What is the oldest piece of clothing you own? Before you throw out a Christening dress, First Communion dress, or some other thing from your childhood that you’ve saved to pass down to a future generation, allow me to narrow it down a little more. What is the oldest piece of clothing you own that you can still wear?
For me that’s easy. I still own two items that I bought in my first weeks as a student at the University of Kansas in August, 1989. You know, 30 years ago right now.
One item is not that exciting. I bought a blue, pullover, rain jacket that has a generic “Kansas” stamped on the breast to wear to class or football games on rainy days. Although it was only ever used occasionally, I, or someone in my house, continues to use it a few times a year. It is still in our coat closet, ready and waiting to fulfill its mission on a rainy soccer day or camp week.
The other item, though, has somehow managed to survive 30 years despite being a bit of an oddball purchase, initially being grossly mis-sized, and having had multiple different uses.
My very first purchase at the KU Bookstore during Hawk Week 1989 was an extra large, red, t-shirt with Kansas written across the chest in a gentle arc in blue letters with white trim. Your generic 1980s college t-shirt that you saw on every campus.1 (Here is where I would post a picture of it if my old web host would allow me to add images. No, I have not completed the move to my new host yet because I totally jacked it up and am trying to figure out how to fix it without getting on the phone with someone from India.)
It was an oddball purchase because I went with red rather than the more traditional KU blue, or even white or gray. I guess I figured red would set me apart from the crowd a little. I was also a fan of schools that had third colors back before that became a thing everyone did, and always wished that KU would bust out red uniforms for basketball on occasion.
Buying an extra large was probably ambitious. I believe I went to college weighing about 165-170, and while I was tall and had broad shoulders, I certainly didn’t have the girth to fill it out. Especially since shirts weren’t tailored for an “athletic fit” in the ‘80s. But I did wear XL in some shirts back then so I grabbed this off the rack. However, when I got it back to my dorm, cut the tags off, and then tried it on, I realized that it was likely more of a double-XL than and XL. It fit me like a muumuu, dwarfing my skinny frame. It really looked ridiculous. I distinctly remember wearing it onto campus one day the first week of classes and thinking that I looked like a total idiot and 30,000 other Jayhawks were making fun of me. I’m sure that I washed it in hot water to shrink it to no avail. So phase one of the shirt’s life was spent shoved in the back of a drawer, brought out only when there were no other clean t-shirts.
Phase two kicked off the next May, when I went home for the summer. Despite my pipe-cleaner arms, I decided to cut the sleeves off and use it as a basketball playing shirt. Although the length of the entire shirt was a little long and the chest too broad, it was really the sleeves that were the problem. They stretched past my elbows and billowed about my meager bi- and triceps. While showing those guns off to the world was a whole other problem, I decided that was the lesser of two evils. That shirt got me through many, many years of outdoor hoops. The extra fabric meant there was always somewhere dry to wipe the sweat from my eyes. And when everything got baggy a few years later, I fit right in!2
Phase two lasted over a decade, until my pickup ball career ended. The shirt again went into the drawer. It had shrunk some over all those washings and I had added some weight, so it actually fit well. The color had begun to fade, too. Really, I should have tossed it in the trash sometime around the turn of the millennium. But I kept it for sentimental reasons. That was the first shirt I bought as a college student, after all!
Phase three began when S and I got married and moved to Indianapolis. Suddenly I had a yard to mow on a regular basis. What better shirt to wear than my trusty, red, KU shirt? I could get some sun on my upper arms while also displaying my school loyalty to all my new neighbors. Even better, since the shirt was an afterthought at this point, if I got stains from grass, dirt, gas, blood, or oil on it, it was no big deal. I didn’t wear it every time I mowed the grass, but I did wear it at least once a month.
Over the last 16 years it has aged quite a bit.3 There are a couple holes in it. The color has faded even more. But you know what? It still fits halfway decent. If I was playing any pickup hoops, I would proudly wear it.
A year ago when we moved and I was purging old possessions, I gave some thought to throwing away my trusty red KU shirt. I only have to do sporadic yard work these days since we hired out the mowing. There’s no pickup ball in my life. While I often go sleeveless at the pool, I prefer a shirt that is a synthetic blend rather than 100% cotton. I think I was close to tossing it until I realized if I kept it one more year, I would have owned it for 30 years.
So it remained and remains. Although we’ve now passed its 30th anniversary, I have no plans to toss the shirt. I may not ever wear it again, but it’s not hurting anyone. So it will stay in the bottom of my dresser drawer. Another 30 years might be asking a lot, but I’m hoping to keep it there a good, long time.
1. The first of approximately 749 KU shirts I’ve purchased since.
2. Someday I’ll have to share the story of how I, not the Fab 5 and not Michael Jordan, kicked off the baggy shorts trend.
3. Haven’t we all?