What Target V-Necks Taught Me About Life

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s funny how everything changes and stays the same with time.

In 2009, I got hooked on v-neck t-shirts.

V-necks offered unbeatable value for a poor kid from Orlando. They looked clean, fit well, and were only $7.99 at Target. They were a golden ticket to looking decent without breaking the bank.

Me and my gramps with one of my Target V’s.

My perspective on v-necks changed during my first year of college at Princeton. Many of my peers sported Ralph Lauren button-downs, salmon-colored Vinyard Vines shorts, and Sperry boat shoes.

After someone made fun of me for wearing cargo shorts and a v-neck, I felt pressure to conform to the norms of my environment. I couldn’t afford the classic brands, so I looked for cheaper alternatives.

Thanks to support from my grandma and money I earned tutoring, I slowly hacked my way to looking like my peers.

Studying abroad in Barcelona during my third year of college.

By the time I graduated from college, my idea of what clothes should look like and cost had completely changed. Instead of $7.99 t-shirts, I now felt comfortable spending $80 on a polo.

This cycle of creeping clothing cost flowed into other areas of my life. I regularly spent $17 on cocktails, $5 on lattes, and $75 on casual dinners.

If you had asked my 18-year old self what he thought about these expenses, he would have freaked out and called me a rich prick. For most of my life, spending $10 at Chipotle or $8 at Wawa was a luxury.

But my reality had changed. I now made a six-figure paycheck and lived in New York City. So did most of the other people in my immediate circle. My expectations and values conformed to my peer group.

It wasn’t until I left New York in 2016 and started traveling the world that I realized how far I had wandered from my humble roots.

Living in low-cost countries in South America and meeting people who didn’t come from wealthy families reminded me of where I came from. It also reminded me of how little I cared about expensive items. I’ve always found the most joy in life through cool experiences and connecting with interesting people.

For the rest of my early to mid-twenties, I happily lived out of a backpack with a few shirts, one pair of shorts, and a laptop. Over time, I ditched nearly all shirts with a collar and slowly returned to my v-necks. At Target, they’re now only $6 a shirt, unless you get the $9.99 ones with fancy patterns.

If I had never left New York, I’m not sure if I would have had this return to the simplicity of my youth. Or maybe I would have. Perhaps the transition from your adolescent self to your college self to your adult self always requires getting lost in someone else’s expectations. I don’t know.

All I know is that I’m happier living within my own expectations and values.

It’s probably impossible to avoid all of the influences of what’s around you, but you don’t have to get lost in those influences. You have some control over many aspects of your life – who you surround yourself with, where you live, and what you value.

If you find yourself feeling in a little funk, it’s worth considering which parts of who you are, what you buy, and what you do actually contribute toward living a “good life” as you define it.

Once you honestly evaluate your life, double down on the good stuff and discard the bad stuff. That may mean cutting ties with people who don’t enrich your life or letting go of someone else’s idea of success.

For me, part of that transition involved ditching the expensive button-down shirts and returning to my v-necks.

Living by the expectations and values of someone else is an okay route to take, but you risk ending up on your deathbed with a few avoidable regrets.

If you enjoyed this essay…