The Shirt Off My Back
Charles Blackstone on his thirty-year quest to replace a plaid flannel shirt unceremoniously taken from him in the 90s.
Dear Sarah Brown,
Recently I came across your May 2020 Town & Country piece, “The J. Crew Catalog of the '90s Was My Generation's Preppy Handbook,” and wonder if you can help me with a bit of an unhinged pursuit. I'm trying to find the J. Crew catalog from fall 1992 so that I may be able to track down a plaid flannel shirt that has been on my mind since then.
The shirt came in blue, red, and green. It must have been a fall item, but it was for sale in the late summer. My best friend, Candi Dias, and I both had the blue one. I don't think either of us knew the other was buying it. We were 15. The girl I was obsessed with, Jessica, had the green one. She didn't go to our school, but was also 15, and very pretty, with long dark hair and dark eyes, and very much completely uninterested in me. I liked that the three of us had this shirt in common. The two of them had a boy they wanted in common, which of course you could expect, and he wasn't me.
I'm trying to find the J. Crew catalog from fall 1992 so that I may be able to track down a plaid flannel shirt that has been on my mind since then.
Eventually we'd all come to have nothing in common except for Facebook posts. Though our posts were supposed to be about our lives today, when they came from the long-ago people, they tended to feel more like subtextual glimmers of nostalgia. But back then, this shirt, it felt like more than just a byproduct of the zeitgeist. It was the zeitgeist. Just like us. Even in the moment I could tell that this shirt would come to take hold as a marker on my cultural timeline of this defining and indelible era, in many ways even more than everything else the decade presented to us that, little did we know, we’d want to hold onto forever: 90210, the Clinton era, silver Zippos, Nirvana, Rolling Rocks, Zima, the Honda Civic CX hatchback, diner smoking sections, silver Starbucks tumblers, Chumbawumba, PowerBars, Monica, a Furby named Tolu.
But then one day—this was early 1993, maybe February, maybe even on this very date I write to you—while blowing off class at the cafe near campus where we could smoke and eat quesadillas, another friend at the table spilled coffee on the hockey jersey he had on. Back at my place in search of a quick change, this friend took my beloved J. Crew flannel away from me. Of course it couldn't have been any other shirt. I couldn't say anything because he was a year older and bad-guy cooler, and maybe a gang member. I knew that even if I went to his house to get it (which I did) that it was never to be mine again (which it wasn't).
After nearly twenty years talking about it—the long lost shirt became something of a bit in the early days, when I was single, closer in age to grad school, to high school even, than to marriage one or two, a go-to if I was trying to talk up some girl and running out of material—and searching eBay periodically, because I really did dream of being reunited with this plaid flannel of my lost youth, I found one. A green one. Large. Then, somehow, I came upon a red one. And, yesterday, eBay had another red one, which I snagged for $20 plus $8 shipping. This of course allows me to wear the one I have today and search, again, for that catalog. EBay has 600-year-old TV Guides, why not a J. Crew catalog from 1992?
Back then, this shirt, it felt like more than just a byproduct of the zeitgeist. It was the zeitgeist. Just like us.
I'm not entirely sure what locating the catalog will do for me. This shirt has an inventory number, which doesn't seem internet-searchable. But I don't know. Maybe I just want to see the blue one again? To confirm that it, and I, really existed back then?
Anyway, if you happened to come across this catalog installment in your earlier research or know anybody who might have it and can point me in that person's direction, I'd be grateful.
It was the best of times.
Dammit, don't you hate it when you know someone has your clothes but you can't get them back? This reminds me of the time when my Guess jeans were stollen from the girl's locker room. I saw the perpetrator wearing them on the bus the next day. She denied it and screamed at me and that was that. I am often nostalgic for clothes of the 80s and 90s. I had so many nice things and the quality was so much better.