White Out

Three white t-shirts hanging on a clothesline against a blue sky.

There’s something about crisp whites. Maybe a button down, or towels and wash cloths. Could be a pair of pants with a knife sharp crease, or a duvet cover imitating a cumulus cloud floating above a sky-bed.

Crispness isn’t totally required. I mean nobody likes crisp socks, but warm, fluffed, super bleached socks from the dryer? That can produce an actual swoon. We still mentally categorize those delicious socks with crisp whites, because they’re somehow part of the same awesome experience.

Even the mere invocation of crisp whites works. There are  candles and air fresheners and sprays with names like Clean Linen, Snuggle Fresh Linen, Crisp Breeze, Linen & Sky and Laundry Line Clean Cotton. They actually don’t smell like anything, but people buy them. No. Literally, they have no scent. No flower. No spice. No exotic oil. No grass. Seriously, no aroma. Yet the idea of crisp whites fills our nostrils with, uhm. I don’t know. Crispness? Eau de crispette?

BONUS! You don’t even need to mention white to get that white crisp fabric feel. When you saw the names of the scents, they didn’t say white. But as you thought about crisp linen and piles of cottons, you knew they were white.

And not just any white. Holy white.

This is the bright white that reflects all the goodness from a Saint’s robes. This is the angelic glow of an infant wrapped in a white gown with white lace embroidery for christening. This is the white you see when you look into the yellow sun and it becomes an almost painful white as you’re forced to look away, blinded by that deity star. Then you can’t see anything at all for a few minutes. You push through that dark brown-black as payment for seeing god.

Sadly, this white in clothing and linens doesn’t last. It is ephemeral. That tablecloth that grounded last Christmas’ crown roast sports not only physical memories of Pinot Noir but also the grease shadow remnants of that delectable, fat-rich gravy. It doesn’t wash out. It doesn’t bleach out. It doesn’t Shout® out. And therefore, the cloth is much less white.

The socks that were white and fluffy as a new kitten grew grayed and frayed like Grumpy Cat over a sadly short number of washings. That summer stock white skirt? The one carefully ironed after spraying with Magic Sizing  so every wrinkle and fold was pressed out to eliminate the shadows that obstructed the pure brightness? A poorly planned month ruined that sweet skirt. And a set of sheets, too.

I quit white. It was full of disappointment and regret. Printed sheets, dark towels and sensible sartorial civvies became my norm. I couldn’t fully resist the splendor of crisp white, but it was a disposable purchase from the final sale rack, easily replaced after it was defaced. My shirt drawer had a pile of cheap white tees in various stages of whiteness and, therefore, proximity to the trash. I would spend no real money for white.


Until I was so cold. We’d had fifteen days straight of cold spring rain. I was unprepared that day, wearing only a light silk sweater over my cheap white tee. Being only a block from a huge department store meant that I didn’t need to remain cold.

I went into Macy’s and paged through the racks. I pulled two coats off and found a full length mirror for evaluation.  First was the soft pink leather jacket. It fit poorly and had gold zippers. Zippers should be silver. Reject. Then, I tried on a Tommy Hilfiger faux-seersucker trench. The fabric was hard and stiff, like a piece of cardboard. Not crisp but rigid and brittle. The coat had the fit of a 70’s Barbie with a twist and turn waist. Reject.

I felt discouraged as I walked the coats back to their origin. As I hung up the unyielding blue and white stripe, a new option revealed itself to me. It was a very white trench coat. It was, in fact, crisp and virginal white. I didn’t think to reject it. It might have cast a spell on me.

I spied the tag. My size. I walked it to a mirror on a pillar on the other side of the aisle. It was a fine jacket. I popped the long collar up behind my head, a la Transylvanian. It looked even better. It was marked down eighty-percent.

I walked to the cash register and held out my left arm, the one with the tag. I wasn’t taking the jacket off. I was wearing it out. It was mine. It was amazingly and blindingly white. It would be stained. It would be ruined. It would not stay bright. I did not care. These were all risks that I would accept for that whitest of white and crispest of crisps coat.

As I walked out of the store, I felt like everyone was looking at me. And they were. The guard at store exit turned and nodded with approval. Walking past the food trucks more heads turned and nodded. Passing the hotel, the red cap stopped me. He had to tell me how fine my jacket was.

I know I have to keep it shiny and white. I’m ready for that risk. I’m thinking about buying white sheets. Crisp and white and cottony soft. I’m sinking happily into that thought. Ahhhh.

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