RANT: Shrinking T-Shirt Sizes

What the hell happened to t-shirts?

Now I know that back in high school I weighed about 70 pounds less than I do now, but still… back then an XL t-shirt fit me like a potato sack. And these days, an XL shirt will barely cover my gut comfortably. I am 5 feet 9.921 inches tall and weigh 190 pounds… Am a pudgy? Yep. Could I stand to lose a few pounds? Sure. Am I – by anyone’s definition – fat? Not hardly. And yet, so often these days I hesitate when buying a t-shirt because I’m afraid that it’ll be too tight across my belly – or will look fine the first time I wear it, then shrink something fierce after the first washing. In any event, I’m hardly a “big” guy – I know several men that are “bigger” than me – be they fat or simply broad-shouldered – and looking around I wonder who on earth is buying the “small” and “medium” shirts. It must not be too many people, as Old Navy always has a large number of small and medium shirts on their sale racks. And I also know that it’s not just me because “large” Old Navy proper shirts – turtle necks, Oxford shirts, etc – fit me just fine. It’s just t-shirts that I have to buy in what should be “Fat Albert size”.

The reason I bring all this up is because of two websites I was looking at this week. Both of them offered t-shirts for sale in sizes up to XXXXL. And so does Wal Mart. Now I know that America is gaining weight at a record pace and I also know that Wal Mart and some Internet stores are trying to appeal to as many people as possible. But come on! When I was in high school, it was almost impossible to find an XXL shirt outside of a Big and Fat store… you can’t tell me that in less than 20 years America has suddenly developed a need for XXXXL t-shirts. In fact, the FAA just released a study a few months ago that said that the average American had gained around 9 pounds in the past 20 years. This is important when designing airplanes that are going to transport 500 people at a time, but 9 pounds is peanuts on an individual basis*. I think the shirt manufacturers started shrinking their sizes in the late 80s or early 90s, when it became a fad to have t-shirts as giveaways for soft drinks, trade shows and radio stations. These “allegedly modified XL” shirts are a natural choice for shirt giveaways, as they’re big enough to fit most men, yet not so big that they’ll look like a sleep shirt on a woman. But I know that something’s up when I can give one of my XL shirts to my girlfriend – who’s tiny – and it doesn’t fit her like a potato sack. It’s a little long, sure. But if Lisa Wilson can look presentable in an adult XL t-shirt, you *know* that they’re shrinking the sizes.

* = Interestingly, several reports that have been published recently seem to indicate that Americans that were already overweight have become much more obese. So while Americans as a rule *are* getting slightly fatter, it’s the “300+ pound” people that are skewing the results.

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