The Mysterious Shirt

I’m sitting here in a cast-off/picked-up shirt, and it reminded me of this story about another cast-off/picked-up shirt. This essay might have run in Strut! Magazine, I can’t remember. In any event, I’m sharing it again:

The Mysterious Shirt
My sister gave me this shirt. At the time, she was living in my basement. I told everyone the basement was finished because I didn’t want them thinking the room was dark and dank, my sister’s living quarters dirt-floored and unheated. If I’d had a different life, the basement might have sported a pool table and wet bar, but my sister was living there so it had a twin bed and homemade shelves holding her sweaters and other clothes.
So, anyway, she gives me this shirt. I was a lawyer at the time with a big, important legal practice, and I walked around town wearing this shirt. The town was a small place, even if it was the state capital. Everyone knew everyone; everyone knew everyone’s business. Most importantly, people paid attention to what other folks were wearing. Like I said, small town.
The shirt my sister gave me was very distinctive. Its silk swirled turquoise and orange; the fit was kind of flappy in an oversized way. It buttoned down the front. I wore it with a black skirt. I considered it very stylish, a definite choice; you didn’t wear such a shirt by accident.
Then my sister tells me that, actually, her boyfriend gave her the shirt. The boyfriend’s ex-wife had moved out of the house and left a pile of clothes. The boyfriend, cleaning up, had run across the shirt behind the bathroom door and given it to my sister.
Really, it wasn’t a house the ex-wife left. My sister’s boyfriend lived in a warehouse above a restaurant, and the ex-wife moved out of the warehouse. And it wasn’t really a restaurant, it was a honky-tonk. When people would walk into the place, they’d sniff and say, “This place smells funny.” The boyfriend would say, “What do you think – it’s a honky-tonk!” He lived in an apartment in the warehouse above the honky-tonk. The ex-wife moved out of the honky-tonk and left the shirt in a pile of clothes on the floor behind the bathroom door.
Hunh, I thought.
Someone else’s shirt. Kind of, in a way. Abandoned but then picked up and passed around until it came to me: a pick-me-up, hand-me-around kind of shirt.
Which I wore. Frequently. Publicly. Ostentatiously.
Who knows, I could’ve walked past the boyfriend’s ex-wife on one of my downtown strolls. The woman would’ve done a double-take, thinking, how’d that chick get my shirt? I would’ve strutted on by, oblivious.
Or she could have accosted me. As I understood it, the wife’s break-up with the boyfriend wasn’t pretty. So the ex-wife could’ve jerked me by the arm, pulled me to the side. She would’ve demanded to know where I got the shirt. Unawares, I would’ve told her it was a gift from my sister, and she’d have thought, Aha!
She might have said, “Give it to me” then yanked. Tried to take the shirt right off my back. I might’ve wound up with my picture in the newspaper wearing the shirt, half-on, half-flapped off, a startled look on my face.
It wouldn’t have mattered. Even after I became aware of the dangers presented by the shirt, I continued to wear it. I liked the idea of me, the important lawyer, strutting around town in a stolen shirt. Or at least an unauthorized shirt. It made me feel a little edgy. Like I wasn’t really a boring, follow-the-rules, nothing-interesting-ever-happens-to-you lawyer.
“Yes,” I would’ve said if anyone stopped me on the sidewalk. “I get my shirts off unknown bathroom floors.”
That’s the kind of woman I am.
One who wears mysterious shirts.

borrowed clothes, ex-wife, ex-wife's clothes, fight over a shirt, the exciting lawyer, used clothing, vintage clothes

Comments (3)

  • I love hand-me-downs. Ever since the employment drought of 2009 when our family had to do some fiscal belt-tightening, we have all become fans of 2nd hand stores. Your shirt sounds devine and an image-buster to boot.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I, too, love hand-me-downs! This love manifests mostly in me buying vintage, but I was reminded of this essay because I was wearing a t-shirt left behind at my family’s beach reunion. The truth is, I love clothes once loved by others.

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