For some reason, I still have a shirt that I got when I was in high school. I probably bought it around 1973. It is a blue patterned shirt with a front pocket. The basic label, the one placed under the collar at the back of the neck, has long since fallen off, so there is no way of telling who sewed and sold the shirt way back when. We will never know if it was Sears, or J.C. Penney, or Lazarus, or The Union, or some other long forgotten retail or department store chain.
The only remaining label is a little tag that says the shirt is 50 percent cotton and 50 percent synthetic and is machine-washable. No kidding! The shirt probably has been washed thousands of times — so many times, in fact, that the pattern and color have been worn off the collar, leaving big blank spots. Over the years, the shirt also has become gossamer thin in places, like around the elbows and at the shoulders, where you might stretch the shirt a bit putting it on. Still, it obviously was well-sewn and well-made — the fact that it has survived for more than 30 years is a testament to its quality.
I’m not quite sure why I’ve kept it for so long. It definitely was a favorite shirt in high school and college, worn with the collar open, a Clapton or Neil Young t-shirt underneath, and the sleeves rolled up. It saw its share of classes and desktops, of campus bars and typewriters, of summer internships and newsrooms. At some point — probably when we lived in the D.C. area — I stopped wearing it regularly, and it was placed in the back of the closet. There it nested and remained, without being seen or worn much. I don’t know when I last put it on, but I’m confident it has not been for decades. After a while, the shirt became less an article of clothing and more of an object of tradition to be ritually carted from new home to new home and placed in a closet to keep watch over the other garments.
I’ve now had it for so long that it almost wouldn’t be my home if the shirt weren’t around. In a weird but real way, it is comforting to have an item that I actually had and wore when I was a callow youth. It makes me realize that, under the years and the grey hairs and the pounds, at least a part of that pimply kid still lurks.