At first I thought it was just the collar, the rim around the very top, wearing away through excess use. That's where shirt-erosion always begins. A few worn patches in the blue and grey check, initially restricted to the lighter bits of the pattern, then extending fast. But the collar still looked perfectly fine so long as you didn't stare too close, honest, and I can usually count on nobody peering too closely down the nape of my neck.
And then I washed the shirt one too many times. As I hung it up to dry I noticed daylight shining through beneath the collar, and I sighed deeply. The fabric's thinned to breaking point along the upper hem, just above each shoulder, and again a few centimetres below. Were I to wear this shirt again you'd see straight through to the skin behind, in four parallel stripes, as the craftsmanship slowly rips apart. If I'm honest, my favourite shirt is already dead.
It's been my favourite shirt for years - ten to be precise. It's a bit yoof, a bit sk8rboi, or whatever passed for cool in 2001. It's rather shorter than most of the shirts I own, definitely not a shirt for tucking in. It has a label on the outside, down at the bottom on the untucked bit, with the unlikely brand name of 'Custard'. It'll come as no surprise that I had help when buying it, in this case from a trendy outlet in deepest Covent Garden. I remain indebted to my wardrobe mentor because I'd never have known the shop was there otherwise, let alone spotted the ideal garment.
For the last ten years I've looked forward to summer, to another season of long-term wear. Thin fabric, short sleeves, ideal for a warm day. Whenever I couldn't decide what to wear, couldn't pick something else I felt comfortable in, I'd go back to this beauty. I'd slip it on, head out into the street and feel thirty-something (going on twenty-something) again. This may have been delusional, but I like to think we were a good match. Alas, after one too many spins round the washing machine, no longer.
All the signs were there. I was out in town earlier this month when a young friend of a friend twisted group conversation towards my shirt. He'd started by mocking my mobile, still a 2007 model, unlike his ubiquitous smartphone. Next he insulted my watch, first because I still wore one and then because it was a 1980s digital original. And finally he sneered at my shirt, born 2001, and wiped away all my confidence when wearing it. I assumed at the time he was thinking 'grandad', but maybe he'd simply noticed it had seen better days.
And so my favourite shirt has expired. I ought to throw it away, or at least bung it in one of those clothing banks outside a supermarket. But I can't bring myself to do that, because it's my favourite shirt. So I'm going to retire it to my special drawer of much-loved vintage clothes. There's a blue herringbone jumper I bought from a department store in 1987, back when I thought department stores were cutting edge. There's a black and white shirt with chess-board-sized checks from 1984, which so came back into fashion last summer but which I can no longer button up. And now there's my threadbare Custard shirt to stash away, something to get out in 25 years time and remember how sk8rboi I nearly was.
So now I need to fall back on the lesser second-rate shirts in my collection, umming and ahhing over which I'll feel least uncomfortable to be seen in. I have no clothes-buying sense whatsoever, alas, and never pick anything decent except by accident. But my new favourite shirt must be out there in some shop somewhere, surely, some day.