There is no more perfect garment than a plain white cotton t-shirt, except a plain white cotton t-shirt that has been liberated from a beloved male. It doesn’t matter if the man in question is a husband, lover, or boyfriend, or even a father, grandfather, or older brother. What matters is that the shirt has been worn and washed many times, so the cotton is broken in, and softer than the faintest spring breeze.
This is not the sort of t-shirt you wear to dinner. It has no fancy stitching, no pocket, no designer icon or label. It is not blended with polyester so that it never wrinkles. It may be less white than it was when it came out of the package. It has likely been warn beneath a button-down shirt, or tucked into belted khaki’s during lawn work. It has absorbed sweat and cologne, distinctly masculine scents, and then it has been soaked in hot sudsy water – maybe even bleached – and, ideally, line dried so that it smells of sunshine, though a clothes dryer result is acceptable if you live somewhere humid.
On rare occasions, a v-neck is allowed. Sleeves are a must. Fraying and holes? Completely revolting.
I developed my love of stolen cotton t-shirts as a small child of five, visiting my grandparents in New Jersey. Unwilling to unpack suitcases on my first day of being in their house, my grandmother would raid my grandfather’s underwear drawer for one of his oldest, softest t-shirts, and that would be my nightgown not just that night, but for the better part of the summer. At that age, I didn’t do my own packing, so the shirts were invariably returned at the end of the summer, but as I grew older, I would take them home with me. I often wonder if my grandfather realized his shirts were being depleted, or if my grandmother replaced those that I pilfered.
Today, working from home, I am five years old again, and though the sky outside is grey, and the wind is blustery, my heart is sun-warmed, because I am freshly showered and wearing an old white cotton t-shirt, and a pair of ratty cotton sweatpants. My grandmother would accuse me of being stolen from the gypsies, if she saw me dressed this way – bare feet, damp hair – but I’m treasuring the soft cotton against my skin, and the faint tang of grass and cologne that seems to waft from the fibers of my imagination, if not the shirt itself.
The stolen t-shirt: white cotton bliss.