I like to think of myself a reasonably stylish person. Granted, the only pieces of my wardrobe that hail from New York are a couple pairs of striped socks I got from a Manhattan street vendor and a sweatshirt purchased from a seedy hole in the wall in the Bronx—and I’ll submit the cavernous gap through which I ducked in order to access the store’s singular broken mirror to illustrate the literal nature of my description. But even in the absence of 5th Avenue panache, I like to think that I’m holding my own with off-the-rack finds from Target and JC Penny.
So it was with a dual sense of shock and concern that I faced the realization that an entire segment of my wardrobe is decidedly substandard. Folding laundry on a recent evening in an attempt to stay awake for the Colbert Report, it occurred to me that perhaps none of the t-shirts and sweatpants that comprise my gym and sleepwear collection are the kind of garments I should ever chance being caught dead in; not unlike the underwear my mother used to discourage us from wearing outside the house--you know, the ones with holes and frayed elastic—just in case we became involved in a traffic accident. Maybe it’s just me, but I always figured that if I lost my pants in an accident, I’m looking at bigger problems than second string underwear.
But the specter of sudden disaster looms large as I consider the possibility of being a victim of one of those fires where you escape “with the clothes on your back.” For typical folks, this sort of thinking might be categorized as catastrophic, “worst case” sort of thinking, but—let’s face it—I start a lot of fires. Even without my help, the circa 1930s wiring in my home has been known to smolder on a whim—so I really don’t think that escape-the-flames type musings are that far-fetched. So I see it as entirely likely that I could find myself—should I execute a particularly noteworthy escape--being interviewed on camera in the lawn in front of my burning house, actually modeling the clothes with which I escaped.
Which opens the door to the possibility that I could be on television wearing any number of commemorative t-shirts from 1990s youth events, some sporting archival residue from the actual event—including but certainly not limited to roofing tar from a 1999 work camp, or one of several shirts splotched in a shade of dull green paint from a Mexican house raising a couple summers back. Then there’s the plethora of “thank-you” wear I’ve accumulated from various schools and libraries who have welcomed me in for book readings and writing workshops. A couple shirts—such as the middle school spirit T splotched Mexico-green—even pull double duty. In short, this is fabric that has served hard time—working class cloth from the front lines of life. I like to think of the attire collectively as threadbare pages of a wearable cotton journal.
Now, I’ve heard of people who have used similar clothing to create quilts, effectively transforming an unsightly wardrobe into an instantly-well worn security blanket. Unfortunately, I only know one quilt pattern, a sort of pinwheel affair that I suspect--if applied to my t-shirts—might just render an overall effect of my life tossed in a blender.
Besides, I find it vaguely comforting to surround myself with the experiences I’ve lived, and maybe this sort of wearable history is exactly what I’d want to have on my person in the slightly unlikely event of fire.