It was first called to my attention in my first year of university, though I suspect the addiction started long before that. “You always wear that top,” the words of a man from Palmerston North, with bleached hair curling into his eyes, eating a pie sandwich. A pie sandwich, in case you were wondering, is a pie eaten between two pies, with tomato sauce for decoration. Not the kind of man, then, who one would expect to be making sartorial judgments, but this is university. A new world. He also liked to bet on grey hounds.
I did wear it a lot, this black striped long-sleeved top from Glassons, but not as much as he thought, because I owned three, identical and circulated. A bargain at two for $20 – which calls into question why I owned three, and I cannot answer – and the staples of my university wardrobe, partnered with jeans, and more jeans, and the one skirt I owned with screen-printings of Marilyn Monroe’s open mouth.
I’m not entirely sure what it is about the black long-sleeved top, except that it’s comfortable. It’s easy, and it suits me, covering the arms stippled with chicken skin and providing me with a comfortable camouflage for breasts that aren’t enormous, precisely, but big enough for me to notice when they draw focus from my hair, say, or my lipstick, or my sharp wit. Black suits my colouring, and it’s not a flattering thing so much as a familiarity thing. White makes me feel foreign and glaring, like stepping out into sun. Black is soft. Nicer, more interesting, people talk to me when I’m wearing black.
If pressed I could count them: the one from Zara that’s cropped with flared sleeves, and the other from Zara that’s a soft merino knit. The ASOS number with inside out sleeves and a V that gives things away. One from New Zealand, pilled with age, but with just the right neck, that balls to nothing in a bumbag or a front pocket. The body, with snaps at the crotch, that sits just right under a leather A-line skirt. The one with leather patches on the shoulder, another with leather sleeves. I like leather. The one emblazoned with Adele’s face (cheating, maybe, but it’s Adele, so we’ll allow it). The one I shrunk, but won’t throw out, in case it chooses to grow again, like one of those sponge dinosaurs in water.
There’s always a black top incorporated somewhere, under a romper or tied around a waist, stuffed in the bottom of a bag. And, of course, I can never find the one I want – the curse of owning at least 8 long-sleeved black tops, all of which serve a unique wardrobe purpose. My mother doesn’t understand. I don’t expect you to either.
It doesn’t stop with tops. It never does. I own at least 7 black dresses, and as many black skirts. Black singlets are mine in abundance – I think I have numerous pairs of black tights, but it’s summer and I can’t tell anymore, they’ve made love to each other and exist now in a Maniac Magee snarl. There’s no saving them, at least until October.
As I sit here in my long-sleeved black top, I wonder what will happen when I am a grown up, which is what will have happened when I don’t sleep in a garage or buy hard-boiled eggs because I don’t know how long to boil them for. Will my love affair with the black top end, brought to an abrupt cessation by a new capacity to buy blue silks and green chiffon? When I am an adult I will know what chiffon is, and how to say it. Like chignon. I will know about them too. And the UN.
The part of me that is already a grown-up (she sounds and looks like my mother; she spends a lot of time immersed in warm water with her toes controlling the taps) know that this is what will happen: I will buy just as many long sleeved black tops, but they will be softer, and lovelier, and blacker and the addiction will grow worse. In this ever-growing house of dreams, there is an entire wardrobe filled only with long-sleeved black tops, each catering to a different black top need.
And in this universe I will be equipped with the ability to put things on hangers, rather than shoving them by the fistful into drawers, so that when I need them, I can find them. The tights snake-nest, though, will still be there, growing and writhing and twisting, each day getting larger, incorporating more. You can only conquer the stocking nest by ripping it into separate pieces and setting each on fire, and who’d do that when each pair was a fiver?
In the writing of this piece, I have remembered why I only had three black long-sleeved tops at university, when four would have been the sensible number: I decided, on one shopping occasion, to branch out, and get the same style top in a different colour.
Coral. Fucking coral. Grown up Scarlett would never make that mistake.