Shirt Or Shirt?! Undecided Since 1995

What clothes inspire you? I ask this question in each class. Typically, that triggers an avalanche of Chanel, Supreme, Off White, Gucci, Michael Kors from my students. (I’m joking: no one has ever dropped Kors into this discussion.) Why is it difficult to move our fashion thinking beyond branding?! Fashion = Inspiration. Every editor, photographer and investor since Coco-Dior has bought & resold this idea. In Russian, we say there is an element of humor in every joke. In this case: while getting dressed is an aspirational act, prescriptive focus on certain brands and styles has less to do with self-expression and more with profits. The actual clothes that inspire us are often not what anyone expects.  This is a series of stories “about that”.


I am inspired by my students in the fashion journalism program at the Academy of Art University (the only accredited degree of its kind in the United States, humble brag). Alumna Brandi Whoolery once submitted an assignment I remember vividly: “The Leather Skirt“. She wrote about style, relationships and mental health. In the story, a favorite leather skirt “turned up” in her wardrobe at a pivotal moment and “saved her life”. It also probably saved her life. Brandi made me reconsider my wardrobe.

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I’ve written enthusiastically about a coat off the runway in Kiev or a “vintage” jacket from an Indian startup. However, my most prized items are two plaid shirts I can’t rid of since 1995. Claybrooke Outdoors is not a heritage label. In fact, it seems to have been discontinued. I paid $19.99 for each in a Virginia mall as a high school exchange student. I remember trying to pick one (20 bucks is a lot of cash!) and not being able to make the choice. The yellow or the green?! I painfully purchased both. The game plan was to return one within a week. 25 years later here we are.

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I alternate them (in)frequently, mostly at home. The wear ‘n tear (and care) of 25 years requires prudence in deciding when to put them on. It’s usually special occasions now: a depressive episode, a bout of nostalgia, a pang of vanished self-esteem. They provide a layer of comfort when just being in my skin is a challenge. They’ve carried me through good times, too. The yellow shirt starred in an epic romantic saga once. Unrelated, Brokeback Mountain broke my heart in 2005 for multiple reasons one of which was that darn closing image, familiar to me a full decade by then. I had the shirts first! I wanted to scream. They are both mine! I whispered. Ah … this Gemini life.


Remarkably, after quarter of a century, I could not find any pictures of myself wearing either shirt. Together they represent my everyday, the passing of undocumented hours, the life within, that which remains unshared & untagged, something truly mine.

Fashion is (inspired) storytelling. An embodied memoir. Eventually, when this body is done, I love the idea of going in both these shirts. The Claybrooke Shroud of Timbul.

Until then,

These fashion veterans inspire me to live my life to the fullest.

What clothes inspire you?

Follow Brandi Whoolery and Academy of Art University: School of Fashion & Fashion Media Program.

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