The unexpected ease of a T-shirt
Updated: Mar 1, 2022
Lightyears ago, when mingling in large crowds was still possible, I went to a Biennale and all I bought was a T-shirt.
Well, obviously, you might say. It's not like most of us can walk into a Biennale and buy the art.
The thing is that I couldn't remember the last time I had bought a T-shirt. It's safe to say that until that breezy morning in Kochi, I hadn't bought one in over a decade. I stole them from family members and got given some at conferences, wore them to sleep and discarded them as soon as I was able to.
I used to believe that T-shirts belonged to our pasts, and to that small part of our closets dedicated to 'workout clothing', which of course is worn only during the first two weeks of January. T-shirts reminded me of a younger self who shopped at Cottonworld and Tantra (!!!), and who thought that a slogan printed across the front could capture and adequately convey a unique world view. T-shirts were interchangeable and childish. It was silly to buy them. And that was okay, because that's what college is all about - working one's way through one's particular vein of silliness.
And then I wore that same Kochi Biennale T-shirt three times within ten days. I couldn't get enough of it - how it fit me without confining me; how it was soft and comfortable without being gauzy and wispy; how it allowed me to move freely without feeling like I was floating, untethered; how it said just enough about where I had been and what I had done the previous weekend, without becoming an overt statement of expression. It was the perfect, unexpected antidote to the way I had been feeling - tightly wound, deeply driven, over-scheduled, hurried, preoccupied with efficiency. It allowed me to fake an ease I wasn't feeling, to acknowledge what it is that I wanted to fake, and to wonder how long it had been since I had truly felt what I was faking.
My wardrobe has been intricately intertwined with my work, and my work has always been intricately intertwined with my life. I would challenge anyone to look through my clothing and identify the 'work clothes.' I've dressed to convey all manner of things - taste, ambition, whimsy, access, attitude, creativity, mood. Almost every single outfit has taken me from morning to evening to night, from weekday to weekend. Both my wardrobe and my work are two modes with which I have assiduously, earnestly and expertly cultivated my identity.
A T-shirt could never bear up under that kind of weight. And it turns out, after many, many years of striving, neither could I.
That T-shirt, impulsively bought, worn as an experiment, has suddenly and accidentally expanded my vocabulary, both in terms of how I want to look, and how I want to feel. Easy. Wry. Amusing no one but myself. Articulating things less clearly. Expressing less explicitly. Knowing that just showing up is sometimes enough. Taking everything that I have earned, and giving myself permission to wear it lightly.