By Susan Lee
I have never been one to pay much attention to my attire outside of what is necessary for
business or occasion, but fashion is perhaps deeper than on the surface. It is a sign of our
times and something whose meaning is formed in one’s sub-consciousness from an early
age. Being first generation, my parents had different thoughts about what was important.
Going through grammar school, clothes was merely functional and changed only if they
needed washing, so I was constantly wavering between fitting in and making do. From
my formative years, I never quite developed any fashion sense, or perhaps even fashion
common-sense, until the following experience.
I arrived in Sacramento via a job transfer from Texas armed with (1) clothes for work and
(2) an assortment of t-shirts, shorts, and jeans for casual wear. Around this time I
befriended a family of Polynesians – a tight knit laid back bunch. Having never been to
Hawaii, I was immediately attracted to what was exotic – from taro to pigeon English. I
was particularly close to Pua, who was closest to my age. She was a little thing and
relative to me, on the other end of the fashion scale, piecing together a stylish and unique
In this part of the story enters a faded round-neck lime green t-shirt. It was from REI and
had little tribal figures printed across the chest. It was soft, comfortable, and in the deep
recesses of my mind, very Islander. I was set! We passed the months together and my
impressionable self was starting to speak Pigeon.
One weekend in the early summer, Pua and I went shopping at the Galleria. I needed new
tops and she graciously offered to help me. We perused the usual stores trying on
different things but I didn’t end up buying anything. Near the end part of our journey we
arrived at a sporting good store to look for bathing suits. I was in my comfort zone at a
rack of summer sale t-shirts. I happily flipped through the hangers finding t-shirts with
palm tree prints, surfing logos. I sallied forth to the fitting room. When I decided on the
one I wanted I stepped out to show Pua.
In history, patience and silence has won battles. Pua did not say anything but she had a
look of concern in her eyes that teetered close to horror.
“NO,” she finally concluded.
“What – what’s wrong with it?” I questioned pressing my face downward to inspect my
newly donned light green t-shirt.
“You need to pick another color,” she finally replied.
“What’s wrong with the color, Pua?” I whined, “I look good in this color, the shirt I had
on earlier is…”
And then it dawned on me.
“You don’t like my t-shirt?”
“It’s not that I don’t like it,” she started slowly, “It’s just that…you wear it…a lot.”
A light bulb went off on in my head. Once or twice a week I would do my laundry and in
would go my lime green t-shirt. One or twice a week Pua and I would meet up for
dinner, hanging out, or a movie and coincidentally, out would come my lime green tshirt.
This had been going on for many months.
I was embarrassed and a little hurt.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Sue-babes (this was my islander nick-name), I just didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“But that’s my favorite t-shirt,” I explained,
“I KNOW,” she retorted.
And then, I started laughing. I buckled over in that store and laughed until I was crying. I
could not believe her restraint. I could not believe she had gone out with me in public
night after night enduring my green t-shirt. Little by little her story came out. She would
come to pick me up or vice versa and every time she would be silently thinking, “Oh
man, please don’t let sue-babes be wearing that t-shirt.”
Pua joined in my laughing. We would stop for a minute, sigh, and then bust up laughing
again. It turned out my beloved t-shirt was far from Polynesian. The little tribal figures
were Kokopelli, from the Southwest. Not that it mattered as my t-shirt had worn out its
welcome long ago. The t-shirt lived out its days as sleepwear, but long after its life had
ended, it has stayed with me as an endless source of giggling. I was lucky to find a friend
who could see past my one t-shirt and still love and accept me, all the while patiently
opening me to try something new. Of course, I still have made many mistakes, such as
my pique polo era, but that is a different story.