These Shirts Were a Choice

Welcome to These Shirts, my personal summer concert series, where I’ll catalogue some shirts in my home and share their stories with you. The title of this three-part series was inspired by what will surely be remembered as one of my most lasting and influential Autostraddle works, These Cashews. (Titling it “These Shirts” was Yvonne’s idea and that’s how you know she’s a genius, because as I was lying on Sarah’s yoga mat on the cabin floor in the mountains of southern California, battling scarlet bronchitis pneumonia and pitching this series to my fellow senior editors’ backs while they were talking to each other, it all seemed like another useless and possibly unreasonable dream until Yvonne named it, and then we could all see how true and real it was.) The series itself is inspired by the book Worn Stories by Emily Spivack, as well as the list I pitched but never wrote in 2015, Top 12 Shirts I’ve Stolen From You, which was meant as a tribute to my long-suffering wife, Megan, of course.

This first installment of the series is dedicated to the shirts I purchased brand new, of my own accord and volition, usually in an effort to invent or reinvent myself, all to great success and approval from my peers I’m sure.

RVCA T-Shirt

Fall 2010

A blue t-shirt with a red graphic design, with short sleeves, hanging against a white brick wall.

We published an extremely popular post in October 2010 titled How to Make Gay Friends and Meet Queer Girls: The Ultimate Guide to Effective Queer Socializing, and though our advice was stellar and I’m sure not riddled with any sort of outdated language or bizarre formatting issues, the real party started in the comments, when people started shouting out where they lived and wondering if they were all alone or if there were any other Autostraddle readers in their vicinity. The little shouts just popped up, one after the other, city after city. And lo, many times there were indeed other readers in their vicinities. People started sharing their email addresses so they could try out these queer socializing skills on each other in person, in the safety of their shared weirdness and willingness. It snowballed to 1,205 comments, and we just sat back and watched in wonder. “Oh my god all they needed was an excuse to find each other.” And then we did what any level-headed, community oriented group of late-twenties queers would do: we turned this enthusiasm into a) another post, yes, several of them actually, but also b) a full-blown international meetup event, our first ever. We called it International Meet an Autostraddler Week and forced our staff to host meetups in their cities (a tradition we’ve lovingly upheld through the years) (‘forced’ is a strong word, maybe ‘convinced’ is better). This also included me, and I was terrified.

I scheduled the Phoenix area meetup to coincide with my mom coming into town so she could watch the kids, which is a very normal thing to do when you don’t know anyone in your city and are afraid of hiring babysitters. Then I had to find something to wear. I think this was at the tail-end of my Threadless phase, when I’d mostly transitioned out of graphic tees and into v-necks. The v-necks weren’t the American Apparel kind, but these heathered earth tone situations that the woman I was dating at that time would buy for me at Whole Foods. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t grateful, but to illustrate that I wasn’t making this choice myself. I wanted to feel confident and look like myself for this meetup, and I had to figure out what that meant, which, haha good luck.

I’d been wanting to try this new look, maybe you’ve heard of it, it’s when you wear leggings as pants and pair them with an oversized shirt and chunky boots. Have you ever imagined such a cutting edge look on a mom nearing 30?? Well I hadn’t and I shadn’t because I was a grown woman trying to move through this merciless world with grace and dignity and respect. But I really wanted to try leggings as pants before my time on this planet was all used up, so that’s what I did.

I found this RVCA shirt at a Tilly’s in one of the many, many strip malls in this gorgeous desert I call home and also hell. Or was it a PacSun? Truly, it does not matter. I found the largest shirt with the most chill graphic and there I was, on my way to an awkward dimly lit night that would actually change my life.

I met two people at the meetup who lived just down the road from me, and we made plans to meet again. One of them lived extremely just down the road, like literally around the corner, and sometimes at night we’d each walk to the midpoint between us and sit on the sidewalk and talk about… I don’t remember, but I think we were both sad. I was sad for sure. One time we all three met at the her house for brunch, and she’d made these amazing stuffed acorn squash. We had drinks on her patio and were just honest about ourselves. It wasn’t as easy as it had been to make friends 10 years earlier, but being with these people was easy in another way, and now I had leggings.

Striped Button-Up Shirt

Fall 2017

A blue and white striped shirt with short sleeves, hanging against a white brick wall.

This is my attempt at being breezy, effortless, and hopefully timeless. Do you even comprehend time while looking at this shirt? Could I acknowledge the minutes that slipped by while I decided if I could afford this shirt on sale? Can you even define “clock”? I highly doubt it.

Because I have a habit of buying new clothes one at a time and several months apart, for a while this was one of maybe two ‘good’ shirts I owned and could wear out of the house, should that elusive moment ever present itself. I washed it on the gentle cycle in cold water, and arranged it on a curved and glossy wooden hanger to dry. It was my breezy fucking shirt that radiated a certain timelessness, and an effortlessness that must mean that I, the person wearing it, am a laid-back, chill individual who only ever line-dries because what is time if not the perfect excuse to prolong the gentle dampness of one’s attire until the very air itself has decided its job here is done?

But have you ever had a cat?

If you have then I’m afraid you know where this is going, and I’m sorry for the both of us.

This shirt now represents the very worst belief in the world, which is the belief that your cat — that my cat — will not be like the others, with their claws and their need to hook those claws into any nearby fabric, time and time again, on the way to their whole body being placed safely back down onto the floor or table, where you should’ve just left them to begin with, if we’re being quite honest with ourselves. You can’t ever really unsnag a snagged thread, can you? Can’t unring a bell. What’s done is done. It’s done all over this shirt.

Floral Robe

Spring 2014

A black kimono-style robe with red floral print and decorative edging, hanging against a white brick wall.

This robe is not a shirt but bear with me, because this is something I purchased while being of sound mind and body and if you’ve read this far you know how rare that is, and I’ll never do a series titled These Outerwears and Other Accessories so the time is now.

I was with Megan at Bonnaroo in 2013 when I realized, and ultimately shouted, that I didn’t want to wait until the next music festival to dress like I was at a music festival! I was my truest self at this music festival and I wanted to live my truth every day between now and next June, and that meant wearing these things all year round. I was tired of jeans! I hated jeans! I wanted skirts and pants whose wide, wide legs could maybe double as lightweight sleeping bags should we have the need. I wanted to accessorize — scarves and dangly earrings and bracelets and so many necklaces and frankly, if I’d been able to find them, probably even anklets.

In my journal I wrote, “I’m also only wearing the things I want to wear. Fuck a bunch of fucking jeans and fucking v-necks. I’d rather just not leave that house than wear that shit again.” And I meant it.

This robe came from Nordstrom Rack, where Megan would like to spend the better part of any afternoon when she is not at work thank you very much. I usually can’t find anything for myself there (except for all the Eileen Fisher shit, which I would gladly wear day in and day out, but still can’t afford because Eileen Fisher must be purchased with widow’s money), so seeing this from across the room was like a sexy music video about me, the robe, and the fact that we would do anything for each other.

I packed it for A-Camp and hung it up in our closet next to other people’s dresses and jackets. We were sharing a cabin with Heather, Rachel and Yvonne (this keeps being true about me and I’m eternally grateful for it), so getting ready for nighttime programming was a group activity that involved drinks and help with eyeliner and so much praise. It was time to get dressed for something and it had been an exhausting day and I was trying to rally but it was hard. I’d already picked out the night’s outfit, and when I reached past Yvonne to grab the dress and this robe out of the closet, she yelled YESSS and said she’d been wondering when the robe was going to come into play. All at once I felt held and seen, like everything would be ok, you know? Bless the skies, Yvonne rallied me that night.

White Crewneck T-Shirt

Spring 2018

A white short-sleeved t-shirt, hanging against a white brick wall.

It only took five years but I finally ate those words from my journal about fuck a bunch of fucking jeans and fucking v-necks. Here’s what happened: Jeanna Kadlec tweeted about her four perfect outfits (inspired by Nicole Cliffe, who’d been talking about perfect outfits that day) and one of them was the exact outfit that I’d been carrying a torch for for YEARS — perfect jeans, white t-shirt, black moto jacket — but had never actually owned, or really even attempted to own. Naturally I replied to her tweet with gusto, for I was moved. I told her I’d been pining for this look for over a decade but had never bothered to purchase any of the components in an effort to make it happen, and I wondered aloud why I hadn’t, and Jeanna replied WHY NOT INDEED, and it changed me.

I needed an outside force or someone else to give me permission to wear what I wanted, again. This time it was from a woman online that I really didn’t know, aside from the fact that our pasts shared something very big and very formative, which happened to be another time when we’d needed permission to do what we wanted, only to realize that actually we were the only ones who could grant ourselves that permit. And the most important part of all of this is that we both did.

So I found this shirt and, in a fugue state, bought it along with a pair of extremely tight drop-hem high-waisted jeans — a full 10-inch rise, if I may be so bold — and, full disclosure, a bandana. I still don’t have the moto jacket, but that’s gonna be a hard sell as long as I’m still living in Phoenix, so I’ve forgiven myself for now.

I also have this shirt’s v-neck cousin in three colors because I WEAR WHAT I WANT and the next time I want to swerve into a new look, I hope I remember that the permission is mine and it’s been there all along.

Are you following us on Facebook?

Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and you're the reason she's here. She's 37, has two kids, two dogs, one cat, one Megan, and some personal essays.

Laneia has written 789 articles for us.