Anecdote Chant

I Am My Tie-Dyed Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt

When I was in college, I was, to varying degrees, involved with a very crunchy granola, hippie-chick. She complained that I dressed like a Republican Conservative Yuppie. In fact, she once called me the most Republican Conservative Yuppie she knew. Mind you, that was a few months before a new girlfriend would tell me I was the most Democratic Liberal she had met. When you are an independent or moderate, the people at the extremes only see you as their opposite.

Since I considered myself different from a Republican Conservative Yuppie, I decided to try to bridge my inner and outer images. I don’t look good in T-shirts, so I decided to bring a hippie tie-dye aesthetic to what was already in my closet. I found a white Ralph Lauren Polo shirt as my canvas.

I thought this would be very cool and individual. Moreover, I thought it would win me points with her because it was not just cool and individual, but that it would put an ironic hippie twist to an icon of yuppie affluence. I thought she would see it as defacing the Ralph Lauren Polo. I thought she would be so into the idea, in fact, that I asked for her help. It was supposed to be a bonding experience for us to do together. In addition to thinking of the shirt as an expression of myself, I also thought of it as a merger of us.

I was both surprised and disappointed when her reaction was that she wanted nothing to do with it. Worse still, she showed a thorough lack of a sense of humor in not only not seeing it as defacing a Polo shirt, but that she saw the Polo shirt as an insult to tie-dye. As the creative originator and artistic executor of the idea, I lost points as if I had committed a felony.

Nevertheless, independent of her, I did love the idea and was determined to pursue it, with or without her. Once she realized that, she did soften, but only just a very little. Since she knew more about tie-dye than I did, she agreed to go with me to buy the dyes, and we did work together on some test T-shirts so that I could learn. She didn’t know how to do the swirl I wanted, but showed me some other patterns, including what I called a “bulls-eye.” When it came to doing the work on the Ralph Lauren Polo, however, she said she would not touch it – and, in fact, she spent most of that time out of the room.

After the dye had a day or two to soak into the fabric, she watched as I unwrapped it. I have to emphasize right now that the original result was stunning. The colors were rich, vibrant, saturated, and deep. Where they overlapped, the primary colors had blended perfectly to produce rings of green and orange. No browns, no grays, nothing but a beautiful rainbow spectrum. Unfortunately, however, I missed something in the process of rinsing out the excess dye – and I accidentally washed out too much dye before it could be fixed. The shirt dropped to pastel hues that made it look like it was already aged and faded. Still, it was mine. It was me.

Even when she saw it on me, she still didn’t like it. She still maintained it was offensive. I maintained it was me and that it had my sense of irony, dichotomous duality, and humor. I realized that, if she couldn’t appreciate that, then so be it.

I wore the shirt through my senior year. I got a lot of compliments and questions about it. Some people wanted to know where I bought it. Others recognized that I made it. If they thought it, no one else said it was offensive either way. I did, however, get many people who understood the intent behind it and who, regardless of their politics, smiled at seeing it. After college, I think I may have worn it once or twice on “Casual Fridays” at my corporate job during the dot-boom. Yes, I know it pushes beyond the bounds of “business casual,” but testing that boundary is part of who I am, too.

Before 2000, the shirt went into long-term storage. Last week, I was going through some old clothes and found my beloved tie-dyed Ralph Lauren Polo shirt. Realizing it may not last forever, even in sealed storage, I decided to photograph it. When I saw the result, I felt sad that I could not wear the shirt more often. Then I realized I could use it as my profile picture on Facebook, MSN Messenger, AIM, and other social networking applications. The photo of the shirt has taken the place of my face as my avatar to the world. I am my tie-dyed Ralph Lauren Polo shirt.

I bought a new white Ralph Lauren Polo and some dye. I also have instructions for a tricolor spiral. I hope to get the rinsing process right this time and have the spectacularly vibrant shirt I first saw all those years ago.

In the meantime, the original shirt is back in storage. I have told family and friends to get it out for my funeral when the time comes – no ties for me! My original tie-dyed Ralph Lauren Polo shirt, a pair of Levi’s jeans, and my Teva sandals will be my eternal suit.

Christian Stuart Lee’s Tie-Dyed Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt

By Christian Lee

Christian Stuart Lee's Rants and Chants has entertained and informed readers since January 2002. Rants and Chants includes non-fiction writing -- anecdotes, essays, movie reviews, and more. He is diligently working on a novel and other projects, which he hopes to publish soon. He is available for freelance writing -- the materials in Rants and Chants will give you a sense of his interests, knowledge, and style.