This essay is part of Fashion in Isolation, a special issue on the intimate, contradictory, and ultimately inescapable relationship we have to what we wear.

For a while, the first three Google image results for my name were photos of me in the same shirt, but all taken on different days, across different years. In the oldest one, my hair is cut short and I have bangs. It was taken in profile, by a real photographer, though the shot was candid, snapped across the table in a restaurant in New York; I remember when she posted it on her Flickr page, someone commented “Nice bokeh.” In another photo, I’m at a karaoke bar: an old bar called the Rocky Flats Lounge that was located halfway between Golden and Boulder, Colorado, in the country, across from the Rocky Flats superfund site. I’m smiling and leaning sideways, with my arm around my husband, but he’s cropped out of the shot. You can see someone holding a microphone in the background. I remember I sang “Wanted Dead or Alive” that night. The third and most recent shot was a selfie, taken in my current apartment. My hair looks nice, and my expression is a little mean—for a few years I used it as my profile pic.

I guess I wore that shirt a lot, though I never really thought of it as my favorite shirt. It wasn’t special, just a striped Breton shirt I got at H&M for under $20, back when I lived in Boston. But the details were a little special. It wasn’t white and black, but pale shell pink and black, or maybe pale pink and dark gray. The neckline was a modified boatneck, semi-square. It was fitted and stretchy, with three-quarter-length sleeves. I wore it because I thought it went with everything. I remember wearing it to a poetry reading at the first writing conference I ever attended, with a green skirt with black beading, and pointy beaded flats that I miss all the time—I once got caught in a rainstorm and ruined them. You can’t see my full body in any of those photos on the internet, but I remember the outfits. In the restaurant, I was wearing the striped shirt with wide-leg pinstriped navy pants. In the karaoke bar, I was wearing it with a flouncy gray miniskirt. In the selfie, I was wearing it layered over a black maxi dress, with black ballet flats.

I can’t tell you why I remember these things. They’re not even interesting to me, except insofar as I remember them. There is so much useless data in my head, and all the outfits I’ve worn represent just a sliver of it, one book in a library. I sometimes wish I could walk through an impossible closet of all the clothes I’ve ever owned. It would be an enormous closet, a four-dimensional version of the quilt my grandmother made me with scraps of my childhood dresses. There’s one shirt in particular I keep remembering—another striped shirt, a scoopneck, dark gray with bands of multicolored stripes—that I wore a lot for a while in junior high. It had no other significance. I wish I could see it again. I wish it still existed.

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is the author of five collections of poetry, essays, and criticism, including The Unreality of Memory & Other Essays (out in August 2020 from FSG Originals); The Word Pretty; L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems; and The Self Unstable. Her work has appeared recently in the New York Review of Books, Harper's, A Public Space, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere.

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