T-shirts are a new member in my wardrobe community. For so, so many years my wardrobe consisted of dresses, dresses, and more dresses (with the old skirt + silky blouse combo). It wasn’t always this way. During my late teens/early twenties I worked at the Bluenotes in the Pickering Town Centre, which was the definition of cool, and I had more t-shirts than any human being should ever have. When I quit smoking and grew out of those t-shirts my fashion shifted and I never replaced the plethora of graphic tees that had held such a beloved space in my wardrobe.
It wasn’t until last summer that I re-discovered just how awesome t-shirts could be — and just how much better they had become since the days of “anything boys can do girls can do better” variety that one could purchase for $14.99 at Bluenotes. It was at this point that more loose fitting high rise jeans were becoming much easier to find. I can’t really remember what came first, the jeans or the tees, but the acquisition of one definitely impacted the other.
I’ve always loved the stories that our clothing can tell about us and the stories that are attached to our clothes: a memory that we have of wearing that dress on a first date, or the night that we wore our jean jacket for the first time we saw our new fav band play. Our clothing holds so many memories. But for me, t-shirts were memory-less. They’re too new to hold stories.
When I was thinking of ideas for a new fashion-focused blog post, I thought: I want to know more about everyone’s fav t-shirt. While I only own 4 t-shirts at the moment, it was easy for me to pick my favourite.
I had been eyeing this tee by Sara Duke for quite some time. But I was having a hard time justifying a $60 purchase as a poor grad student. Then Coal Miner’s Daughter had a 1 day sale on Boxing Day and I basically hopped on the streetcar and brought this baby home.
Why do I love this t-shirt so much? It just spoke to me. I’ve been feeling really burnt out due to ongoing chronic health problems and I loved the idea of having a t-shirt that expressed exactly how I was feeling. But my real love for this shirt grew exponentially after I purchased it. Every time I wear it, I’ll get multiple comments from strangers who look, nod, and say “me too.”
While some folks don’t always want to have conversations with strangers — and I definitely have those moments — I’ve been thinking a lot about how we’ve been trained to avoid moments of connection with people we don’t know. We look at our phone, put our headphones on, give a surly look that says “don’t you even think about talking to me.” And sometimes we really just do need some time for ourselves.
But I also think that we need to push back against our fear of, as I like to call it, “owning our affect.” I used to have this habit. When someone would ask me how I was doing, I would say “I’m great. Amazing. Fantastic.” And I’d smile so as to prove the point. But many years ago, my therapist at the time said to me “you know Margeaux, you don’t have to be great all the time. It’s okay to just be okay.” What she said was so simple, but I’ll tell you IT BLEW MY MIND! I’ve gotten a lot better about owning my affect with friends and with strangers. I might not break down and tell a stranger all of the reasons why I’m feeling fatigué, but when I wear this shirt, it feels like I’m giving both of us an opportunity to say “yeah, I feel you.”
When I bought this shirt I had been feeling really tired as a result of ongoing chronic illness. The t-shirt became even more poignant after I was diagnosed with anemia this month. Now when I wear it, it really feels like I’m not just owning my affect, but I’m acknowledging that I’m sick — and that feels like a really important gesture.
I’ll often put out calls on social media for folks to share their stories and I get pretty good results. When I put out this call, I received messages from a whole bunch of folks in less than 5 mins. T-shirts, it turns out, are a popular subject. Hope you enjoy the stories that they have to share!
“Wearing this phrase feels like wearing psychic reinforcement.”
Sarah: I made this t-shirt with a stencil and spray paint five years ago. It’s the second one I’ve made with this text on it; the first one I wore into this faded, exhausted sail that’s totally illegible and shapeless, though I still wear it around the house. The text is a line from the Lisa Robertson book ‘The Apothecary’. She’s one of my favourite poets – someone who is able to precision-drill down to the core of an idea. Wearing this phrase feels like wearing psychic reinforcement.
“…my questionable commitments to cringe-worthy bee humour.”
Morgan: I’m a complete sucker for a good pun (and who doesn’t love bees?!). So when one of my best friends and I stumbled across these t-shirts last year it was a no brainer. We’re housemates now and on days we both end up wearing the same shirt we usually end up shouting “BOOBEES!” so loud our downstairs neighbour probably (definitely) hates us. I also have bees tattooed just above my knees – probably the hardest I’ve ever committed to a terrible joke. And so on summer days when I’m feeling particularly obnoxious I’ll wear the shirt with shorts or a skirt short enough to see my questionable commitments to cringe-worthy bee humour. (You can buy the shirt here)
“…I think of self care, art, and beauty.”
Letticia: I know the premise of this post was to choose our favourite t-shirt and give our reasons why said t-shirt means so much to us. Well, I’ve never worn this t-shirt and I don’t feel any sentimentality towards it (yet), but it’s my favourite all the same. This is a luxurious t-shirt—duh. It’s a sweet portmanteau illustration of Solange and Frida Kahlo—Black and Latinx magic personified. When I think of these two women I think of self care, art, and beauty. Who knew that some pieces of cloth could embody all of my 2017 #goals? (You can buy this top by Alice Zhang at Victoire)
“…it allows me to feel strong and more androgynous than I would in other shirts.”
Christine: T-shirts have been a staple in my wardrobe for as long as I can remember. Band t-shirts even moreso once I started going to shows in my early teens. The memories attached to band t-shirts is probably one of the deeper reasons I continue to hold onto some shirts long after I’ve lost interest in the band, or after they become unwearable from continued use. Situationally, my life has been filled with instability for the past few years, and as such, I have acquired and lost more t-shirts than I can count. The shirt I chose for this photo isn’t necessarily my favourite t-shirt, but it was one I like a lot for its simplicity and comfort. And like 99% of my wardrobe, it’s black. I chose it because this worn-in and baggy men’s t-shirt allows me to feel comfortable with my body and in how I choose to present myself; it allows me to feel strong and more androgynous than I would in other shirts. I also appreciate the neutrality that a shirt like this one provides, in colour, presentation, and in sentiment. Truth is, I would have had a much more difficult time deciding on a band t-shirt because each one carries memories and significant sentimental value and it would have been impossible to choose one out of the limited few I brought with me.
“…it makes me feel gay as hell.”
Jordaan: My favourite t-shirt is this one that my friend, the poet / witch Moss Angel, designed. The shirt says I AM A TRASHBAG OF ROSES on it in black ink with pink roses that have glittery gold leaves. I like wearing it because it makes me feel gay as hell and it accurately describes how I feel pretty much all of the time. Also it’s incredibly soft and looks nice with a leather vest. What more can you ask for in a shirt?
“…there’s really nothing I care less about than being concerned with ‘compensating for femininity.'”
Melina: I stopped wearing t-shirts in my late teens. It was unintentional, but somehow my entire wardrobe consisted of tanks and strange blouses. Later on in young adulthood, I had very short hair and felt like I had to compensate my femininity by avoiding structured or basic clothing; I essentially never wore tees unless I was sleeping in them, and even then they would belong to a partner. About a year and a half ago, I was sifting through a vintage shop and spotted this ratty thin cotton shirt, dotted with holes and almost long enough to pass as a dress. I threw it on and for whatever reason, immediately loved it- – faded text and all. And even though I still sport various stages of short hair, there’s really nothing I care less about than being concerned with “compensating for femininity.” This shirt ended up being the gateway to now owning a handful of tees. But admittedly none are as comfortable and easy as Richard’s Roofing. Oftentimes it’ll go missing from my closet, only to find my boyfriend coming home wearing it. It looks great on him too, and I’m convinced anyone who puts it on will find it fits perfectly in its own way.
“I always thought of clothing as very utilitarian…”
Em: For a long time I was raised with the belief that embracing one’s own fashion was meant only for people who were feminine and also of a more financially privileged position. Becoming more in touch with my feminine side has made me feel more comfortable treating myself kindly and appreciating aesthetic elements of my persona. My wardrobe has shifted because I now enjoy clothing that makes me feel good, which is also befittingly feminine sometimes. As a punk who only recently began embracing their more feminine side, I always thought of clothing as very utilitarian and band shirts were a natural extension of that. Lord Snow is the name of the band which is filled with friends I made through years of touring and playing shows around the midwest. This shirt in particular reminds me of long drives to play some basement somewhere in the Rust Belt with people who were very important to me. I think I purchased this shirt from the band directly in Grand Rapids, Michigan during Spring a number of years ago.
“this T-shirt reminds me of how important our lesbian archival history is…”
Jenna: My original pick for this was actually a Jennifer Castle T-shirt that read “Truth is the freshest fruit,” but friend currently has it right now. So my second best pick for is “The Future is Female” made in collaboration with Otherwild (queer and feminist store in LA and NYC ) and with Herstory. I love this T-shirt because it reminds me of how important our lesbian archival history is, or more importantly how we re-vision our histories. As Adrienne Rich once said: “re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for woman more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society.” This t-shirt has inspired me to think about the history of lesbian feminism and the aesthetics of queer archives as both an inspiration of the past and also a critical revision and recalibration to our present moment where fighting a white-settler, ableist, heterosexist and cis-centric state is about learning from our past mistakes and entering a new time with a ‘critical direction.’fashion, t-shirts, tees
This post was written by Margeaux