The Allure Of Hand-Me-Down T-Shirts and How to Wear Them

Not to only ever talk about my Cool Dad, but the guy has given me some very good t-shirts—including, for Christmas, the only items on my wish list: two very hole-y, falling apart, perfect-to-me, oversize J.Crew shirts that originally served as his “weekday tees,” were demoted to his “sleep tees,” and then, eventually, became too “done” to wear, but too invaluable with which to part ways. Relics, if you will.

Anyway, now they’re mine and I put them to good use.

I’d be hard pressed to find a person who does not love the look, feel, and sentiment of an oversize, hand-me-down t-shirt. The unexplainable, persistent physical warmth of the cotton! The star-like holes that accumulate like little pinpricks in a cardboard sky diorama.

So let’s dive in and categorize.

The White T-Shirt

t-shirt repurposing-alexandra malmed-man repeller-shelbyduncan-8323

The Heck Telepathy t-shirt — similar hereStella McCartney jeans, Gucci shoes, Marni choker

The White T-shirt is the universal Dad Tee. He has plenty of them—literally, like, 20 identical shirts—because he found a good one and just really went for it. He may not even know that this exact one is in your possession but would still, illogically, claim that you had taken his “favorite” of the bevy. When I asked my own dad to send me two, on loan, for this article, he told me that he didn’t have any. This couldn’t be farther from the truth!

It seems fit to style this in a way that he or a similar dad would: in a classic, simple manner, maybe with jeans. But you’re not (yet) your dad, so throw on a heel! A choker! Or go with counter-intuition—and tie the t-shirt into a sort of rosette nexus—or shred bits of it and tie on beads! You probably have some left from your faux hair-wrap stage, no?

The Destroyed T-Shirt

t-shirt repurposing-alexandra malmed-man repeller-shelbyduncan-8285

J.Crew t-shirtDries Van Noten blazer, Assembly New York skirt, ASOS shoes

This one is usually a little funny—maybe it’s blue, or purple; Balenciaga famously made an overly destroyed but very expensive and pretty well done version of this—but there’s something comforting about wearing a shirt that looks the way that this does because it was worn so tirelessly by someone else. All the more if you love that person; it feels particularly special because why, when a shirt somehow reaches this point, would anyone ever retire it? Because they love you, too. This t-shirt is already a lot, so why not make it even more? With printed, or metallic, accoutrements!

The Graphic T-Shirt

t-shirt repurposing-alexandra malmed-man repeller-shelbyduncan-8429

Vintage t-shirt, Madewell jeans, Super by Retrosuperfuture sunglasses, Vans shoes

The graphic tee is usually on lend from a small boyfriend or brother. This one is an original Rolling Stones merch table hotcake. Since we styled the white t-shirt as our dads would, let’s style this one as our boyfriend or brother would: similarly, with jeans. You’re closer in age—and maybe even in vibe—to the owner of this shirt than to your dad, so keep things more in line with their manner. Do you have vans? Put ’em on! (Or any other skate sneaker.) Maybe some surf-y (didn’t realize you were reading a sports website, did you?) jewelry and a pair of sunglasses. You’re now a vision of the thirteen-year-old boy you once had a crush on.

The Black Shirt


Vintage t-shirt — similar style here, Paco Rabanne skirt, Prada shoes

This shirt could’ve belonged to just about anyone: a goth, a theater kid, a mime. Which means the styling method for this one is really up to me. I say we go for a mini skirt, or a dress worn under the shirt so that it is also, essentially, a mini skirt.

Photographed by Shelby Duncan