We don’t know each other, but we have a lot in common. I just bought a new shirt at Stein Mart. Because you sew a ton of shirts every day, there’s a chance you made mine. Small world, huh?
All my apparel originates from exotic locales. When I visited a small South American city earlier this year, I had to buy a shirt because I had run out of clean clothes. There’s a saying in parts of America that women glow rather than sweat. Though I am not a woman, I was lit up like a nuclear power plant in full meltdown. I believed it easier and nearly as cheap to buy another shirt rather than launder the one I wore. Though I mistakenly asked in Spanish for a “ladies blouse,” I left the store with a man’s peach-striped short sleeve shirt fabricated from space-age material. The best part was the label, which indicated my new shirt was “Hecho en Colombia.” I bought local.
However, I cannot always afford to buy my clothing on location. That is why you’re so important to me. Because of children like you, I don’t have to visit the countries where my apparel is produced. My clothes are shipped directly to the United States. Their final destination before purchase is just minutes from my house. They await me arrayed in colorful displays at Old Navy and TJ Maxx. My clothes are tailored to my exacting standards by masters of their trade, just like you, in far-off lands such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, and a little country called “China.”
Although the cost of everything from housing to food has risen, it is paramount I pay no more for my clothes than I did thirty years ago. When I was in college and could barely afford to pay my monthly rent, I still wanted to look good. I did not realize it took more than nice clothes to accomplish this, but naiveté ain’t always a bad thing. I spent a high percentage of what we Americans call disposable income on clothes. My favorite buy was a pale yellow, 100% cotton pinpoint oxford with a button-down collar. I paid $30 for this versatile garment at the Mister Guy clothing store near campus. That’s where all the preppies shopped. A preppy is someone who dresses like he has a corncob stuck up his backside. I dressed this way in college.
Thirty dollars is a lot of money, am I right? I mean, that’s about half what you make in a month. So, just imagine what it was like way, way back in 1980 for a guy who made $4 an hour spinning Waylon Jennings records at a country bar. Not since I wore a lavender sweater shirt in seventh grade to drive the ladies wild did I so cherish an article of clothing. I looked forward to each laundry day so I could again wear that perfectly fitting beauty.
But the idyllic days of my relationship with that magnificent example of American textile craftsmanship were short-lived. A college roommate, whom I am too classy to identify here, shot off a bottle rocket which landed in my laundry basket. When the gunpowder cloud cleared, I discovered my beloved button-down had been assassinated with extreme prejudice. It had burn holes everywhere. The period for mourning my precious shirt was made worse when my roommate, who never amounted to anything, replaced it with a cheap polyester knockoff. He paid a few dollars for it at a discount department store that is, for good reason, no longer in business. I believe the replacement shirt was designed for a pregnant woman. Its sleeves were too short, and it came with enough belly room to hide a Toyota subcompact. I tried to give away the shirt to Goodwill, but they rejected it because they could not forensically identify the material’s composition.
I know you’re busy sewing belt loops on a pair of skinny jeans, so I’ll get to the point of this letter. I’m writing to thank you. Today, my $30 yellow shirt would cost three times as much if clothing costs followed inflation. But I don’t have to pay $90 for nice shirts in 2015. I mean, if I did, you would probably be paid a lot more, right? That’s crazy talk. Instead, I can still buy a decent shirt for $30 or $40, just like I did 35 years ago. It means so much to me that highly trained artisans like you, some as old as ten or eleven, spend long hours each day making sure I have cheap clothing to wear. To you and all the other seamstresses and seamsters out there, I tip my cap. (A cap you may have sewn, by the way.)
If it were not for you, I would not be able to pay less than the price of a tank of gas for a Polo knit. So, I now honor you for your hard work. And I hereby acknowledge and celebrate all my tailors by location, if not by name, with this quick rundown of shirt labels in my closet:
- Bangladesh (6 shirts)
- Sri Lanka (5)
- China (5)
- Mauritius (3)
I appreciate you, Chumkee. When you take your five-minute lunch break at your sewing machine to eat a little chaat, you may wonder who is wearing the shirts you’re paid $68 a month to make. Now you know. You make me look good. And best of all, I still have plenty of money to buy an iced Swiss mocha with skim milk once a week without worrying I will go broke. You are my hero. Now get back to seaming so I can feed my cheap clothing addicition. I would like something in pale yellow.