If it’s ugly but it keeps you warm, it’s probably a “Randy” shirt—a collared, button-down garment for the upper body with a plaid, cotton exterior and a quilted polyester lining. Michelle and I coined the name because one of the guys who rides the neighborhood garbage truck and is never seen in any other kind of shirt is named—you guessed it—Randy. And so the name stuck.
Randy shirts, as you undoubtedly know if you’re reading this, are among the most functional garments ever created. They are lightweight, comfortable, and worn mostly by guys who work with their hands and spend at least part of each day outdoors. With my thermostat set at 58, it’s the first piece of clothing I reach for upon waking up.
One of the great things about a Randy shirt is that they almost always have two front pockets, an increasingly rare feature at a time when men have more crap to carry than ever before. Also—and this is huge—you can take it off anywhere secure in the knowledge that not even a homeless person will steal it. They are incapable of being coveted by anyone except the man who owns that particular Randy shirt.
A Randy isn’t ugly by definition, but the better ones tend to be. There is no more definitive signifier of one’s membership in the middle class. No Randy shirt has ever been worn on a golf course, to a cocktail party, a Ferrari dealership, or inside any restaurant with valet parking. I’ve even gotten dirty looks wearing mine to pick up a prescription.
My sister gave me mine, a blue, plaid one, about ten years ago for Christmas as a sort of joke. She said that it cost seven dollars. The label reads, “Smith’s American 1906 Brooklyn, N.Y.” and it was made in Pakistan. I have gotten more and better wear out of that thing than any other garment I’ve ever owned. The outer fabric is ripped from any number of encounters with barbed wire while following deer trails. It is stained with pretty much everything a shirt can be stained with: coffee, blood, paint, tomato sauce, and wines from around the world. It has been singed over campfires. It is missing a button from one cuff and two buttons from the front. It is so old that it has started to curl up from the bottom, undoubtedly because the cotton has shrunk from innumerable cycles in a hot dryer, while the polyester lining has not.
Not long ago, I discovered that the shirt has hidden pockets on each side down where the front meets the back. I’d worn the thing for more than a decade before my fingers brushed across these openings for the first time, as I wiped motor oil from my hands. They’re small pockets, unreinforced, but enough to warm cold hands or hold small objects. My trusty old Randy shirt had been keeping a secret all these years. At that moment, I felt a wave of surprise bordering on awe.