At least once a year (and New Year’s is as good-a-time as any) I shuffle through my drawers and closet to remove what’s out of style, rarely worn or worn too much. Yet over the years I have amassed a large stack of mostly shirts in the tip-top corner of my closet that I will never wear and never discard. Some are too rotted and ruined by holes to wear again. Others are so tight that donning them in public would be obscene (shrinkage, naturally, not weight gain). And every year I find myself adding a few more pieces to that pile, rather than throwing them out.
Those shirts tell stories I don’t ever want to forget.
A dozen gold, cotton screen-printed tees remind me of college road trips and moments in the student section cheering a basketball team with friends I love dearly. And I know that hundreds of miles away, those guys still have theirs stashed somewhere, too. There’s another tee, Nike with a baseball print, that I wore the entire time my best friend and I after his high school graduation spent a weekend in Myrtle Beach on just $100.
Items like those are mementos we cling to from moments that can’t be bottled and stored. Years later a T-shirt reminds us of the rolled-down windows in a hand-me-down Mazda on the way to Myrtle Beach. Something between the loose threads and peeling screen-prints helps us feel how things used to be. But more importantly, a man’s clothes can also help write his next story. There’s a charcoal suit with dusty shoulders hanging in the corner of my closet.
I haven’t worn it in years. Mom and Dad bought it at Men’s Wearhouse for my first job interview after college. That $200 suit conveyed their support of the roads in front of me. And when I buttoned the jacket, laced the wingtips and pulled the red power tie snug, it told everyone (myself included) I was pushing forward. And my favorite story: There’s a pink-and-green striped polo in that pile in my closet. It was given to me on my 22nd birthday by a crush that would become my wife.
Sure, it’s just a shirt with pink stripes now faded to almost gray. But that day, in that mall, that girl was sharing her style with me and inviting me closer. And by wearing it often I made a statement in return: I’m with her.
When I asked Ashley to marry me a few years later, I wore that shirt. I wanted her to know on that day, and every day after in the photographs of our engagement: I’m with her. That’s the true value in fashion, isn’t it? Worn with purpose, our garments are a pen in our hands. Sure, our favorite clothes remind us of our favorite stories. But the best pieces are the ones that helped write the story in the first place.
By the end of 2015, let’s put a few more of those in our keeper piles.