The way runners view these shirts can be broken down into 6 categories.
- Although you pay for the event shirt when you register, you must earn the right to wear it by completing the event. If you do not finish the race, for any reason, you are not entitled to wear the shirt (period).
- Same as number 1, but you have to earn the right to wear the shirt, by either a) finishing, or b) trying like hell to finish but being unable to through no voluntary choice of your own.
- You buy the shirt when you register. It's just another shirt with some promotional stuff on it for a cool event that benefits a good cause. Wear your shirt with impunity, but only after the event.
- Same as number 3, but it is ok to wear the shirt when training for the event and after the event, but not during the event.
- It's your shirt, wear it whenever and wherever you want, including during the race. Celebrate your involvement in a great event!
- Race T-shirts and technical shirts aren't good for much other than mowing the lawn and doing various other work around the house, anyway.
- The shirts are never fashionable enough to wear for anything.
So, what would lead someone to buy the event shirt (by registering - they're not free you know), and then withhold it from themselves until they proved they deserved it by completing the event (1 above)? It mostly seems to be guilt. The thought of either being reminded of the disappointment of not finishing by wearing the shirt, or reliving it by having to explain it if someone asks about the shirt, is unfathomable.
I guess others (2 above) feel that they would not be embarrassed by a failure to finish if it was due to circumstances beyond their control. Still others attach no particular significance to the shirt as a trophy item that provides evidence you finished or gave your best effort in the event (3-5 above), but some of those have a varying view on when and where it's appropriate to where the shirts, while the rest seem to think the shirts aren't very comfortable or fashionable, in any event (5,6 above), so they either never wear them at all, or wear them only around the house for sleeping or yard work.
I guess I can understand all of these views, but I am a Type 3 personality on the scale above. I feel like I bought the shirt, and attach no particular significance to wearing it, except that I think it's great to advertise running events by wearing the shirts when you can, to benefit the good causes each race benefits.
Plus, I don't really think that other people pay much attention to what my shirt says, and I'm not afraid to explain to someone that I was disappointed not to finish, but still think the event is great and want to give it another shot the following year. Of course, I've finished every race I've registered for so far (knock on wood), so I haven't been faced with the need to explain a DNF.