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I don't know about you, but most of my undershirts used to make me look like a raving wife-beater after only a few washings. With a two-day beard, I took on the fiendish visage of Rasputin, Raskolnikov and Jack the Ripper all rolled into one. I mean when the V in your V-neck undershirts inches down toward your navel, it can be embarrassing - especially during intimate moments. My ex-wife once told me to slow down only because I was in such a hurry to whip off my ugly undershirt. I began to notice this insidious lack of quality a few years ago and began trying brands with the fervor of a jihad in order to find a decent brand label. I went from Fruit of the Loom to Hanes to Jockey to BVD to Stanley Blacker like a man on a mission. Soon fed up with commercial labels I began to buy store names such as Britches, Eddie Bauer (one shirt developed holes with less than six months use), J. Crew (not bad), Banana Republic (not bad), Brooks Brothers (the cotton is too fine and the sleeves sag off the shoulders). I became a one-man R & D department, a maelstrom in the mall. So insatiable was my research that I eventually turned my attention to designer goods, Polo (one of the stitched-on polo players fell off), Calvin Klein and the fancy Swiss-made Hanro. Now bear in mind that I'm only wearing these undershirts maybe six months a year. I'm wearing crewnecks under turtlenecks and V-necks otherwise. Never a crewneck under an open collar! That dopey Dobie Gillis look is for dwarks. The unofficial results are as follows. The designers labels maintain their shape and quality the longest, but cost more, about $10 each (more for Hanro). You can pick up a three-pack of Fruit of the Loom for well under that price. But let me tell you the fruit's rotten in comparison and it isn't because of poor weather conditions. If you think I'm making too big a deal about undershirts, let's remember that the image of a man in his undershirt is one of the quintessential images of American cinema. Think of James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause," or Marlon Brando in "The Wild Ones," or better yet, "Streetcar Named Desire." Anyone can wear a black leather jacket, but only stars can fill out an undershirt. On the other hand, don't forget Connecticut's own Art Carney whose standard outfit on "The Honeymooners" of a vest over a misshapen undershirt had the desired burlesque effect of both being comical and buffoonish. Someone once said that cauliflower was cabbage with an education. With the same logic, the ubiquitous T-shirt is merely an undershirt with color, with or without a pocket. My favorite, the mother of all undershirts, is one I bought in Rome about 15 years ago. It's made of filo di scozia, Scottish yarn, a soft, silk-like material. I only wear it on special occasions, think if it as the equivalent of lingerie for men. It's definitely not an article of clothing I like to take off too quickly. To put it in basketball terms, I'd prefer to get an assist for the score (if you catch my behind-the-back drift). So undershirts do have an important part in any playbook and wardrobe. Do your homework, shop around and you'll come up with your own personal favorites.
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