Requiem for a Shirt
Please join me in a moment of silence for my Hoi An shirt.
Thank you. It was a good shirt. It lasted through more than a decade of hard service, not bad for a custom-fitted, hand-tailored green cotton shirt that cost me less than $10. But that little fray under the left arm erupted this morning into a full tear. R.I.P. old shirt, R.I.P. (Get it?!)
Old Greeny was born in Hoi An, Vietnam, back in 1994, the first piece of clothing I ever had made during a trip abroad. It began a custom-shirt custom that I've pursued ever since. I'm not talking about the fancy bespoke tailoring you get in Hong Kong or London or Madrid. I'm talking about dirt-cheap sewing machine stalls in teeming markets of Yangon, Phnom Penh, Nairobi. My routine is simple: I take a simple button-down shirt to the market, ask around for the best local needle jockey and ask her to knock off five or six copies, made to meaure. We go around to the fabric stalls and buy the cloth. I come back in a day or two to pick the goods. It usually runs $30 to $40 for the whole lot.
They don't always last more than a year or two (Old Greeny was exceptional), but they always fit well (which isn't easy when you have a pencil neck and chimpanzee arms). And more importantly, I never put one on without taking a brief side trip back to that foriegn market. Ahhh, the thread of memory.
Not bad for a cheap shirt. I can't wait to get a new one.
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