The Grandfather Shirt collection @bodies.as.clothing, one of our most popular since launching in 2021, was inspired by my grandfather James and three classic shirts I procured from his wardrobe after his passing in 2019. He would have turned 90 on June 27th of this year, and so I thought it fitting to share descriptions about the semantics designed into the Grandfather Shirt. My grandfather James was probably the first tan skinned boy coming from the Philippines to Canterbury school in Connecticut, soon after moving to Cambridge to complete his undergraduate studies at Harvard. He would tell me stories about his predominantly white classmates occasionally making fun of him not drinking milk with all his meals, amongst other cultural differences. A talented writer and lawyer, he helped me revise and edit my college application essays, and instilled within me an understanding of the power of the written word. As a staunch aestheist, like me he was consistently baffled by the rhetoric the Catholic Church used to beguile its patrons. A survivor of WWII who had lived in Manila at a time when it was widely known as ‘The Pearl of the Orient’, he worked tirelessly to write and speak up about the destructive 20th century American and Japanese occupations of the Philippines. He made it a point to show American visitors to the Philippines that it is not a poor country as many Americans have oriented it to be. My grandfather comes from a line of survivors and strong dissenters, his own grandfather George Letablère Litton, an Oxford trained French Huguenot Irishman who left Dublin to become a member of the British Consul in China and Singapore, given that his father had ruined his opportunities at marriage in the UK after being caught writing a fraudulent cheque. Together with my grandmother Lina of Liliw, my grandfather James led a comfortable life in Forbes Park, Makati with their 6 children. Comfortable, but sometimes like a telenovela series, my uncles at the time would get into trouble, causing episodes of armed gang members to show up at the house gates, that my grandfather then had to take care of. Drugs destroyed my family. An ex alcoholic, as much as my grandfather persevered through the rollercoaster of his sons’ addictions, he ultimately died from the supreme sadness a Harvard educated father may feel when their eldest son with 6 kids, and second wife are still in rehab after the age of 60.
The grandfather shirt, to me, is a wearable reminder of ancestral love. Although one can say my family, as it once was, was destroyed by drugs; I and other members of my family are still here. My grandfather persevered throughout most of his life, and it is this spirit of perseverance, tied with old-school worldly elegance and eloquence of a bygone era that I carry with me in the breast pocket worn right above my heart of all the plant dyed, natural fibre grandfather shirts I have made.