The End of the Dreaded Short-Sleeved Dress Shirt

I’ve never been much for formal dress. I had a suit, and wore it on the appropriate occasions: weddings, funerals, job interviews. And given the kinds of weddings, funerals, and interviews I’ve been to, I rarely wore it at any of them. But my working life in Japan has changed all that. My office is very formal, the dress code being along the lines of “there is no dress code but all the men wear suits.”

Now I own more than one suit. Many dress shirts. Neckties, even. And I’ve had to learn to tie said ties. Who could have imagined it?

Couple the formal office environment with the high heat and humidity of the Japanese summer, and you get a situation where people are practically begging to wear as little as possible while still having to stay mostly covered. Enter the solution: the short-sleeved dress shirt. A fashion faux pas in the west moves to the top of the list of things you’d want if you suddenly found yourself stranded in a Japanese office in summer. I should note here that the solution for women is much more complicated, and for the discerning western woman, seldom results in anything cool or fashionable.

So, ignoring what little fashion sense I have, I bought myself a bunch of short-sleeved dress shirts. And happily wore them. Yesterday, as I was packing my bag in preparation for the morning cat 1 hill climb bike ride to work, I realized that I have enough clean shirts that I won’t have to wash any more. I can just throw them out as I get home. No washing, no packing. I can just make them disappear. I could probably even toss them in the garbage at school, but that might set the garbage police on edge. Are cotton/poly blend shirts burnable garbage or “other” garbage? Do the shirts have to be washed first? Do we have to handle the buttons separately?

Before you get all environmental on me for thinking about tossing the shirts, let me just say that the alternatives for reuse aren’t as simple as they’d be in the west. As far as I can tell, there’s no centralized way of donating used clothing—short of the school recycling drives that happen every few months—like there is in Canada. No Sally Ann to speak off. No Goodwill. No Mennonites. Some churches collect clothes for their outreach projects, but the process of contacting someone and getting the stuff to them—especially when you’re leaving the country in less than a week—can be a pain. And that’s supposing the shirts have a useable life after I’m through with them. Let’s just say that it would be possible to salvage them, but it would probably involve more organic chemistry than simply hauling them to the curb in one of the pre-printed clear city garbage bags.

And who knows, perhaps organic chemistry is exactly what happens once they get picked up by the jingling green garbage trucks. I sometimes imagine that the trucks take all our garbage to the Mitsubishi Chemical factories west of here, and turn the stuff into bug spray and pool pellets. Some days it certainly smells like it. But that’s another post. And Jarrod went on a tour of a garbage facility today, and came back with information that contradicts my theory. The facility does, however, generate its own electricity by burning gas produced by the waste. Mmmmmmmm. Methane.

While I didn’t mind the “business formal” look, I’ll be happy to close this shirt-and-tie-wearing chapter in my life. I’m keeping some of my nicer dress shirts—ones with long sleeves—and most of my ties, even though I don’t foresee a need for them. My only regret in this whole formal office dress experience is that I didn’t buy an Inhale+Exhale brand “NOTHIN’ BUT THE BUISINESS” necktie for myself when I had the chance. But that’s not a request. And the extra “I” in buisiness was a literal transcription.

Wherefore the shirts? I still haven’t brought myself to throw any of them out. They’ve made their way into the purgatory of our laundry basket, from which they will likely be sorted into a pile of stuff not worthy even to be padding for my bike.