fashion · raising boys · slice of life

The Genesis of the “Whale Shirt”

“Can you buy me a whale shirt?” Ari asked a couple of months ago.

“A whale shirt?” I asked.

“Yeah, I want a whale shirt. Nicholas (name changed) always wears shirts with whales on the back. I want a shirt like that.”

“A whale on the back? What do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s got a whale on the back and front, too. But the one on the front is smaller.” Ari replied.

Suddenly, it clicked. He wanted a Vineyard Vines t-shirt.

Now here’s the thing about Ari… he’s a messy eater. I’ve perfected removing stains from his clothes through the years. Thanks to Wash Away stain remover, I can eradicate nearly every stain. However, being in school has presented new challenges. For instance, Wash Away will not remove the dry-erase marker stains that seem to find their way to Ari’s clothing. While I try to buy nice clothes for Ari, purchasing a Vineyard Vines t-shirt for him feels too extravagant.

But, from Ari’s perspective, asking for a “whale shirt” is akin to my desire for Guess jeans with the upside-down white triangular tag that sported a question mark I wanted to wear in the 1980s. Similarly, I still remember my mom taking me to the Benetton store, where I tried on clothes that were too baggy and expensive for any fifth grader. Somehow, I convinced my mom to buy me a rugby and a sweater. I wore both for a few years since I knew Benetton = Cool. (It helped that I didn’t grow much after my mom purchased it for me.) While Isabelle isn’t into fashion or labels, this conversation showed me that Ari was paying attention to them. Alas, I invoked his clothing-staining prowess and the too-high price of a “whale shirt” as my way of saying no.

Our Friday afternoon trip to Valley Forge National Historical Park was cut short since it began to rain. King of Prussia Mall is nearby, so I took the kids to the mall to look for clothes for Ari to wear to Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah. I took the kids to Vineyard Vines since I knew they were having a sale on some boys’ clothing.

Ari bee-lined to the table of neatly folded whale t-shirts, grabbed the top shirt, and foisted it upon me. “I want to buy this,” he declared.

“That’s a size 2T. You’re a size 7.”

Ari ran back to the table, dug until he found a size 7, and said, “Let’s buy this one.”

“You don’t even know if it fits,” I replied.

“It’ll fit. It’s a 7.”

“But we don’t know for sure.”

“I want it.”

“I know you want it, but you need a dressier shirt for your sister’s Bat Mitzvah. I’m going to look for that. Feel free to browse around,” I said.

I attempted to look for blue shirts in Ari’s size. Every minute or so, he returned to me with another whale shirt.

“Find a whale shirt with a sale tag, and you can try it on once we go to the dressing room.”

Peace fell upon me once I sent Ari to look for a less expensive whale shirt.

Several minutes passed. It was time for us to head into the fitting room. Several whale t-shirts made it in, but only one was in the “keep” pile.


The checkout process took time. My ability to get on the road to the Pennsy Pike by 4:00 p.m. was drifting away since the store needed the colors I wanted in the sizes I needed. The salespeople were going to an “off-site” location to find the colors and sizes I needed. Two trips yielded moderate success. Then, the store began having computer trouble.

I should’ve written down what I needed, paid for what I had the right sizes/colors of, and gotten myself home. But, no, I opted to wait it out.

Isabelle was unhappy, but she colored quietly on a chair. On the other hand, Ari began saying, “I want to go to one more store after this. One more store.”

Every time this happened, I explained that we needed to get home for dinner, that I didn’t want to sit in traffic, and that I was tired and had no more energy to shop. But Ari didn’t have it. He persisted. He was relentless in asking to go to one more store.

Finally, in a moment of weakness, I said, “Do you see that orange whale shirt over there?” (Orange is his favorite color.) “It can be yours if you stop whining at me. If you accept that we’re heading straight home once this transaction is complete, I will buy you that shirt.”

“Okay!” Ari said as he rushed towards the table, found a size 7, and handed it to me. I looked at the price tag, horrified by what I agreed to.

“Now remember, you will not bother me about going to another store. You need to sit with Isabelle and color. If you don’t do that, this whale shirt stays here.”

What do you think he did?

Child laying on the floor in an orange shirt with a blue whale on the back.

Ari got dressed for Hebrew school, marched downstairs, and declared, “I have a problem.”

I saw him standing with the whale shirt on, but the cuffs ran past his fingertips.

“You could save the shirt and wear it in the fall when you get bigger,”I offered.

“I want to wear it now. What if I roll the sleeves up?” Ari asked.

Ari won. I hope he keeps his “whale shirt” clean.

Ari’s trouble with his too-big whale shirt was beginning to feel like the baggy Benetton situation I experienced as a kid. In Ari’s mind Vineyard Vines = Cool.

“That doesn’t look good. So you have a choice: push the cuffs over your wrists to expose your hands or save the shirt for the fall. The choice is yours.

Ari selected option A. So, he went to Hebrew school in his “whale shirt.” That orange “whale shirt” represents my lack of common sense to buy clothing that stays within our budget, eclipsed by my desire to stay calm as a parent.

I hope the shirt stays clean!

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17 thoughts on “The Genesis of the “Whale Shirt”

  1. And if the shirt gets a stain or two, it will still be cool. Love the capturing of the conversation, as well as the necessary background information that we needed in order to understand the lure of the whale shirt.

  2. I hope the shirt stays clean, too, but I bet this is a shirt he will remember and love, stained or not. I love how you make the decision in the middle of a frustrating moment – that’s such a real place for parents – and how you recognize a little of yourself in him. All these years later, my sister (who now shops almost exclusively at thrift stores) still remembers when my mom let her buy that pair of Guess jeans…

  3. I want to let you know that Lestoil takes out pretty much all stains. Put it directly on the stain and then wash as usual. You may have to do it a few times. I taught preschool for 25 years and it always worked.

  4. I love that the story you’ve just told will always rest in that t-shirt, stained or not. Shopping, freeway driving, impending Bat Mitzvah, no matter what the price of that shirt (and hey, it’s baggy, better than tight for growth potential—Ari is not going to shrink) well worth it! Hope dinner was delicious after all that.

  5. The picture of him happily laying in his whale shirt sums it all up! I’m not sure if it was your intention, but the repetition of the words, “whale shirt” made me giggle a little bit every time! Ari won this battle… who will win the next???

  6. We all have “whale shirt” parent moments. I’m impressed you even knew what he was talking about. I have no idea what Vineyard Vines is! But what I loved about this post were the throwbacks to Guess jeans and the Benetton store. I used to wear their perfume and they stopped making it. I have never found a perfume that I like as much as theirs. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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