Linen t-shirts, Petit Bateau
I once went through a phase where I didn't wear- or own- a single t-shirt. I felt like I was above them or something. This was during that weird time in American history when every girl aged 18-34 wore a D.A.R.E t-shirt ironically and owned some variation of the "_______ Girls Do It Better" ringer from Urban Outfitters. Remember Quinn Morgendorffer's pink baby-T? From undergarment to medium to socially pejorative lexeme, no other garment is as accessible, versatile, and hard-working as the t-shirt. While some clothing items identify and bind the wearer to a certain subculture, t-shirts are a democratizing blank canvas. Since their inception, t-shirts were a staple in every wardrobe, it seemed, except mine.
For awhile I wasn't comfortable in t-shirts. On my first trip to Paris, I wore lace and silk blouses, high heels and ribbon-tied espadrilles (I didn't own any pants or sneakers, but that's a story for another post; no tank tops, either- thanks, abusive boyfriend from Voices Carry!). One night, I teetered down the steps of Le Pompon in a fancy dress and saw all the other girls wearing men's tees with skinny jeans, which they tucked into skirts for work the next morning. As soon as my feet touched American soil I ran to the thrift store and bought a J. Crew linen pocket tee, v-neck, olive green. Back then, t-shirts weren't too low-cut or sheer and didn't disintegrate after one wash.
It was magic. No more tugging at button-downs, which always seemed to gape at the bust. Washed in the sink at night, it'd be dry the next morning, no ironing necessary. After five years of near-constant use- under jackets, over tulip skirts, with jeans and shorts and suits or tossed onto maxi dresses- it finally unraveled during an intense tug of war with Kar and Toffel when they climbed onto a closet shelf, later serving as a DIY cat tent. It took nearly a year to find a replacement- hip-skimming, opaque, soft- and two years to buy a second t-shirt. My husband literally forced me to buy them :) In the meantime, I made do with tops I already had. Sometimes people ask if I buy duplicates in case I can't find a particular item ever again. I don't- secondhand shopping precludes this. It's not the end of the world if I never wear another linen tee. I certainly don't mind holding out for a good one.
Although I consider most of my clothes "staples," the linen t-shirt is a seasonless workhorse. To paraphrase Caroline de Maigret, it's like cashmere. It makes me looks like I have a neck. The slub jersey feels luxuriously cozy in winter, fresh and effortless in the summer. I like the way it slides on my shoulders and the way the subtle hue brightens my complexion. Worn with my skirt or jeans, under a cardigan and over a dress, it adds variation to a simple and minimal wardrobe.
Why linen? Until that tapenade-colored J. Crew t-shirt, most of my things were made by young girls in India or China earning only a few cents a day. Cotton came from the US, China, or Uzbekistan, the looming shadow of slavery casting a pall over any usefulness. Hundreds- maybe thousands- of gallons of water went into the lint, not to mention pounds of fertilizers. Cultivation is no picnic for even US laborers; after braving wind, pests, storms, and volatile international markets, farmers painstakingly harvest the bolls before sending them to ginning mills, where workers inhale hazardous particulates. The fabric takes several gas-guzzling trips and chemical-laden baths before settling into a closet. What did Karl Marx say about cotton? "Without cotton, you have no modern industry." Petit Bateau production methods may be grim, but linen cultivation requires less energy inputs, and buying secondhand is even more rewarding.
Most of the women I see in my neighborhood walk around in tunics, loose-fitting blouses, drapey knits, and sharply tailored button-downs. As for t-shirts, generally speaking, curvy Parisians wear scoop or v-necks, Jean Seberg-types prefer jewel and boat necks, and neck-skimming tees look wonderful on broad shoulders. I like open necklines- I don't know my "body type," though I was recently compared to a wonton by a barber with a face tattoo in Amsterdam. Anyway, this isn't a fashion blog, but I thought I would share the rationale behind every item in my closet (it won't take long, there's not many). The nice thing about not having a lot of clothes is that every object represents something, a story or memory or event, something I won't forget.
Read the rest of the simple wardrobe series:
Part I- Lingerie
Part III- Pants
Part IV- Dresses and skirts
Part V- Coats
Part VI- Accessories