short sleeves and little white rectangles patterned all down the torso. (Alas, it no longer fits properly — years of masculinizing hormones tend to change one’s body shape a bit.)

So why does the Trans Guy Shirt spark joy, but The Shirt evokes, um, not joy? I reached out to both Cole and Morrow to help solve this sartorial mystery.

“When I fired off the tweet, I didn’t expect the outpouring of replies I’d receive, or I would have been more specific about the character who wears This Shirt most often,” Morrow explains. “Luckily, as Twitter tends to do, a lot of people did that work for me! Many were totally right to point out that the tweet was missing ‘white.’ This Shirt (TM Nick Morrow, all rights reserved) is such a ‘white straight man who gets off the train at Farragut North’ shirt.”

Yet despite the very D.C.-specific reference, Morrow adds, “People were sending me pics from all over the country about how this was a scourge on MANY communities.”  Which, fair enough — once I started writing this piece, I started seeing The Shirt everywhere, too.

“The key point is that a lot of people want to buy clothes that go with a lot of other clothes and wear those clothes in peace without some loudmouth gay man bringing it up while they’re scrolling Twitter in line at Potbelly,” Morrow continues. “Unfortunately for them, I have internet access! This gingham shirt brings to mind such a certain type of transplant yuppie straight white man that we all have encountered in D.C. (and in cities around the country) that it struck a nerve beyond the garment itself (clearly!).”

Or the funnier tl;dr version, per Morrow: “Pro: let me wear something without thinking about it! Con: This is a product of gentrification!”

Honestly, The Shirt as the uniform of gentrifiers and symbol of their gentrifying-ass ways seemed like a solid theory as to why someone would assert the following:

But I wanted confirmation from an expert, and Ryen Anderson, the director of design at Stitch Fix Men, kindly obliged. “I see a lot of guys wearing shirts like this for both work and play,” he explains. “I’d classify it as an American and British wardrobe staple that will stand the test of time.”

TBD on the “test of time” part, though, if people keep tweeting “This shirt just tried to incorrectly explain sports to me.” Still, Anderson’s point about the shirt’s present popularity was clear, especially after he provided some data on which StitchFix users order the shirt — all of them, basically, regardless of their shirt size or even the cut they prefer. “It’s easy to wear because it’s not polarizing to guys with different kinds of style,” he explains.

Cole says something similar about the Trans Guy Shirt. “It seems like a very stereotypical men’s shirt that you’d see in a shop. And so, when we [transmascs] start buying masculine clothing, we see that shirt in a store, and our brains are like, ‘That’s the ultimate man shirt.’” Basically, it looks like a standard shirt any guy could wear — regardless of their shirt size or personal style, a wardrobe staple that might even stand the test of time (like the Little Black Dress). Or not, says Cole, “I don’t wear it anymore, but I do still have it hanging up in my room!”

Between Cole and I, that’s at least two trans men who have retired their Trans Guy Shirts. And yet, the trend does live on. I recently met up with another trans man who didn’t even wait for me to comment on what he was wearing. “I know, I know, it’s the uniform,” he said sheepishly. It wasn’t an apology so much as a recognition: We all wear this. Which is distinct from recognizing, They all wear this, as in the case of The [Straight White Gentrifier] Shirt.

Despite the roasting, though, Anderson may be vindicated in his claim that The Shirt will stand the test of time. Brands being what they are now, Brooks Brothers reached out to Morrow over Twitter and sent him his very own version of The Shirt. (“It’s 2019, and that was the only way this could’ve ended,” Morrow jokes. “I’d like to let all brands know that I’m open to receiving free things.”) I, of course, ask him how he’s enjoying it. “Listen, it’s a FINE SHIRT!” he responds. “But I’m unlikely to grab it out of my closet too often.”

Makes sense. After all, I heard This Shirt just started a podcast with the exact same shirt but in red.