I remember exactly what I was wearing when I got my first period (gray Abercrombie sweatpants), and the first time I let a guy feel me up (white shorts, also Abercrombie). I was once wearing overalls when I got some good job news, and so now I wear those overalls to all business meetings. If something major happens to you while wearing a certain outfit, the outfit is imbued with the vibe of that thing. This isn’t science, but it’s true. So on days I know something Major is happening, I try to dress accordingly. But “major” can also be bad, so if you have advance notice, a little preparation is worth it.
A few weeks ago, I was getting dressed in clothes I knew I’d be wearing when my boyfriend and I broke up that evening. We’d had that pre-conversation that always either leads to two people mistakenly staying together, or respectfully calling it quits. This is an impossible thing to dress for, like finagling the proper outfit for a day that starts out 90 degrees and sunny and ends 55 and rainy. It’s so widely known to be ridiculous that it’s literally mocked in the trailer for the iconic breakup film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where an incidentally naked Jason Segel quips, “Would you like to pick out the outfit that you break up with me in?”
I did several outfit changes that morning. At first, I thought, I should look great, that will make me feel more confident and less sad. People will generally agree with this logic; on bad days, dress in a way that makes you feel good. So I put on one of my roommate’s blouses but it was obscenely cleavagey, which somehow felt wrong. Neither party should be thinking about your tits during a breakup. I tried a plain dress, but it’s a dress I like to wear to work and I didn’t want to curse a favorite outfit. A few changes in, I landed on the answer for us all, an outfit so nondescript, so basic, that I’d forget about it entirely: A black T-shirt and jeans.
I have a lot of black T-shirts and also a lot of jeans. This is exactly the point: A breakup outfit should be something nondescript and nearly interchangeable with most of the rest of your closet, a set of clothes you never think about again. It has to be something you won’t see hanging in your closet and think, Fuck, that day fucking sucked. What a waste to never be able to wear your favorite top again, just because it was what you wore when you dumped your partner. Your clothes don’t deserve that, they only deserve to be washed according to their instructions, and worn with some regularity. They certainly don’t deserve to be donated, their curse passed on to some unassuming thrift shopper, because you couldn’t handle looking at them anymore (sorry to my prior breakup outfits).
To Steve Jobs, the Rock, or in certain cases Elizabeth Holmes, the black shirt and jeans is a “power outfit.” It works in this context because it requires very little thought, which is exactly the sort of outfit vibe you need on the day of breakup, when you’re emotionally distressed and can’t be bothered to think about pattern clashing. It’s comfortable; it’s not too schlubby; it’s so unassuming that your soon-to-be-ex won’t notice or remember it; and, as my coworker Katie Way pointed out, it’s the people’s outfit. Everyone owns these two pieces of clothing.
Even now, less than a month later, I can’t remember which exact combo of these items I wore that day. It could’ve been any one of my stupid black shirts—I’ve got tons! Many might encourage a flashier look, one that shows your ex what they’ll be missing, but I’m here to say: Don’t do that. It’s kinda mean, for one. And it’ll only leave you with a trail of amazing, unwearable, emotionally wrecked outfits that, unless you’re megarich, you can’t afford to replace. Avoid that problem by using this trick of—when you can feel a bad day coming—wearing an outfit so blasé that you literally can’t remember it weeks later. You’ll be sad enough without having to take a moment to hold your freshly cursed blouse up between your fingers, sigh at it, and cry. This is self-care, I think? You deserve it.