The other day I was putting away some clean shirts and I ran out of hangers.
“I have a ton of extra hangers,” my wife called out.
Entering Monica’s closet, I came upon the fanciest hangers I’ve ever seen. The hangers in my closet are all the wire versions, some wrapped in torn paper emblazoned with “Rogers Cleaners,” others with that bent piece of cardboard that can no longer support the weight of a pair of pants.
Monica’s clothes hang on the wings of angels. Some of her hangers are coated in fine velvet. Others appear to be carved from a piece of ancient mahogany. These hangers cost more than my shirts.
I’m not exaggerating.
Every few weeks we donate old clothes to the local thrift shops. And over the years, I’ve acquired 17 shirts from second-hand stores near and far. One haberdasher in particular, the name of which I will not divulge, has been a gold mine for excellently unusual hipster-dad shirts. If it’s some version of plaid/cowboy/two-pocket button-down casual, I’m interested. Typically these shirts cost me $2.50 each. But on “shirt day” they only run me $1.25.
My entire collection of shirts probably cost me $50. It wouldn’t even be that much but for the three priciest shirts which were a whopping $7 each. I found them — brand new, tags still on — at an “estate sale” of possibly stolen merchandise at a mansion in the Berkshire Mountains.
My closet has shirts with strange pieces of decorative metal sewn to them, oddly shaped pockets and shoulder epaulettes. Almost none of them carry a brand I’ve ever heard of. And that’s the way I like it. Middle-aged dads all seem to dress alike. Over the past decade, guys my age have taken to covering their beer bellies with t-shirts bearing comic book heroes, ‘90s rock bands or sarcastic jokes. I might be the only man over 35 who doesn’t own a Captain America t-shirt. And as much as I liked Nirvana, Pink Floyd and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I refuse to wear a replica ‘90s shirt from a store I will not name because I don’t want them to feel targeted.
If only shirts went up in value like Bitcoin. I have a few favorites. One started out as a red shirt, but it has been washed so many times that it’s closer to salmon or pink. The inside of the collar is lined with a Union Jack pattern, giving it a British flair. But then it goes a step further, with a nod to the Rolling Stones, with a visible patch with the words “Start Me Up.” I believe this shirt actually belonged to Mick Jagger.
There’s another gem — a cowboy shirt with snaps that is so thin and airy that it feels like I’m wearing nothing. It’s the sort of shirt that I love now, but one day I’ll look at photos and ask my wife why she let me out of the house with it on. I know this because it’s in approximately half of the photos taken of me in the last two years.
I was forced into buying a new shirt recently. I was walking around Key West and began to notice that the town is so overrun with chickens that the whole place smells like the floor of a chicken coop. As I perused the shelves of Books and Books I kept getting wafts of foul fowl. It’s possible that bookstore owner Judy Blume was standing near me when I realized the barnyard stench was coming from poop that had smeared from the back of a chair to my shirt. I was forced into a Banana Republic Factory Store, where a shirt that hasn’t been owned by one or more people, cost me $29.99 (roughly a dozen thrift-store shirts). It was July in Key West and I almost suffocated in that stiff, unwashed burlap that reeked of fresh dye.
Three months later, I haven’t worn that shirt again. I should donate it — and then maybe buy it back for $1.25.
At the root of all of this is the lesson I’m teaching my children. We live in an era of cheap, disposable clothing — fast fashion. When people compliment my shirts it offers me the opportunity to brag about what I paid for them and “virtue signal” about the sustainability of thrift-store shopping. I’m hoping my kids will appreciate the moral high ground that I occupy in my used attire.
I wear used clothes so my kids don’t have to grow up with the deprivation that Gen Xers like me suffered.
I grew up in a time when you had to walk across the room to change the TV channel and a “playlist” was something you made by waiting all night to tape-record your favorite song from the radio. They’ll wear new clothing and hear their favorite music on demand.
And when they’re grown I’ll never let them forget that they had new toys because dad shopped at Goodwill.