You might know immediately what we’re talking about, or might know someone this minor problem has afflicted. Maybe you haven’t a clue what we’re referring to—if you are clueless, or, as the case may be, “without holes” read on to be edified!
For some time now Joan has noticed tiny holes appearing in the bottom front of many of her shirts. She would see one hole, two holes, maybe a pattern of multiple small holes. We have had cats—sometimes multiple feline friends—for almost our entire married life, so Joan never thought the holes were much of a mystery. Cats have claws. Said be-clawed cats pounce on us, knead on us, and snuggle (often with claws unsheathed) in our laps. Occasional holes in one’s clothing are just a part of the deal—an inter-species tradeoff—when cats are members of your household (see our previous post about our cats https://sixtysixtyblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/constant-and-faithful-companion/). Joan never gave the matter much thought or mentioned it as a matter of interest to anyone.
However, two years ago, after we lost our sweet cat Muffin and became a cat-less household, Joan began to notice that her new (post-Muffin) shirts were continuing to manifest the distinctive little holes. They weren’t random and seemed always to appear in the same area of the shirt: just below her bellybutton on her abdomen, close to where the button of her jeans would lie beneath. Cats were apparently not the problem after all!
Curious, she asked Greg about it. He claimed not to have ever had the problem at all; he couldn’t remember ever seeing the kind of holes Joan described on his own clothing. This absence seemed quite strange. We both wear tee shirts and jeans most of the time, and the shirts are pretty much made out of the same material, aren’t they? Why would one member of the family be afflicted, and the other escape this couture calamity?
Now we were faced with a minor, but intriguing mystery. What in heaven’s name was creating those pesky little holes? Joan isn’t one to ignore a burning question (even if a relatively minor one) until it is answered. And if Greg is to have any peace during an information quest, he has to assist in finding a logical explanation.
Further, we found it strange that we had never heard of anyone having this problem while we were growing up. If our mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles had this problem, we certainly didn’t hear of it. Was it possible that the “little hole problem” is a modern-day phenomenon? And if so, why? Or did this happen to our elders, but, absent the internet and its blogs and tweets and posts discussing the mundane inanities of life in great, endless, and unimportant detail, we simply had no way to hear about it?
For instance, could it be moths? We ruled that possibility out immediately. Moths would have affected other items of clothing and fabric, certainly. And many of the affected items were not likely to be attractive to moths—made of synthetics. Not all of Joan’s clothes were affected, and Greg’s clothes showed no holes at all. And moths surely wouldn’t choose just the lower front area of a shirt and leave the rest of the material alone. Our “little holes” weren’t at all likely to be the result of hungry little moths. There was a pattern here—but what was it?
Joan resolved to pay close attention to the domestic activities she did during the day in hopes of discovering the source of the problem. Does the old rough wooden laundry cart in the basement catch her tee shirt when she leans over it to retrieve clothes? Do the bobby pins or hair clips on her lap poke a hole or two into her tee shirt fabric when she’s pinning up her hair? Speaking of modern causes, what about working on a laptop? Joan often works on her MacBook Air for hours at a time doing genealogy (an activity that surely benefits from her single-minded pursuit of unanswered questions and trivial mysteries). Could the edge of the laptop bottom be thinning the material in her shirts making them more liable to develop holes? Observation seemed to indicate that none of these innocent possibilities appeared to be the likely culprits. But over time, and with more diligent observation, a couple of telling clues began to emerge.
Clue 1: Joan noticed that the phenomenon occurred only in shirts she worked in around the house. None of her fancy tops, blouses, shirts and chemises, worn for “good occasions,” going out to restaurants, for example, seemed to have developed any holes. The cause of the holes, it seemed, was a domestic one.
Clue 2: Joan started asking members of our family about whether they had noticed little holes in their shirts. Our oldest daughter didn’t notice any holes. Our son didn’t have any. Greg, as we’ve already reported, didn’t exhibit any.
She texted our middle daughter one day: “Random question – do u get small holes in ur tshirts near ur waistline?”
Our daughter’s response was rapid and decisive: “Yes I do!! What is up with that? I always get those holes! I always thought it was the kitties who made the holes.” (Note: our middle daughter has two cats and academically researches feline behavior).
Joan felt a little relieved that she wasn’t the only one after all. “So I’m not crazy! This isn’t happening only to me!” As it turns out (from this small and quite unscientific sample), the height of the shirt-wearer seems to be a significant variable. Greg, our son, and our oldest daughter are all at least five inches to ten inches taller than Joan. But our middle daughter is only about an inch taller. Hmmm…were shorter people somehow more likely to accumulate these holes? We were perhaps onto something here.
When no other useful clues emerged after the height discovery, we decided to let the subject rest a while—but still keep out a watchful eye out for new holes and the conditions under which they might develop. While vacationing in the Shenandoah Mountains with two good friends last summer, we happened to broach the subject over dinner (God knows why!). Turns out our friends were also no strangers to the mystery. Although Dave didn’t have a problem with the little holes, Brenda was, like Joan, a victim. This added some credence to the “height-related” hypothesis.
This was a topic our friends had discussed with some of their own circle of friends, and they suggested that if we googled the problem, we’d probably find lots of explanations. They weren’t kidding! What we found were endless speculations and tentative explanations.
Several online sites noted that material sold in today’s world is cheaper, thinner, and poorer in quality, making holes more frequent. This could support a “modern phenomenon hypothesis.” Maybe the clothes from our younger days—we are after all sixty-something—were simply of better quality. Problem is, that explanation doesn’t really account for why most men and taller women today don’t seem to have the holes.
Some claimed the problem stems from wearing belts. Another theory is that it comes from standing at a kitchen or bathroom sink where you come into contact with cleaning solutions that weaken the fabric of your shirt. Someone suggested a correlation between the appearance of holes and the new HE washing machines that don’t have agitators. On another website one woman claimed that holes only started appearing in her clothes, but those of no other family members, when she moved into a new house with a walk-in closet. Some of these explanations seem unlikely to us. After all, for instance, tall men wear belts and don’t complain of the little holes. It isn’t clear why the absence of an agitator would create holes! One might expect, logically, the reverse. In fact, we still own an agitator machine.
We decided to settle on the explanation that fit best with the clues we had already unmasked and well, frankly, made the most sense. Here we have to give credit to Jessica Hewitt, author of a parenthood blog called “Five In Six.” In her post, “Those Tiny Holes at the Bottom of Shirts – The Culprit & The Cure,” Jessica concludes, “The small holes at the bottom of shirts are caused by the shirt repeatedly rubbing between a pants’ button and a hard surface…” You can read her blog for yourself here: http://fiveinsix.com/2014/02/tiny-holes-at-the-bottom-of-shirts.html.
Jessica tested her theory by purchasing a new, hole-free shirt (Jessica bravely took “one for the team on this one”). She wore her new shirt with jeans for four days straight but kept the front of her shirt tucked into her jeans the entire time. Outcome? No worn spots at the bottom of her shirt. No holes!
Jessica’s conclusion matches perfectly with the clues we uncovered. Joan only gets holes in the shirts she wears working around the house. Do the holes appear at the spot where her jean’s button presses against the kitchen counter? She stood against our hard granite kitchen counter, and sure enough, found that her tee shirt’s holes and jean’s button hit the granite at precisely the same place. And this was not the case for Greg, who is quite a bit taller. The height of the jeans/shirt wearer—which is positively correlated with gender in most cases—seems to account for the variability in who is afflicted and who is not. Greg’s jeans button, simply stated, is higher than the counter. No “fabric sandwich” ever happens.
When you wear tops with jeans and come into contact with a hard surface like a kitchen countertop, the fabric becomes sandwiched between the jeans and the hard surface. This causes friction, rubbing the fabric of the top repeatedly against the metal button of the jeans—the result, over time, unnoticed and unbeknownst to the wearer, is a pattern of tiny holes! It can likely be any hard surface: a counter, edge of a desk, or maybe even where a seat belt comes into contact with the shirt material over the jeans button.
Mystery (at least to our satisfaction) solved! But the trick, of course, is figuring out how to prevent getting any more of the pesky little holes. In our next post, we look at some of the solutions—with a generational twist and a nod to the domestic apparel of an earlier age—to this pervasive but, admittedly, trivial problem!