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No. 10 - T-Shirt Talk
What My Favourite T-Shirts Are Saying About Me
We’re back, Practitioners, with the hotly anticipated (at least by me) Issue Number 10. I’ll be honest: it feels great to celebrate this milestone. It wasn’t easy, all this constant mining for something honest and relevant to impart every two weeks, this writing in a new, unfamiliar genre whose intricacies I had to learn by doing. Without the generous encouragement and feedback from friends, family, and my beautiful wife, I might have given up long ago.
Instead, I stand here and proudly declaim: we made it, guys! And so much more is coming.
Today, I want to talk about a very special item. At first glance, it might strike you as commonplace, but many extraordinary items do, so don’t let yourself be fooled. It’s an item with a rich history, and at least for me, a history of a personal nature as well, because it has been by my side, in various forms, through some of the most trying moments of my life. I’m talking, of course, about the T-shirt.
It used to be my go-to clothing item. Easily available in a farrago of designs, the T-shirt enables people to showcase their personal brand of extravagance quietly, so that one could show off their unique tastes in music, video games or art without the fear of straying too far into uncertain territory. Back then, I felt like they alone let me express myself as I wanted to be seen - a chill and seemingly aloof guy, who unbeknownst to most possessed an inner life so rich they could never hope to comprehend it, but who’d allow the right people the chance to see through that façade with hints he’d occasionally, carefully, allow to escape, like an obscure logo on the breast. In short, the T-shirt allowed me to be a snob without coming across as one.
In high school, I could fill the top half of a floor-to-ceiling wardrobe with my T-shirts alone. But over time I threw most of them out or gave them on indefinite loan to younger cousins, and I did not replace them.
Over the years, I became a reluctant T-shirt buyer. From a utilitarian point of view, I knew better than to dispute the usefulness of short-sleeved shirts. There was the sweltering heat of summer to consider, as well as those harsh winter days when sweaters alone just didn’t cut it. So I made sure I had a large enough supply, but never paid so much attention to the way they looked, or what they said about me. I had outgrown my T-shirt fashion phase. Or so it seemed.
Then, a few weeks ago, something funny happened.
I was riffling through my wardrobe to decide what to wear on a Sunday outing with a friend. After quickly discarding the dress shirts (for they reminded me too much of work) and the sweaters (the recent warm weather wouldn’t permit such an eccentric choice), I finally saw that my only comfortable option was a T-shirt. I started cycling through the few available options. And that’s when it hit me.
I had lots of kick-ass shirts to choose from! Picking one to wear that night, I realized, was almost like being forced to choose between best friends. This was bad timing for a eureka moment, because I was already running embarrassingly late, but it made me realise my passion for T-shirts wasn’t dead after all. It also triggered an unexpected connection.
I’d read that Haruki Murakami (an author I used to adore, but whom I haven’t read in years-smell the irony?) had recently released a book entitled The T-Shirts I Love, in which he shares the stories behind some of his favourite T-shirts. I haven’t read the book and I don’t even remember thinking about it a second time, but apparently the idea stuck with me, because as I focused my newly appraising eyes on my little collection, Murakami’s book sprang to mind. And I got the sudden urge to emulate him.
That’s why today, I want to tell you about five of my favourite T-shirts, from among the ones I still own. Every single one of these is special to me, as I discovered that night, and each for a very different reason. But I see I’m talking too much again.
Why don’t I just introduce you?
#1 - The Peanuts Baseball Tee (Peanuts Athletic Department)
I’ve always loved baseball. Not the game—I’m not much of a sports fan and, like my fellow Romanians and anyone else whose country doesn’t have a baseball league, I don’t know crap about it. I have no inkling of what an inning is, and my understanding of the difference between a batter and a pitcher is limited to the fact that one bats, while the other one pitches. I’m talking about the idea of it, about what American movies and books have taught me to picture when I hear the word baseball: a little pocket universe of pure Americana, bursting at the seams with American values and the American Dream and American junk food and impassioned American dads holding their sons and daughters on their shoulders and teaching them the ancient chants, and silly soulful mascots like Wally the Green Monster of the Boston Red Sox or the Swinging Friar of the San Diego Padres. To me, what sits at the core of baseball is family. That’s why this culture speaks to something deep inside me, something foundational. The shirt above embodies that something better than words ever could.
#2 - The Murder Falcon Tee (Skybound Entertainment)
My thirteen-year old self would have LOVED this particular piece. It embodies everything he stood for: death metal, black outfits and bad-ass action comic books. Wearing this shirt reminds me of the good old days, when I would go to concerts with dear friends I’ve been seeing less and less as years went by, and we would drink cheap beer out of plastic cups and bob our heads to hate-filled lyrics we could barely make out but viscerally understood. I’d lost my way with metal for a while, allured by the captivating tunes of modern rap and trap, but recently our love has reawakened. Last summer I mosh-pitted in Slipknot’s first show in Romania with a fresh new group of buddies. I bought this shirt straight afterwards, because I knew I’d be attending more concerts (and I was right—this year I have tickets to Guns n’ Roses and Five Finger Death Punch). Pro tip: if you haven’t already, read Murder Falcon by Daniel Warren Johnson. It will blow. Your. Minds.
#3 - The Artsy Lion Tee - Franz Marc, The Dream, 1912 (PULL&BEAR)
This one’s particularly special. It was a birthday gift from my two best college friends, Andreea and Sebi. And it’s absolutely something I would have bought for myself, which shows how much they know me. I mean, just look at it: it’s cool as heck, and artsy, and minimalist! I came into possession of this T-shirt on my first visit to Sebi’s new apartment, a few days after my birthday last year, which for some reason we didn’t manage to get together for. Whenever I wear this T-shirt, I think of the two of them, and of how fortunate I am to have these kindred spirits in my life. We haven’t been able to meet in complete formation for months, but we use an app called Cappuccino to keep in touch every day, recording voice messages which then get mixed into a mini-podcast, or Cappuccino, and sent to the group every morning. Often, these cups of friendship are the highlight of my day.
#4 - The Ugly Christmas Tee (Merry Christmas House Collection - I don’t remember more, so don’t ask)
Eventually, my family adopted the custom of ugly Christmas clothing. We started with sweaters in 2017, but, though undisputedly a classic, we decided they were too stuffy, so two Christmases ago we switched to ugly T-shirts. That is exactly why I love this particular tee: the context. I only put it on when I visit my parents for the holidays, but it always gets me in the holiday mood. It’s like the shirt has bottled up all the holiday cheer it could, and releases it all in a three-day burst every December, until at last it empties itself out in preparation for the following year’s harvest. This shirt is also a reminder of all the things our family has survived. It reminds me that, no matter how difficult the previous years have been, we’ve always been together at the end. And we will be again, next year.
#5 - The Simple White with Navy Blue Sleeves Tee (PULL&BEAR)
Do you know when your spouse loves something so much, you end up loving it too, just by virtue of proximity? As if her love for said thing were infectious? That’s exactly what’s at play here. My wife, for some occult reason, adores the way I look in this tee. It is perhaps her favourite of all my clothes. And basking in her admiration, I too feel like some kind of hotshot. As you can see, the shirt itself doesn’t look so special, and curiously enough, I own three variations—in burgundy, navy and black, but the enchantment seems to be restricted to the one with navy sleeves. Maybe there is a difference between the three, a minuscule improvement I can’t spot but which her keen womanly senses are instantly drawn to. From where I stand, it doesn’t really matter. She swears it makes me look great, and that’s enough for me. Relationships are built on trust. And when I wear this shirt, I trust that at the very least, one person’s always in my corner.
While we’re on the topic of clothes, let me tell you another story.
In late 2021, I secured my first job as an attorney. After nearly two full years living the lockdown pajama life, I was faced with a new reality: the one of having to wear a business suit to work. Ugh. I felt like a savage, forced into civilization by an unfamiliar piece of clothing after millennia of successful butt-naked survival. What was the use of such fancy threads when I could work just as well in my PJs?
But what felt even harder was stepping out of the suit and into my weekend clothes.
To my surprise, they no longer felt right. They didn’t feel like what the me who had survived a pandemic, the me who came out the other side two years wiser and in a relationship, would wear. The pandemic had matured me, giving me all that space to think. I had acquired a new sense of myself, of my own capabilities and desires and motivations. I needed a wardrobe that reflected these discoveries.
I call this period my fashion identity crisis. Some of the T-shirts featured in this post were acquired then, products of a ton of soul-searching, alongside a pair of oddball New Balance sneakers which Past Me would have jeered at but Present Me instantly and instinctively adored. It jarred me to have reached a new stage in my life without a wardrobe that felt appropriate, and updating my wardrobe to correspond to this evolution did wonders for my sense of self. I knew how I wanted to present myself to the world, because I’d taken the time to learn what was important to me. In dressing right, I felt right.
Should you find yourself in a similar situation, where the things you own no longer feel like you, maybe a complete wardrobe refresh is in order.
But before you do resort to this drastic measure, my advice? Find a little peace and quiet and get to know yourself better. Probe yourself with questions like how have I changed in the past year? or what’s my favourite food? or what do all my best friends have in common? or what is it about this brown hat that I no longer like? Maybe you don’t like brown anymore, because it reminds you too much of your cigar addiction.
I promise, when you begin to discover yourself, things will clear up, and not just in the fashion department. And when next you find yourself in a shopping mall, you’ll know what to look for. It’ll be in your blood.
I hope you enjoyed this one, guys! Let me know by clicking on the 🫀 button below👇🏼.
I haven’t done this in a while, but I want to end with a question. Do you have a favourite item of clothing? If so, would you consider telling me about it, down in the comments below? What makes it so special? I’d love to know.
P.S. Since people responded so well to No. 8, I’ve got another recommendation for you.
I present, a newsletter of poetry (I know, cool, right?), written by Punit Thakkar. Hello Universe has reached its own milestone of 100 weeks of thought-provoking, quirky and funny short poems, and was a Featured Publication on Substack not too long ago, which is how I got word of it.
Here’s what the author has to say about it:
I started writing poetry as a way to capture the lost poems of my childhood that had a catchy meter, fun rhyming schemes, and were really memorable as a result.
And just like I can enjoy animated shows after growing up, I believe that catchy, rhyming, and memorable poetry can be fun and thought-provoking too!
And here are a few poems I think you’ll dig, handpicked by yours truly:
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