The Button-Down That Got Away

His arms had been wrapped around mine for nearly a year. In sleep, he curved around my upper body, cradling my shoulders and neck. Though I can remember numerous outings, the few photos that survived of us include an oddly framed photograph from a road-trip in 2010, and one quickly snapped on my grandfather’s Canon at a family gathering. Throughout the summer, we grew distant. Occasional visits to his new apartment and local bars would afford me a glimpse of him, and I would stare longingly as he sat crumpled on a chair, never working up the nerve to steal him back. This distance grew, and by fall we had separated for good. My handsome blue oxford button-down now hangs in a closet blocks away, surrendered to my then boyfriend.

The trade started innocently enough—the guy I was dating needed a shirt to wear after my dog had covered his own in a thick layer of fur. He buttoned it up, noticing how the shirt, which hung off of my own body in what I like to consider a jaunty way, skimmed his torso perfectly. He immediately began joking about assimilating it to his own wardrobe. Weeks later my best friend recognized the borrowed item and told him the shirt looked better on him, suggesting he keep it (what ever happened to the sisterhood?). That was the beginning of the end for my button-down.

Two months into my relationship, and I had given up any hope of reclaiming my beloved men’s dress shirt. At the time, knowing I could borrow the shirt back acted as a comfort to my loss—the cotton collegiate-style cardigan he lent me also softened the blow. After an amicable break-up, however, I have slowly had to come to terms with the fact that my shirt is gone. Custody battles and settlements aside, I have come to wonder what the post-break-up-attire rules are. Do you take back the shirt? Do you keep it? How long until you can wear said shirt? Can you go on a date wearing it? 

These questions float through my mind regularly, as I think about my forever lost oxford. I would like to believe that the image of me throwing on the shirt in the middle of the night to get a glass of water would have stained his memory of the shirt, causing a Tell-Tale Heart-esque reaction (well, not the whole disembodied part) if he even stepped near another girl while wearing it. On my end, I have casually put on the swapped cardigan numerous times without thinking twice about him, or whether I am wearing the garment respectfully. In just a month with his cardigan, I have come to learn how quickly sentimental value can be lost once a garment is thrown on four days a week—and yes, I realize I could use another cardigan to put into my rotation.

Losing someone you care about is hard—not to mention losing the shirt off your back. Though easy to replace—anyone who has wandered the men’s aisle at a Value Village knows that oxford button-downs are a dime a dozen—I’m hesitant to run out and scoop up a new one. For the moment, something about my (or his, rather) shirt seems irreplaceable; the way its cuffs took exactly three rolls to reach my elbows, or how despite steam or ironing, the fabric between its white buttons remained permanently wrinkled. The daunting task of finding a replacement, or the fear of that replacement running off with another well statured 16.5-necked man, keeps my closet free of men’s dress shirts for the time being. I can only hope the oxford button-down that got away is being cared for, loved, and well worn.

text by Casie Brown

2 thoughts on “The Button-Down That Got Away

  1. For the most part, I’ve always adhered to the “if you don’t have it in your hands when you break up, you lose” philosophy. It’s a tough one, but I’ve probably kept as many things as I’ve let go, so it works out. Only once did I ever go out of my way to get something back post-ditch. Since then, I haven’t worn it even once.

    Maybe it goes against the natural order. If you had your beautiful shirt back, maybe it would be just as weird…

  2. I love, and relate to, your hopes of your shirt causing him mental anguish. Relationships leave many an every day object haunted. But there’s always that sneaking suspicion that maybe the other person isn’t as emotionally-destroyed by an inanimate piece of cloth as you are.

    And a word on break ups and giving things back: borrowed items are often the only bargaining chips a just-dumped person has. So, no, you can’t have your book back, because you broke up with me in an email. (You know who you are).

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