The Ugly Shirts


When Tink came South, toting all his worldly possessions, included in the myriad boxes were some of the ugliest shirts I’d ever seen.

Until Tink began to happily pull the beloved plaid shirts from storage, I don’t believe I had ever looked at a man’s shirt and thought, “Yuck.” There was plenty of yuck in those boxes.

Each shirt was mundane in color but the ones with varying shades of grays were definitely in the majority. He had at least six shirts that had four tones of gray in the checks. Drab.

Do you remember the old, plaid shirts that Billy Bob Thornton wore in the Southern Gothic movie, “Slingblade”? That was exactly what these shirts, from Los Angeles, California, resembled — which is particularly eye-rolling because Southern California enjoys laughing at Southerners. Yet, they had stores that sold shirts like those.

This was in the early days of our marriage when I sought to guard what I said. Finally, though, I had to speak up.

Tink came bouncing down the stairs, rolling up the sleeves on yet another dreary, gray, plaid shirt. Perhaps we’d already had a fuss that day. Or perhaps I was in a bad mood and just couldn’t take ugly anymore.

I sighed heavily … the way wives do when they want to make a point without saying it.

“What?” asked Tink innocently, believing he looked quite fine in the blah shirt.

“Tink, I’m sorry, but that is the ugliest shirt I have ever seen.”

His sweet face fell and hurt darted in his eyes. I almost wished I hadn’t said it. Almost.

“What’s wrong with it?” he asked.

“First, it’s about 20 years old and out of style. That makes it a fine shirt for yard work and barn cleanings. Second, all your shirts are gray plaid and dreary.” I paused. “You look like ‘Slingblade.’”

Let me kindly and generously warn all wives against saying such a thing to your husbands. What ensued was so ugly that it made the shirts look beautiful.

A couple of days later, our battle troops in retreat, Tink popped into the bedroom where I was watching television. He had on his ugliest gray shirt, buttoned all the way up to his neck in Slingblade-style, his jaw jutted out like the character, while he quoted memorable lines from the movie. I laughed so hard, I choked. It remains, to this day, the funniest moment in our marriage.

Soon, though, Tink agreed that I could throw out all the ugly shirts and replace them with colors of red, yellow, green, and orange. It had worked very well for several years until a couple of months ago. I had ordered four beautiful new button-up shirts for Tink. He prefers these over polo shirts. He always rolls his sleeves up and these had contrasting fabric on the cuffs. We were traveling to North Carolina where I was to produce and host a documentary.

The first day I was in the studio, I got a text from Tink, back at the hotel. “Baby, I’m sorry but I left all my shirts at home. I’m going out and buy one or two new ones.”

I shook my head but was too busy to get mad. That afternoon, after a long hard day, a friend dropped me at the hotel. As I was getting out of her car, Tink was strolling across the parking lot in one of his new shirts.

Gray plaid. Drab. Ugly. It was identical to the discarded shirts of years past, as if they had resurrected from the trash graveyard.

“You’re kiddin’ me?” I said, astounded.

“Baby, it was only $14. I got two!”

“Tink, there’s a reason they were only $14. Nobody else wanted them.”

My friend was doubled over in laughter. She’s married, too, so she knows: there are just some battles a wife can’t win.

Either in color or drab gray.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the novel “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.” Visit to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]