The Shirt Off My Back

My favorite shirt now lives in the rag bin waiting for its next life to start.

My favorite shirt now lives in the rag bin waiting for its next life to start.

I wore my favorite shirt for the last time yesterday.

Almost ten years ago, I was clothes shopping for the guy I was dating in the clearance rack at Kmart. I didn’t find anything for him, but I found this orange button up shirt that caught my attention. It was years before orange became a fashion color, so it really stood out. When I touched it, it was 100% cotton with flat felled seams, basic blue jeans construction. And a heavy weight fabric. Except for that orange color, I was in love. I walked around the store and found myself back at that rack, and decided I must own that shirt.

It’s two sizes too big for me. When I roll up the sleeves twice, the roll grazes my wrists. It’s long enough to be a short dress. And it just feel right. It quickly became my comfort shirt, the one item of clothing I wanted to wear day and night. The one I put on when I got home from a tough day. The one that would motivate me to get caught up on laundry when it was dirty. Some days and weeks, it became my uniform.

I put it on yesterday, a comfort choice to help me deal with the schedule and other pressures of my day and week. The front placket is threadbare in places, and there’s a hole where I lost the bottom button several years ago. There are also threadbare spots where the rolled up sleeve hits my desk and keyboard as I work. The shirt is now three sizes too big for me, so I sat at my desk swimming in the softest orange cotton fabric in the world. I reach a stopping point, and leaned back to stretch. I heard the most awful noise as the nearly dry rotted fabric separated from the armpit to the waist, pulling the seam and the front of the shirt from the back. I reached to feel for the damage, and when my hand found flesh, I nearly sobbed out loud.

At first, I thought I would throw the shirt away. I discovered I was reluctant to take it off, knowing it was the last time. I ended up wearing it for several more hours, observing the parade of memories I have linked to that one shirt. When I talked to my mom later that night, she knew exactly which shirt I meant. She suggested that I put it in a frame. “Like a sports jersey?” I asked quizzically, incredulous at her sentimentality over it.

In the end, I decided that I would tear it up into smaller pieces and put it in my rag bin in the garage. This way, small parts of it can help me complete household projects for some time. But I found myself unwilling to tear it up. Instead, it lays in the bin as if it waits for me to put it on once again.

I’ve bought clothing that I loved but didn’t actually like wearing, lots of it, in fact. I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out those items now before I hit the cash register. But finding a comfort item like my orange shirt is rare. There have been other items with outstanding characteristics that should have become wardrobe classics for me, but they never felt right. I’m trusting now that my orange shirt lies in the rag bin, I will find a new comfort shirt soon. It’s time for a new comfort era to start.

About author:

Charlene is the information strategist behind Crow Information Design.

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