Lilian Min
April 20, 2018 12:40 pm
HelloGiggles/Lilian Min

Hey you, reader. We just started a new column called Hey, Where’d You Get That, because how many times have you stopped a stranger on the street, or turned to a friend or co-worker and asked, “Hey, where’d you get that?” If you’re reading this, we’re guessing this happens frequently. Which is why we’ll be showcasing the “street” and “office” style of the HelloGiggles community. The staff and contributor network of HelloGiggles has an eclectic style — no human dresses the same, or frequents the same stores. And rather than get hung up on labels and brands and trends, we want to talk about the way clothes make us FEEL. There is so much emotion tied to the way we dress, and we want to share that intimate style narrative with you. Wanna submit your #OOTD story? E-mail us at pitches@hellogiggles.com!

I am not a particularly touchy-feely person, which is why it startled me when strangers started compulsively grabbing The Shirt. Let me explain.

I was 18, in Los Angeles fresh from central New Jersey farmlands, and learning all about the ritual of Going Out to Parties. I saved my Wet Seal skirts and Forever 21 tops for frat row, but when my floormates and I went out to house parties, I would wear The Shirt out over jeans or shorts, and without fail, by the end of the night, someone would have latched onto a sleeve and yelled into my ear, voice straining against Skrillex thrumming through the air: “HEY, I LOVE YOUR SHIRT.”

The Shirt has always inspired conversation, but it was only when I started wearing it in college and then adulthood that I started to really get complimented on it. It hints at a cross-section of nostalgic interests; imagine Shirley Temple exclaiming, “Celestial objects, extinct monsters, and mythical creatures, oh my!”

Sometimes, it’s the unicorns that draw someone’s praise. Other times, someone will gush over the T-rexes and slightly frowning brontosauruses, and I will know they’d enjoyed Jurassic World. Or, someone will authoritatively try to identify the various planets patterned randomly across, or delightfully point out the space shuttles or UFOs as though I, The Shirt’s wearer, weren’t aware of them.

I’m not trying to be salty but, to this day, I still can’t explain why — out of a wardrobe that includes an iridescent skater dress, petal pink overalls, and a shirt printed with many of Jenny Holzer’s Truisms — it’s The Shirt that sucks in people’s attention and adoration like a black hole. I know the whole story: I bought The Shirt when I was 12 or 13 from my local mall’s Hot Topic. The exact brand’s logo is no longer visible, but in my memory, I remember an aqua outline of a cartoon face.

Which is to say, I have no ability to track down The Shirt’s origins outside of the what little I remember about my initial point of purchase. When I tell people this, their admiration fluctuates; The Shirt is not something you can Pin or bookmark. Instead it’s a fluke keepsake, one whose acquisition can no longer be replicated in this timeline.

It’s weird to me now, for people to ask me where I got The Shirt, where they could get it. The rise of nerdy/geeky consumer culture had started bleeding into the mainstream when I was still in grade school, but not with the disconcertingly pervasive spread it has now. Hot Topic is no longer a place you (or teen me) would have to slink into; the chain has, as it did a decade ago, collections with Disney, anime series, and teen shows. The difference now is that, it seems, people are so much more willing to wear their “childish” allegiances on their literal sleeves.

HelloGiggles/Lilian Min

That the markers of my outsider status as a kid (mall goth fashion, interest in fantasy and animation) are now read, long after the fact, as a kind of coolness edged in, alternately, nostalgia and/or curated #aesthetic, is fine? None of that was bundled up with my intention when I got The Shirt: I was just a nerd trawling for anime and band merchandise. I’d liked the unicorns, and the dinosaurs, and the planets and aliens and spaceships, just as people do now.

But I’d also liked the glittery logo tees from Limited Too. I’d wished my parents would let me go into Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister. I hadn’t even known what thrifting was. (Buying… used clothes? Quelle horreur.) The Shirt had been a concession to interests that I’d viewed as shameful and strange, or at least nothing to flaunt with pride. That it now acts as a flare for attention can be confusing at best, and feel condescending at worst.

These days, The Shirt is riddled with giant holes. There’s one near my right boob that, if not properly placed, exposes my nipple. The entire body of The Shirt is translucent, the weave held together by prayers, I guess. I almost never wear it out by itself, but it carries so much emotional weight I’ve never been able to throw it out either. I wear it as pajamas, or under shorteralls that hint at, but don’t expose, the whole pattern. I guess it’s forever stuck in wardrobe purgatory.

Occasionally, I’ll click on roundups of celebrities sharing their most beloved possessions. The Shirt is on my own shortlist: a material bridge between a past that seems more relevant than ever, and a present that still grapples with old psychic hang-ups.

What about The Shirt made me somehow approachable in a way that my own self wasn’t? What does the rise of fandom-aligned fashion say about the world at large, and does this, and would this ever, translate to the actual sea change of social hierarchies? My gut reactions to both questions are, “I don’t know,” and then, “I don’t know, but probably not.” Because of, or maybe despite that, I’ll continue to wear The Shirt in whatever way I can. Not proudly, but plainly, my younger self’s cautious shadow striding right behind.

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