Old Shirts

Here’s to a long and lasting relationship

By Brian Doyle | November 21, 2014


First of course there are the old dress shirts, the ones you wear to work, the one with the slightly torn shirttail from the time a child held on with both hands in the park and there was a ripping sound and you both fell down laughing, but that’s a small tear, all things considered, and who is going to see it anyway, and a huge part of you doesn’t want to repair it anyways because every time you wear that shirt you grin and think of the kid slaloming behind you and falling down laughing, which is a great thing to think of.

Then there are the other older dress shirts that have been gently and meticulously stitched here and there because why would you buy new shirts when you can just fix that tiny hole? Especially considering all you do in that shirt is sit there and type, it’s not like your shirt is a pristine spiffy important uniform shirt or anything. All we need shirtwise is to be generally presentable, am I right?

Then there are the old shirts you wear at home, your house shirts, and these are the excellent kind of shirts that just get better with age and softer as the years go by. Some of those shirts are older than the kids, and why in heaven’s name would you abandon a perfectly good home shirt that just gets better with age, even if some people in the family are disgruntled when someone wears the same shirt six nights in a row? What’s wrong with wearing the same shirt six nights in a row? Is this house a fashion show during which we are expected to change shirts every few minutes to satisfy the flickering attention spans of the unfortunates who are addled by the overstimulus of their personal communication devices? On the contrary we should celebrate a man in a loving and committed relationship, even if it is with a shirt, and salute him for not succumbing to the allure and flirtation offered by newer shirts. I do not think we sufficiently honor a deeply committed relationship to, for example, that excellent logger shirt that gets softer every decade, but maintains its structural integrity in amazing ways.

Then there are the old T-shirts that also serve as home shirts, and here I would speculate that every man has three to five of these, shirts that are comfortable and fit just right, and are not lewd and lurid, and may or may not have emotional or nostalgic value, such as shirts from an alma mater or that first trip to Hawaii. These shirts, when they give up the ghost, can be sent to the rag bag without undue regret, for they are essentially utilitarian, the shirts you wear while doing errands, or walking the wolf, or fixing that damned window, or watching the playoffs, or making dinner, or basking in the late summer afternoon while sipping an excellent ale and wondering if that enormous bird in the distance is an eagle or an osprey.

And then finally there are the few treasured secret shirts in the fourth drawer of your bureau—the shirts you never wear, and never will wear, but will never throw away or send to the rag bag; the shirts you may very well keep the rest of your life on earth: the first basketball jersey you earned; the shirt you wore while coaching your sons when they were little; the basketball jersey from that hilarious summer league in Boston; your brother’s favorite shirt, handed to you wordlessly by his widow afterward; the shirt you and your friends and brothers all wore the day before you were married. That sort of shirt. You know the sort of shirt I mean. The sort of shirt that stays folded carefully in that drawer, and sometimes you open the drawer, and inhale the delicious scent, and maybe take them out and run your hands over them and even smell them surreptitiously, and then you fold them again with affection and reverence and some other feeling you cannot find words for, and put them away, and open a higher drawer, and haul out an old surfing shirt, and go make dinner.


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