I remember the first time I put on a light blue shirt. I must have been around sixteen and I had just watched Noah Baumbach’s The squid and the whale. Jesse Eisenberg plays Walt Berkman - a disillusioned teenager caught up in his parents’ divorce. What stuck with me wasn’t that I also was a teenager dealing with my parents’ divorce, nor the super 16 handheld aesthetic. Instead it was Walt’s style – epitomized in an oversized light blue oxford shirt outs, a white tee and a pair of Levi’s 501 jeans.
The next morning, I grabbed one my dad’s light blue oxfords from his closet and went to school. I wanted to imbue myself with Walt’s impervious assertiveness. I didn’t care that this was oblivious to anyone but me or that slim Ralph Lauren shirts was in fashion and any light blue shirts in 2007 was signaling Burberry belts, loafers, and cheap champagne notliterary coolness. It was the relation between me and a fictional character from Brooklyn. I was me wanting to belong in a world I didn’t belong to and by wearing the shirt I could somehow bring a part of this world into my own.
Donnie Darko wears the same light blue shirt when he carelessly exits the school bus just as Tears for Fears’ “Head over Heels” kicks in. It is the same shirt everyone else is wearing at Loyola High School as a part of their school uniform, but Donnie wears it differently. He’s wearing a white tee beneath when the jocks are showing of their chest. It’s untucked and unbuttoned when school’s over - it’s showing his resentment of his 1980’s suburban life. I was a teenager living a 2000’s suburban life the first time I watched Donnie Darko. I wanted to be Donnie or rather I considered myself to be just like Donnie – someone special, an outsider able to look through the veil of this fake world of ours. If only my school would impose school uniforms the next day, so that I could stand up in a crowd and call Jim Cunningham the f**cking antichrist! Oh, the misunderstood teens we were.
Perhaps I still feel some kinship to Walt and Donnie when I put on a light blue shirt. Even past all delusions of grandeur, I still feel somewhat empowered by the shirt. The same shirt I once wore to feel connected to a highbrow life in slope Park, but my dad only put on when he had to. The same shirt which to him was a corporate straitjacket as it was a symbol of money and power to the jocks at my school. But to Walt, Donnie, and I the light blue shirt was something different.
This is the transformative nature of what we wear.