This article about an article of clothing reminded me of this item of mine. This green canvas shirt by LL Bean was given to me by my Pop nearly 25 years ago, and has become a treasured item and an example of clothing that lasts.
Pop gave it to me for Christmas in 1993 (I think – it was definitely in the early 90s). Pop’s approach to gift giving was both creative and efficient. He always gave gifts that were unique and of high quality, but he also then gave everyone the same gift, just in different colours.
In the early 90s, I hadn’t really heard of LL Bean. In the days before online shopping made every store available to everyone. mail order shopping was done by receiving paper catalogues in the mail, and then either phoning or mailing the company with an order. LL Bean was more of an East Coast favourite, something that is still reflected in their marketing and products; see also Lands End.
Ordering gifts from LL Bean would have appealed to Pop. No need to go shopping. High quality items. Available in many colours, so everyone can have something the same only different. No repackaging required, just wrap in paper appropriate for the occasion. I recognize somewhat of this in myself. When I find a unique item, I try to think of all the people in my life that might like/enjoy it, and end up sending the same item to multiple people. Another pattern recognized.
The green canvas shirt came to me at the same time as a (I think blue) canvas shirt for my boyfriend; his came with a note from Pop: “We haven’t met you, but if you’re Robyn’s pick then you must be good!” At that time, I was exploring more outdoor activities – camping, hiking, rock climbing – and so the shirt seemed to fit with a hanging-around-the-cabin lifestyle. I’m pretty sure my sister also got a (burgundy) shirt, and I’d guess that several others in his world received shirts in a wide range of colours that year.
My shirt didn’t become a favourite immediately, but after a few years and certainly in more recent ones it has become uniform of a kind – a mandatory article for vacations, especially camping and cabin life, where it can be a regular clothing item for days on end. With age, the shirt has become softer in both feel and colour. It is worn in a few places, and nearly colourless in others. But age aside, the shirt has endured solidly. It has not frayed, nor lost a button, and is quite remarkably unstained. Despite softening, it has retained its shape, and it feels sturdy and comfortable, as a talisman should. As time goes by, I get more and more concerned about its lifespan, and am more careful with how and when I wear it, and how frequently it visits the washer. But so far so good.
I remember the following year’s Christmas brought an enhanced version of the shirt – canvas cotton with a flannel lining. This was a welcome addition to the wardrobe, as I do tend to get chilly outdoors. However, the shirt disappeared from my wardrobe a few years later – when camping with a friend, she borrowed the shirt and it made its way into her backpack and then to her house and became part of her wardrobe far away from me. That shirt didn’t last as long as the original, so perhaps it’s just as well (but I still miss it).
I have recently looked into buying a new version of the shirt (and a replacement for the flannel-lined one). I’ve resisted because I’m reluctant to order from a US clothing vendor (the customs charges and US exchange can make these items outrageously expensive). I’m also hesitant as I can’t believe the quality would be as good as the older items. Maybe I’ll put them on my Christmas list this year.
I’ll also never part with the green shirt, no matter its condition. Like all good objects, it serves as a reminder of people and places and times past. It reminds me of Pop, of trips and times with friends, and so is comfortable in many ways – physical, emotional, spiritual.