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The Forever 21 Hoodie I Love to Hate

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Hoodies are the worst, so why can’t I let this one go?

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There I was, standing in a Forever 21, about to buy the one clothing item I’d abhorred for years: a hoodie.

How did I get here? I hated hoodies! I’d always thought they were sloppy and ugly, a mini-Snuggie meant to be worn in public. They weren’t flattering. Hoodies looked like plastic bags made of fleece. What had happened to me?

I’d arrived in the US the week before on my first trip to the country, flying from Pakistan to Washington DC, then onto Boston, and had boarded a Greyhound bound for New York. Back in Karachi, I’d enthusiastically packed a pair of purple pants (very Barneys, not Barney), a jumpsuit, and a linen dress. I wouldn’t look like a tourist with bulky sneakers and a backpack; I’d look like a chic, still-twentysomething writer who could handle the big city.

The bus rolled into Manhattan, a crystallization of a thousand images and pop culture references, a blur of Gossip Girl and Sex and the City and Bill Cunningham and The Sartorialist. My trip hadn’t gone like I planned, and I couldn’t shake off a general sense of sadness. I didn’t have any friends in the city, and I had no idea what I’d do other than vague notions of shopping and whether the city would end up being a disappointment. But New York was everything it was on paper: people offering to buy cigarettes off you, the larger-than-life Times building facade, the people hurtling through the subway together. Everyone in New York looked either terribly miserable or extremely happy.

The next morning, I wore my purple pants, a black top, and a shrug. I went to the Met, spent the morning wandering around the exhibits, and walked out to sit on the steps.

It began to rain.

This would never have happened to Blair Waldorf. Almost instantly, the weather seemingly switched over to winter: icy, windy, gray. As I walked around Manhattan amid the intermittent rain and cold, I enviously stared at women in sensible warm coats and jackets. My hair was a mess. The wind cut through my useless shrug, a binding, humidity-trapping contraption, but I couldn’t take it off because it was the only thing saving me from the shard-like rain. My shoes slid around. I was cold and tired, but the fear of missing out on New York kept me walking down the streets.

I hadn’t come all this way to stay indoors.

And so the next morning as I headed to the subway, I stopped by a Forever 21. There was a display of hoodies on sale. The horror.

But as I stared at the display — and the $6 (I think) price tag — it made utter and complete sense. I had to buy a hoodie. It was the cheapest possible solution to not freezing in New York or leaving the house wrapped in a duvet. It would destroy the all-black outfit I had on. I was smug as I rode the subway until I emerged to dazzling sunshine. It didn’t rain that day, or the next. The weather was glorious for the rest of my trip.

I thought that was the last I’d see of the hoodie, that this act of desperate shopping would be consigned forever to the back of a closet. I posted everything I’d bought on that trip to my Pinterest “Closet” board except for the hoodie, because I was never planning on wearing it again.

But since that fateful day in Forever 21 almost four years ago, that hoodie keeps resurfacing like a possessed doll. I own a decent-enough coat, a Uniqlo jacket, warm socks, and sweaters, but that hoodie has seen me through winter and rain and sleet. I hate it and marvel at its strength in equal measure.

There’s something about its utilitarian warmth. You can’t go to sleep in your overcoat or a down jacket, but you can in a hoodie. I reluctantly travel with it, only putting it on once I’m aboard the plane, making sure to cover myself with an airline blanket so no one sees that I am in a hoodie. It’s warm and snug and easy to slip off in public. I don’t have to pull it off over my head like with a sweater, inevitably ruining my hair and snagging an earring. The hoodie protects my good clothes, the ones I really care about, from the elements.

The next year, I took the hoodie back to New York, where I wore it on top of my clothes on bitterly cold April mornings and stripped it off before going into meetings. It was repulsive to put on — nothing rips your look apart like a navy hoodie — but it was the only warm thing in my luggage that could fit into a handbag.

Last summer, I packed the hoodie for a summer in the Bay Area, where I was studying Arabic at Middlebury’s immersive language program run out of Mills College. The weather veered between being so oppressively hot that I was convinced I’d get heatstroke in my dorm room and cold enough that I’d have to sometimes sleep with the hoodie on.

When I moved to Jordan last fall, I took it along. Hidden under an oversized sweater, it helped me survive a winter in a flat so badly insulated that a cold breeze perpetually circulates indoors and makes the curtains flap as if they’re haunted.

In the years since I walked into that Forever 21, the underwire of expensive bras has broken free, my purple pants ripped and had to be tossed out, and handbag and trouser zips have come undone. But the hoodie is indestructible. It even survived a KonMari purge. It has yet to disintegrate in the wash. It will likely survive a nuclear strike.

While I admit it has its uses, I still haven’t warmed to it. It doesn’t fit with my taste. I mostly wear oxford shirts and jeans or tailored pants. Gone is my penchant for throwaway buys or randomly walking into Forever 21 stores. My usual accessories — big earrings, statement rings — don’t really go with hoodies. I don’t wear athleisure, and the only time I wear T-shirts in public is if I have no other clean clothes or am planning to spend the entire day writing.

Perhaps I’ve gotten older — or I’ve realized that I can appreciate cities just as much from the window of a café or a park fountain — but I’ve mostly lost the FOMO that would make me walk through the streets in the rain. Now when I travel, I don’t feel like I need to try to look like a writer; I know I am one, even minus Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment and the pun-filled dialogue or someone asking to take my photo. When I come to New York now, I have friends to see, a favorite bar to revisit, and stories to tell about my work and life. I know wearing red lipstick is an instant way to feel like a thirtysomething chic writer who can handle the big city.

And when the weather turns cold, I start looking for the hoodie. Every time I wear it I think of how ugly it is, how terrible it makes me look, how it makes me feel fat. I fantasize about losing it somewhere. Even at the best of times, I feel like something is off with my look — a missing accessory, a shirt that could fit better. Topping it all off with a hoodie doesn’t help.

But every time I pull it on, it’s a reality check: I am a broke writer, not a vision in layers of pure cashmere. When I wear that hoodie, I accept that I do not have a car waiting for me by the foot of the Met steps. Perhaps one day I will own enough gorgeous sweaters — or earn enough money to pay for central heating — to not rely on a mass-produced demon to work in a freezing room. The hoodie doesn’t match what I want to appear like on the outside — successful, put-together. But I also know that its comforting warmth will help me get there.