How one simple linen top spurred a complete overhaul in my personal style and attitude. This story is part of our TMI series. A collection of essays that detail those pieces in our life that have a story to tell.
There was a time in my life when I only wore black clothing. I lived in Bellingham, Washington, a humble city north of Seattle where the sun sets forever over the Puget Sound and the winter rains seemingly never end. I was working as a barista while studying journalism and thought wearing all black was cool, tough, and most importantly, mysterious. I wanted to be taken seriously and perceived as cut-throat. I thought a black wardrobe was the key to being those things, and, really, it may have been. I surely felt like a chic and intimidating force not to be messed with.
It was a period between 2013 and 2016 where I excelled in things I was passionate about, spent a lot of time alone, and experienced my first real taste of significant loss. I had two or three pairs of black Levis I wore on heavy rotation and a collection of simple, solid black collared shirts and various sweaters that compiled something of a capsule wardrobe. I could be seen on any given day, at any given time, in black pants, a black shirt, a black blazer, and a pair of black leather boots. I was in my early twenties, acting as unbothered as I possibly could, and wearing black clothing was a central part of my identity.
My final quarter of college started at the end of March 2016. I began considering post-collegiate life, things I wanted to do and where I wanted to do them. I had also started to transition out of the various rolls I held over the years. One at a time, I removed the many hats I had worn, and, somehow, loosened up a little bit. I can recall my best friend calling me “fun Halee”, a name indicative of my slow crawl away from being a constantly too busy at work on something, not so present friend. Somewhere subconsciously I decided it was about damn time I stood back and enjoyed my final few months of college in a real relaxed kind of way.
This transformation of character came conjunct with a big change in my wardrobe, which was spurred by an introduction to linen and the power of shades of white.
I met a woman, now a friend, named Patricia through subletting my apartment to her. She had just moved up the coast from Los Angeles and presented herself in stark contrast to the pseudo-punk alternative hippie explorer social scene that ruled Bellingham. I remember meeting her for the first time - watching her from the window as she strolled up the street with her months-old baby. She was wearing head to toe shades of white linen and looking immaculate. And there I was, someone who had been so proudly heavy-hearted in my black clothing, thinking to myself that I wanted nothing more in that moment than her outfit.
I came to know Patricia well, learning that she made much of her own clothing and sold a limited line of it online. It is from her that my very favorite piece of clothing came.
This item is a beige, linen cropped tank that I paid 40 dollars for. I asked Patricia to make it and recall feeling a sweet excitement in her living room as she took my measurements. It was the first time I had ever had something so intentionally made for me. It’s a simple piece, really. A boxy cut, maybe 22 inches wide and 10 inches from the collar to bottom hem with 2 inch wide shoulder straps. There’s no print on it, no zippers or buttons. Not even a tag.
I became somewhat obsessed with this top despite it’s perceived plainness. For me, it meant something more than covering the upper part of my body. It was symbolic of a new version of myself. With this top in hand, or, rather, on my body, I was able to give myself permission to lean into a change both internal and external.
As the end of spring quarter drew near I decided I would move to Brooklyn, New York. This was about as far away as I could think of getting. I had never been there and didn’t know anyone, which was perfect. I shopped around for more linen clothing in shades of white prior to moving, and wore the cropped tank only when I was feeling special. It was one of those pieces that couldn’t be worn too much for fear of either getting a stain on it or it somehow losing its magic.
In June I flew into NYC with only a backpack of my best linen garments and a few pairs of blue jeans. I was prepared to present this new version of myself - a linen girl. No one there knew that I had been wearing black for the past however many years. It was an opportunity to reinvent myself and to do it wearing a whole new look.
That summer I wore the beige linen cropped tank to every important event. I met one of my closest friends during a Kevin Morby concert at Rough Trade while wearing the top. And I went to a fourth of July party in Bushwick where I coincidentally met many of my future co-workers while wearing the tank. I danced well into the early mornings in this piece of clothing, wore it to the beach, and all over New York City. I introduced myself to my future in a new place with all new people while wearing this shirt, and in it I felt loose and confident. Freed of something I left behind me in a heap of black clothing.
Now, five years later, I’ve managed to amass a considerable amount of linen shirts, skirts, and dresses in shades of white. I wear them all of the time and they’ve replaced my black clothing as a part of a more permanent, less angsty identity.
I sit on my deck in Upstate New York and write this story with the same fondness for the beige linen cropped tank as ever before. Spring has come and I have brought my summer wardrobe back out in anticipation of a tan, long warm nights, and, of course, wearing this favorite piece. It’s weathered a half-decade of my life with me and is showing signs of its age, which is perfectly okay. So am I.
Halee Hastad mostly writes short stories about strangers without them knowing it. Her professional work has covered music and entertainment since 2014 in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and on the East Coast. She recently purchased a home in Upstate New York where she enjoys taking care of her houseplants, rollerblading, and spending time with her dog, Beau. She really does like long walks on the beach. You can find her on Instagram @reallynice, or surf her not super fancy website www.haleelove.com