I’ve never believed in “lucky” pants or socks. Underwear is underwear and I have almost never had someone peel off my jeans, running their tongue across their teeth in anticipation, and compliment me on my trunks – or what was inside them, now I come to think of it.
But there are few items of clothing that have ever made me feel as invincible or irresistible as my “first date shirt”, the long-sleeved legend I wore on the majority, well at least half, of my first dates.
I’d admired it in the shop for a while. I’m one of those people who either impulse-buys wildly and is forced to do the “return of shame” within a day or two, or I take hundreds of trips to the clothes rail to convince myself I should buy the object of my affection. The first date shirt took a lot of self-persuasion.
I don’t really know why; it wasn’t remotely expensive or particularly outré. Just a bog-standard Uniqlo cotton number, in burgundy and green (I think; for a gay I’m not very good with colours) in a check or plaid or tartan or whatever you want to call it.
But I had a million shirts just like it – or thought I did – and so would place it back on the hanger every single time, after a good quarter of an hour turning that way and this, looking in the mirror with it held against my chest.
Then, one day, while I was waiting for a friend to squeeze into some jeans in the fitting room, I tried it on properly for the first time.
We fell in love.
I marvelled at how it perfectly fitted the contours of my then runner-lean body. It’s an extra-small; those were the fucking days, eh? I could wear it buttoned all the way up to the top, as was popular in 2010 when I bought it, and tuck it in, or have it untucked and still be able to see most of my arse. I had to have it so, reader, I did. It was even in the sale. £9.99. It more than earned its keep.
I looked so good in it. It was like magic. That doesn’t usually happen to me in clothes.
Whatever I paired it with, it seemed to work, but my favourite was some arse-hugging navy or grey cords and my Converse trainers. I’d walk into dates and know more or less straightaway whether the shirt had done the trick. But how could it not? I was 34 and a 29″ waist in an extra-small shirt and my hair was shiny and my teeth were clean – you don’t get much closer to God than that feeling. Well, in my head, at least.
I used to feel so triumphant as eager hands would unbutton it at the end of the night. I would feel a strange sense of pride and achievement as I watched it get thrown across the room to land in the corner in a heap. The shirt and me, we had won. You’d think I would treat my prize piece of clothing a bit more kindly, but I knew it understood you had to experience the rough to appreciate the spoils.
And so it went on. If I thought there were a remote chance of it coming off at the end of the night, I’d wear it, making sure I rolled up my sleeves and unfastened a button around three quarters of the way through the evening for maximum effect.
Rather tellingly, I didn’t wear it on my first date with my current boyfriend, and we did not go home together. I can’t remember when he first got treated to it, but I do know it was soon his favourite thing of mine that I wore, and the ‘first date shirt’ transitioned into a ‘nice boyfriend shirt’.
Eventually, of course, it became tatty – and heartbreakingly snugger in places – so its space in the wardrobe was taken up by other, lesser, duller shirts, with nary a secret nor a salacious tale between them. Shame.
I’m home ill today and have been hanging up some washing. Needing a hanger, I searched through my wardrobe for something that could be sacrificed. And I found my shirt.
I tried it on over my vest and although it was rather pinched around the shoulders, not to mention crumpled by lack of an iron since 2013, it still fitted me. Kind of. Like, really kind of. Its collars are frayed and its cuffs are worn out, and I felt a million miles away from the man who used to walk into a bar feeling like anything was possible that night. I didn’t feel wistful, though.
But there will be no more first dates, and that makes me happy rather than sad. But the shirt stays on the hanger, I owe it that.
Finally, the respect it deserves for all those years’ loyal service. The filthy animal.