Let us return to the fantasy world of (purveyors of goods to the gay), last visited for a viewing of the Cactus Swim Brief. Now this remarkable mailing:

I’ll talk about three things, in order: the Define X trope; the homoerotic display; and the garment categories and their labels (the 10percent site labels this particular item a scrimmage t-shirt).

Define X. The expression “define X” can of course be a simple imperative, asking for a definition of X, as a request for information (you don’t know the meaning of the expression X, and you think the person you’re addressing does know and is willing to tell you) or as a test (you do know the meaning of X, and you’re testing someone about what they know). But most uses of Define X are more indirect than this: you’re asking not about what X means, but what someone intends to convey by their use of X; in the case at hand, pretty much everyone has a grasp of what boyfriend covers (NOAD2: “a regular male companion with whom one has a romantic or sexual relationship” — note studious gender-neutrality), but you can be uncertain about what someone has in mind when they use the word in a particular context. Quite often the effect of Define X is then to challenge the other person’s use of the word, though in a joking way, but maybe to the point of in-your-face snarkiness.

I think the trope has had a fairly recent fashion, though that’s hard to check by web searches, because the pattern is so short and because straightforward uses of define get in the way.

2. Homoerotic coding. The model’s body is presented in such a heavily sexualized way, I just don’t know where to start. The guy comes not from the real world, but from Gayland (see the shirt-lifting discussion here).

Of the several possible presentations as gay, this model is doing the most reliable, evergreen one, as hypermasculine. Places like 10percent and Undergear manage to present some heavily butch numbers in absurdly faggy clothes, but this guy is butch squared, all Real Man — ripped, heavily muscular body; scruffy facial hair; sweatband on his arm, signifying serious athleticism — and the scrimmage t-shirt locates him in locker rooms for players of contact sports, an association strengthened by the background logo on the shirt, which presents him as a player on a lacrosse team. Up to a point, the one item of real clothing he’s wearing cries out butch.

That point is the legend DEFINE “BOYFRIEND”, which is unmistakably queer. The message is that you can be butch as all get-out and still be really really gay — a message from the Clone Days of 30 years ago, since amplified by leathermen and other really butch types (seen in gay porn from Joe Gage’s films through Jeff Stryker’s surly topman character to a long series of Titan films).

And along with being really really gay goes being sexually enticing, displaying your body for hot-hot man-man sex. One virtue of the scrimmage t-shirt is that it displays your abs to good advantage  without shirt-lifting — not, I think, what football players had in mind when they took up this garment, but a point appreciated by young women seeking to display their midriffs engagingly in “midriff t-shirts” or “half t-shirts”, which have been in fashion for a while now.

In addition, the scrimmage t-shirt in the ad is sleeveless (by no means the norm for such shirts), which allows the model to fully display both his highly developed biceps and his armpit hair (accentuated here by his raised right arm). The armpit display is a classic in visual materials aimed at gay men — it’s rare in materials for straight audiences — and gets its punch by offering the armpit to be sniffed and licked (a fair number of gay men are really into armpits).

The double armpit display is not at all uncommon in materials aimed at gay men, but in this case the model’s left arm is otherwise engaged — his left hand is more or less covering his crotch, nevertheless leaving tantalizing hints of his balls and dick — and isn’t available for exposing his other armpit.

Yes, your guy is naked except for his decorative scrimmage t-shirt, providing you with instant access to his goodies. All he has to do is move that hand out of the way, perhaps so he can cradle your head in his hand as you go down on him.

Now compare this guy with one from the American Jock Clothing website, also in a scrimmage t-shirt (AJC: a “football scrimmage men’s t-shirt”, elsewhere described as a “scrimmage tee”):

The AJC guy’s t-shirt has sleeves, his arms are down at his sides, he’s clean-shaven, and his crotch is covered, probably with exercise shorts. I’d guess that his hair is considerably longer than our first guy’s (though the first guy’s hair is obscured in the photo). So he’s presented as straight, while the first guy is presented as gay.

However, things aren’t always as simple as they might seem. The relevant section of the AJC site is for “Whitey Tighties” underwear for men (I have discussions of this underwear terminology here and here), described as “sexy-provocative, fashionable and fun!” Hmm. That doesn’t sound like a text from an athletic supplies store aimed at straight guys. Then it turns out that the lines of Whitey Tighties that AJC carries are much the same as the (heavily gay-oriented) ones that 10percent carries.

It looks like while 10percent is unabashedly aimed at gay men, AJC (like Undergear) is looking for a cross-over audience. AJC carries a lot of merchandise that would appeal to gay men, but its ads aren’t particulary gay-coded. So if you want to you can imagine that the guy in the second photo is indeed gay, but he’s Regular Guy gay (Regular Guy is another recognized “type”, one favored by a fair number of gay men, who are as put off by strongly Butch types as they are by what they see as “faggy” types).

3. Categories and labels. I’ve been using scrimmage t-shirt to refer to the garment type in question. The category is pretty easily differentiated from other categories of t-shirts, though it’s a crowded field; see the Wikipedia entry for “sleeveless shirt” to get some appreciation of the complexities (with somewhat different categories for men’s and women’s shirts, and considerable variation in terminology in different countries).

[Note: I don’t distinguish T-shirt, T shirt, t-shirt, t shirt, tee-shirt, tee shirt, T, and tee, though some people probably do draw some distinctions here.]

There are A-shirts (this seems to be a semi-technical term), which have neither sleeves nor a neckband and encompass both tank tops and garments variously called wife-beaters, singlets, vests, or some offensive things like Guinea tees and Dago tees (from their presumed Italian origins); your classic (full) T-shirts; and I-shirts (another semi-technical term), T-shirts with their sleeves missing.

Plus those top-half-only T-shirts that we started with. It looks like scrimmage T-shirt is the most satisfactory name in American English, but it’s not perfect, since the term is also widely used in the U.S. for full T-shirts bearing the name of a football team and worn in, yes, scrimmages (or worn by people who would like to think that they could participate in a scrimmage, even if they don’t).

The sleeveless scrimmage tee in the first photo is (apparently) sometimes called a cropped scrimmage tee, which is clear though wordy. Unfortunately, cropped t-shirt is also used, reasonably enough, for bottomless scrimmage t-shirts. And scrimmage t-shirts are mostly (but not only) for men, though half t-shirts and midriff t-shirts (or midriff tops) seem to be very predominantly for women (or little girls).

And of course anything made of a “feminine” fabric (silk, anything lacy, etc.) is strictly for women. Or for playful fags.

11 Responses to “DEFINE “SCRIMMAGE T-SHIRT””

  1. The Ridger Says:

    There are A-shirts (this seems to be a semi-technical term), which have neither sleeves nor a neckband and encompass both tank tops and garments variously called wife-beaters, singlets, vests, or some offensive things like Guinea tees and Dago tees (from their presumed Italian origins);

    “Wife-beater” is a name that is far more offensive to me than the ethnic-slur ones. I find it astonishing that it’s become so mainstream.

  2. wife-beaters « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] By arnoldzwicky The Ridger/Karen writes, in a comment on my “scrimmage t-shirt” posting, about A-shirts: “Wife-beater” is a name that is far more offensive to me than the ethnic-slur […]

  3. Big J Says:

    I wore those T-shirts when playing football. They were designed to cover the part of the upper body that shoulder pads would cover, thus preventing chafing. The bottom part was missing to allow greater cooling, as this was the South.

    When we would do a light scrimmage, which meant w/o pads, we would wear shorts and a scrimmage T, also often called a “shimmy shirt.”

    This usage was very common in the 60’s and 70’s in Texas.

  4. Cecily Says:

    Arnold, with this photo and the Cactus Swim Brief in quick succession, your excellent blog is in danger of becoming NSFW. Is there any chance of “enshrinking” the images where they might startle passers by?

  5. Giving offense « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] By arnoldzwicky Cecily’s 5/20 comment on my “SCRIMMAGE T-SHIRT” posting of 5/1: Arnold, with this photo and the Cactus Swim Brief in quick succession, your excellent blog […]

  6. Golden State Rufskin tit « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] for another posting, to come, on (men’s) underwear terminology (see, most recently, here and here), I now offer you a draft poem inspired by one of the images I started with. The image […]

  7. Underwear gods « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] AZBlog, 5/1/10: DEFINE “SCRIMMAGE T-SHIRT” (link) […]

  8. Sark « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] So a cutty sark would have been the 18th-century analogue of the modern scrimmage t-shirt or cropped scrimmage shirt (for guys) or half t-shirt or midriff t-shirt (for girls) (see here). […]

  9. images of define define - Pin it! | PinitPin it Says:

    […] images of define […]

  10. pinnies | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] like a sports shirt commonly called a scrimmage t-shirt or scrimmage tee (illustrated and discussed here) , but it seems that reversability is a crucial characteristic of […]

  11. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Robin Hamilton on ADS-L 4/10/17:

    From: Arnold Zwicky :[on the A-shirt]:

    It is a sleeveless, buttonless shirt with shoulder straps that leave most of the shoulders bare. Sometimes known as a “tank top” (a term that in my experience refers only to women’s clothing) or less politely “wife-beater”.

    In Scotland, this is called a “semmit” [in my idiolect, rhyming with “limit”], as famously worn by Rab C. Nesbitt.

    The Scottish National Dictionary has it going back to 1865. I’d be inclined to add “cotton” (as the commonest material, in my experience) to “wool or flannel” in the definition below.



    SEMMIT, n. Also sem(m)et, se(a)mit, semmad (Cai.). A man’s (or ‡woman’s) undershirt or vest, usu. of wool or flannel (m. and s.Sc. 1869 Athenaeum (13 March) 382, Dmf. 1899 Country Schoolmaster (Wallace) 352; Gall. 1904 E.D.D.). Gen.Sc.[′sɛmɪt]

    SEMMIT, n. Add variants seemit, simmit Add to defin.: Alter defin. to: A vest, orig.

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