Like any burgeoning fashionista, I find myself staring wistfully out the window in the winter months, dreaming of the kind of person I will dress as when the weather goes back above 60 degrees, whether that’s in two months or just next week (given the current state of things). For a long time, I opted for the small — but not necessarily tight — shirt, a safe choice for a person of compact stature with short legs and a shorter torso and arms whose length invited the opinion that I would be “incapable” of playing the trombone as a child. It did its job: It fit my body to its shape, announcing little and revealing even less.
But clothes have gotten confusing over the past few years. Women’s shirts have tumbled toward “big regency,” as my colleague Claire Carusillo lamented last spring: puffy sleeves, high collars, milkmaid-esque bodices. Those clothes look good on the kind of person who would’ve had a way bigger dowry than I would have in the 19th century. Other trending styles — babydoll, corsets, just wearing a bra under overalls — also do not particularly jive with my current lifestyle, which consists of mostly sitting in front of a computer or on the couch. What’s left for a gal who wants to stray outside her small shirts?
After much deliberation, I am ready to announce my new style and what I’m certain will be the forthcoming summer trend:
Big T-shirt, you’re thinking, didn’t Billie Eilish do that like four years ago? Leave me alone! I was in grad school. Besides, Eilish did not invent wearing a big T-shirt. Big T-shirts have existed long before you or I (and with the way landfills are looking, they might outlast us too). But it was only after a recent move that I fully realized the charm of the big T-shirt. As I tried to pare down my wardrobe, retaining staples and discarding trendy pieces, I often gravitated toward large tops that have been in my possession forever: an oversized childhood Piglet tee here, a baggy pajama shirt there.
The thing about a big T-shirt is that it looks and feels good on anybody. It is neutral, compatible, and comfortable for all physical positions, including sitting, standing, and throwing myself onto the bed when I’m in a bad mood. Big T-shirt may be structured and boxy, or loose and draped. It can curve and fold, or its shoulders can jut out into the open air. It is available both in cheapo four-packs from a dollar store or for way too much money from an affiliate link on the Strategist, although from 10 feet away, it’s impossible to know the difference. It’s endlessly customizable. It’s fashion and leisure, casual and composed. Wear it over a dress pant, a sweatpant, or no pant. Curl up inside it and take on the appearance of a slug. The big T-shirt is like playing The Sims for the body. Only you know where it will take you.
Over a lifetime, you may accumulate a treasure trove of big T-shirts. Some of the best ones are imbued with nostalgia, carried over from childhood with their vintage logos and stretched collars. A few may be borrowed (stolen) from a romantic partner, their softness made all the cozier by association. Others are picked up here and there, little mementos from concerts or souvenir shops or workplaces or unionizing efforts. Each is special in its own way, even the new big T-shirt. Its sleeves are still stiff, its hemlines flat, its fabric free of the stains that come from experience (eating hot sauce-soaked leftovers). Eventually, it will get broken in, its pristine newness made tender and faded by time — a sign that this big T-shirt has lived life, and now it’s time to chop it up into pieces so a new shirt can be born.