Writer Hayley Phelan on Shopping Her Sister's Closet
Writer Hayley Phelan is sort of an enigma. The Toronto-born New Yorker is accomplished, hilarious, talented and (seriously) chic—but totally low-key about all of it. It's partly why we love her so much. That, and she made Jenna a Yoda-themed card for her wedding. Here, The New York Times and The New Yorker contributor talks about her soft spot for a very particular (and very stolen) vintage T-shirt. We can relate.
Name: Hayley Phelan
Location: New York City
What’s the star of your Haystack Story?
A vintage t-shirt I stole from my sister. It had three white stripes on the sleeves and 'Detroit' written across the chest.
Do you still have it?
No. One of the great sartorial tragedies of my life. I worshipped my sister (older than me by five years) and would eagerly snap up any of her cast-offs. She had bought this t-shirt at a vintage store called So Hip It Hurts (the name says it all) but it wound up shrinking in the wash and she gave it to me. The year was 1997. I wore it with brown cords and denim converse (with Tweety Bird on them) and I thought it was the coolest thing on the planet. I wore it until it disintegrated and would have continued wearing it except one day I went to look for it, and, finding it nowhere, interrogated my mother who under severe pressure eventually admitted she had thrown it out because it had holes in it.
What did it look like?
At the time I called it navy, now I realize it was more of a blue-ish eggplant color. ‘Detroit’ was a dirty orange color. You'd think this would have been unappealing, but somehow it had this sort of garish 70s-basement vibe that felt cool. The neckline was ringed in white and there were three white stripes on the short sleeves. It was super-thin and worn, and it had a very prominent run down the front of it, just off-center left.
What made it so perfect?
A great question! At first the appeal was simply in having something that my fifteen-year-old sister had bought (for herself! she still liked it! she just couldn't fit into it anymore!). But then I think it became the first item of clothing that I felt attached to on my own terms. It made me feel like a grown-up, which is another way of saying it made me feel like an individual.
What do you feel when you think about it now?
Nostalgic for a time when the only item I needed besides my school uniform was a ratty t-shirt; nostalgic for a time when I lived in the same house as my sister, and could walk into her room, rummage through her wardrobe...probably a lot of sisters feel like this, but I think sharing clothes, going through each other's closets, is like a "heart-to-heart" conversation where you're giving someone access to everything you have. The trust and consideration on both ends is implicit. Also, she has way better clothes than me! I also feel a sort of amused wistfulness for the little person I used to be, when I saw things so simply, and when I thought losing a t-shirt was the biggest deal in the world.
If this item could talk what would it say?
When did you get it?
Who did you have a crush on back then?
Everyone. I was boy crazy. I think biggest crush at the time was Devin Sawa in Now and Then
What did your Friday nights look like?
Seeing a movie with friends, and getting frozen yogurts.
If someone gave you $20 to spend, what would you have bought?
I probably would have bought a lot of candy. Fun Dip. Bubble tape. Nerds. Sweet tarts. The whole shebang.
What show did you rush home to watch?
I don't remember one show in particular. We had YTV in Canada and the programming was pretty typical—Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Alex Mack. I also would rewatch the Wizard of Oz, Bus Stop, The Client and the Breakfast Club (the last two I couldn't properly understand).
What was your favorite snack?
Name one way in which you’re the same as you were back then, and one way in which you’re different?
I still become attached to clothing items for sentimental reasons; for instance, I wear a necklace that my mom gave me every day and the keychain I've been carrying for fifteen years was also a gift from her. I'm less upset, though, when things do go missing. I am pretty embarrassed about the temper tantrum I threw when my mom told me she threw out the t-shirt (I think I swore I'd never trust her again).