Day 23: The Dresser and the Cost of Cheap Clothing

I’ll make this quick because the pictures made it obvious. I cleaned out the bottom four drawers of my dresser. It was full of t-shirts, which I rarely wear outside the house.

I was the first woman to burn my bra – it took the fire department four days to put it out.
Dolly Parton

Like sweats, t-shirts don’t do me any favors. When you can give Dolly Parton a run for her money, shirts that accommodate your bust are often big in the shoulders and waist. Fitted t-shirts solve the problem, but a fitted t-shirt only calls attention to what is usually a pain in the neck (and back) in more ways than one. For a lot of reasons, primarily poor body confidence and shyness, I stick with the flowy tops that have been popular for the last few years, usually with an empire waist. Fingers crossed I can afford a reduction before they officially go out of style.

I don’t think my before was all that messy, but I knew most of it had to go. Not just because it looked bad or didn’t fit, but because many of the t-shirts had holes. Itty-bitty holes in the front, down by the hem.

This is what I really want talk about. Does this happen to you? It seems like all my t-shirts get holes slightly below the belly button. I thought it was my washer or dryer snagging them, but appliances aren’t selective about what they destroy. I don’t imagine dryers roll t-shirts around their drums like a fine wine, tasting the bouquet of cotton and only taking a bite when the finish has the unmistakable zing of thin t-shirt, China.

I thought maybe it was me, my soft belly testing the confines of its cottony prison. But no, I once mentioned it to a thin, flat-bellied friend and she admitted to having the same problem. The only conclusion we reached was that we rubbed them from standing against counters, but even as I type that it makes no sense. If the holes are from friction, they wouldn’t be holes. They’d be tears or patches of threadbare material…right? I’m stumped and I need to solve this mystery.

Last theory. Cheap t-shirts? Like, maybe the t-shirts are thin and the belly button area is a stress point? This theory reminds me of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, a book I’ve been wanting to read. I’m interested in the premise. I feel like my position on expensive clothing versus cheap clothing changes everyday. And yeah, okay, I have hopes I’ll find a chapter in the book that addresses mystery holes in t-shirts from Target.


New here? For the next 31 days I’m living according to the famous William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” You can learn more about the project here, and catch sneak peeks of my projects by following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (I’m @pancakesfries).


Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    I buy tshirts from Old Navy because I can order them in Tall for my freakishly long torso and they always get holes around the bottom. You need to crack this case wide open.

  2. JanetS says

    In the case of my knit tops (it wasn’t happening only to thinner t-shirts), the culprit turned out to be a bad-fitting pair of jeans. The top of the zipper would come open just a tooth or two and that was enough to snag on the shirt and cause holes. Over time, three or four tiny holes would turn into a quarter-sized one. Once I quit wearing those jeans, the problem went away.

  3. April says

    Have you heard of (or its sister site, Pepperberry sells clothes tailored to those of us with the “if it fits the boobs it doesn’t fit elsewhere, and vice versa” problem (Bravissimo sells undergarments and swimsuits for our body types). I highly recommend them.

    • April says

      PS, I buy cheap t-shirts too, but I don’t have that hole problem. My underarms go bad before I get holes, no matter how well I wash them.

        • April says

          They have great products and excellent customer service. I’ve never regretted any of my purchases with them, even if shipping costs are a bit high (since they’re in the UK, not the US).

  4. says

    Yep I get holes at the waist – like Janet says I blame the zippers on my jeans catching them, seems to happen no matter what. Although when we changed to a top loader washer that did not have a central agitator it has become much less of a problem for both my husband and I .

    • says

      I would bet that’s it. When you hang shirts on a line I’ve heard you are supposed to fold them over just slightly. My mom always dried our shirts on hangers, but that was before $5 tissue t-shirts.

  5. says

    Those holes drive me bonkers! My best friend and I have talked about it on countless occasions and think that the cause for them is a combination of the following: the use of thin (and short staple) fabrics, the fact that shirts are pretty much are never tucked in anymore, and the low rise or below the belly button fit of pants which causes that little top corner (by the button) of jeans/chinos to rub against the top when sitting. It happens most frequently in tops I own from stores like H&M, but I have also had it happen with tops from higher price stores. Seems like this problem has gone global.

    • says

      YES. It’s that little top corner of the jeans that I think is causing all the ruckus! Unfortunately, like you, I’ve had the holes pop up in my expensive t-shirts, too, which is why I stopped buying them.

  6. says

    I thought the holes were from rubbing ever so slightly around the button/ waistband of my jeans. At this point, I see t’s as being time-limited garments – by the time they develop those holes, it’s also time to cycle in some new ones.

  7. says

    I have the same problem with the tiny holes just below my navel. It happens in good-quality as well as cheap fabrics, and even in the aprons I sometimes wear. It didn’t start happening until we replaced our old formica countertops with granite. I think the top of my jeans (I am *always* wearing denim bottoms of some sort) rub against the edge of the granite countertop, which, while smooth, still has more “texture” than my old formica. The tee shirt between the jeans and the countertop develops tiny holes. I have a stack of tee shirts that I wear specifically when I’m spending time in the kitchen, and when I’m wearing something I want to protect, I have learned to lean forward just a bit and not allow that area to hit the counter. No holes in those shirts!

  8. Christie says

    Everyone should read that book. It will change your mind about where you buy your clothes and how you spend. I’m still cheap but much more careful about where I buy clothing.

  9. says

    I have that same hole problem with my $5 flag t-shirts from Old Navy. My husband always contended that it was from the counter, but I didn’t see how the counter could produce little holes. The jean waistband/zipper makes sense.

  10. says

    What?! I figured the holes were some freakish phenomenon that only happened to me! The weird thing is, I’ve only noticed in the last five years or so. I thought maybe they were getting caught on a sharp place on my desk . . . but perhaps it’s something more . . .


  11. Heather says

    Its definitely rubbing on counters that does it for me – I recently put a new shirt on, washed some dishes, and there they were, 3 holes in a brand new shirt. Chalk it up to thin fabric and where the waistband of your jeans hits.

  12. says

    I *hate* those holes!! It’s not so bad when I actually notice them, but every now and again I’ll wear a shirt and be taken by surprise in the middle of the day…I thought it was because my seatbelt was rubbing against the button/corner of fabric on my jeans and that’s was made the hole. It just means that my “working around the house” shirt pile has increased significantly.

  13. Arin says

    Thank you for writing about this. I have been trying to figure out the cause of the tiny holes in my tees for years. I get them in every t-shirt, regardless of quality or price (which aren’t necessarily related in my experience). I do get a lot more bummed out when I find them in $48 dollar tees than in $10 ones.

  14. Laura says

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said they are Target t-shirts. Every single t-shirt I’ve ever bought from Target has gotten small holes in random places (as in, not along seams). I’m so tempted by the prices, but I am staying away from the Target tees.

    • says

      I bought a really cute top at Target this summer, which I wore regularly. By the end of 6 weeks, it was coming apart at the seams. I’m done with Target clothing.

  15. Amy says

    I get those holes in the shirt too and have since I was a little girl. It drove my mom crazy. So, for me, I’m sure it’s not the counters.

  16. amber says

    I have this same problem. I too am uncomfortable with my figure and I believe it’s from pulling my shirt down, or readjusting my shirt. Due to my post baby belly (three years post, btw) my shirts ride up, so I am either pulling them out of my roll or pulling them down. :)

  17. Whitney B. says

    First, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now but haven’t commented until now. Love reading your posts! Second, I would get those holes in cheap shirts whenever I would wear a belt. The buckle would rub on it. Since the cheap Target shirts (that I used to buy 2 or more in different colors) aren’t the most flattering shirts on me I’ve realized, I wear them as PJs now, otherwise they would just go in the dump. I just put Overdressed on my library loan, sounds compelling!

  18. Shannon says

    You mean its NOT a Belly Button Monster like my sister & I guessed? 😉 Honestly, I thought it might be from the seat belt but now I’m really wondering. . . . and forwarding this to my sister so she won’t think she’s alone in this battle.

  19. Liz says

    Yes! Yes! I get those holes too! In the same exact place. Real Simple has an online article about the causes- counters, zippers, seatbelts and cheaper fabrics.
    This problem must be fixed! It drives me crazy.
    Thanks for writing about this- it made my day :)

  20. Jenn says

    I get these holes, too! I thought it was just me- for years- until my Mom mentioned it was happening to her. Glad to know others are experiencing this frustration.

  21. says

    Ok, so I have the solution!!! I too had this problem, and it often happen with thin shirts. I work at a dry cleaners where I am leaning up against a counter most of my day. I start wearing tanks/cami’s under my shirt and now I no longer get holes!!!!!

  22. Susan says

    I get this problem too! So annoying. I also thought it was the washer/dryer’s fault. My friend swears laundry detergent is to blame, but we can’t all be using the same detergent (I use Tide) and who among wants to hand wash tee shirts in Woolite? Weirdly, my husband’s tee shirts aren’t afflicted by holes. He’s in construction; tee shirts/jeans are his daily uniform. Why is that I wonder? Are men’s tees sturdier?

    • says

      I use Tide, but I don’t think that’s it. And if it is, too bad. I’m not hand washing t-shirts.

      Yes, I think men’s t-shirts are definitely sturdier!

  23. Anna says

    I have these problem with t-shirt holes too! Sincerely I thought we only had these problem in Spain, because of the bad quality of T-shirts cotton. But some of them are not that cheap, a friend of mine had holes in a designer T-shirt, quite expensive!
    This summer I’ve started an “experiment” : a quite lovely T-shirt ended with one tiny hole the first time I wore it. So i decided to use it only for sleeping. The number of holes increased but only in the belly area and now they are going up to the chest. Quite amazingly there aren’t any holes in the back… which is now the most stressed.
    This has “destroyed” all my theories about zippers and buttons and belts.

      • Anna says

        No, I never sleep on my stomach because of some healt issues! The back and the sides are now the most stressed areas. But I’ve only found a tiny hole in the back… where the label was attached.

  24. says

    Hooray for ditching unflattering t-shirts! T-shirts are kids’ clothes as far as I’m concerned. I get those little holes too in knit shirts, and it’s from the waist band on my jeans. Thin-knit shirts wear out no matter where you buy them, and you just have to know that ahead of time. I won’t spend much money on thin-knit shirts for that reason.

  25. Melissa says

    I used to get tiny holes on all of my camis (I have a weird compulsion to wear one everyday, no matter what) and it took me forever that they were caused. At first I thought I was using too much bleach when I did laundry but that didn’t explain why the holes were always in the same spot but I finally realized that my belt was getting caught in a war with my belly fat every time I sat down and causing the holes in my camis. When I lost 40 pounds and got rid of the extra belly jiggle the problem finally stopped.

  26. Jodi says

    I get them, too. I suspect it’s my belt. When I first noticed the holes, there was always just one. When I switched to a 2-prong belt, my shirts developed 2 holes the same distance away from each other as the belt prongs. I don’t wear that belt anymore.

  27. says

    I haven’t had this problem, and reading the comments, I think it’s because I don’t wear jeans or belts. So wear a pencil skirt everyday, and problem solved! 😉

    • Arin says

      I think it might be jeans, too. Or at least the waistband of jeans rubbing the t-shirt fabric against the edge of the counter top. The only reprieve I have had from the holes is when I was pregnant and all my pants had stretchy maternity panel waistbands. I don’t think belly size has anything to do with the holes because my belly put quite a lot of stress on my tops during pregnancy.

      • says

        I’ve had this problem with shirts for years (my theory was the button on my jeans) and I’m pregnant now and so curious to see if the same thing happens to any of my new maternity shirts, now that my pants are button/buckle free!

  28. Kate says

    It isn’t your size or your shirt quality – I’m a size 2 and this happens to my shirts from gap and Anthropologie – the cute flowy ones with the fun patterns and cute cuts. I figure if it is going to happen to them, I might as well stop buying “nice tshirts”

    • says

      Yes, I have plenty of thin friends with the same problem. I wonder if I contribute to it by pulling down my shirts. It’s not so much that my weight is doing it as much as it is my actions when I’m overweight.

  29. says

    Like everyone else, I get the holes too! I do think the pant zipper might have something to do with it. I used to think it was from Circe, because I tend to hold her and her rear paws rest right about where the holes appear. She is in perpetual need of a nail trim.

  30. says

    GAHHH! YESSS! This issue drove me quite batty last year. BATTY. There are tribes of women on the internet with this problem of the holes, judging from my research. Only happens to the tissue-thin shirts. Thought: was it some area of my granite counters, snagging me in the kitchen? My jeans? I rarely wear belts. Not moths. I *think* my husband has helped solved the issue: the seat belt in my car. On the lap belt, there was this divot-tab thing with a sharp point underneath that he filed down. It has helped a lot. But not totally solved it 100%.

    My husband’s theory is that I have tiny cotton-loving critters who live in my belly-button and are chewing up my favorite shirts. Pretty sure he’s kidding. (BTW: he lives in t-shirts & jeans, and this doesn’t affect his shirts at all. Or my daughter’s.)

  31. says

    I thought we were the only one with this problem! We hang dry a lot of our shirts on a clothes rack and I had determined that our cat snags them while they are drying. But why would the holes always be in the same place, below the belly button as you mention? Ahhh you must be right. We must just have cheap clothes. Argh.

  32. Lisa in Seattle says

    I’m thinking we could start a new movement: aprons over our t-shirts. Many times I’ve secretly coveted beautiful vintage aprons but refused to get one because of the housewife stigma. But if we all wore aprons to protect our t-shirts, I wouldn’t feel so weird about it. Well, maybe still weird, but in a different way.

      • says

        I love my vintage aprons. Of course, I work at a gourmet kitchen and home decor store, so I get to play them off as kitschy and appropriate for work in a quirky, Maggie-Gyllenhaal-in-Stranger-Than-Fiction-way.

  33. says

    Those holes are from leaning against the counter. The culprit is the pants’ button. If you check with your t-shirt and jeans on, you’ll see the hole and button are perfectly aligned when you get in dishwashing position. I’ve lost many good t-shirts to that.
    The fact that many husbands don’t get those holes says a lot about how often they do dishes!

    • Larissa says

      I think Licia’s explanation is right! After reading all these comments, I was starting to feel like a freak of nature for not having these holes in my shirts. Here’s why though: I am 5’9″, so when I wash dishes or stand at a counter, I don’t have to lean over and the counter hits me about 3 inches under the button on my jeans. Those little threads on T-shirts are so tiny, that it would only take a few rubs of a metal button, just right, for it to snap. Once that one thread is broken, you have a little hole.
      My problem: the front part of my pants always gets wet when I wash dishes because I have to hold dishes up out of the sink so I don’t have to bend over while washing. But I guess I could remedy that with an apron. :)

    • Sidra says

      This is correct: button vs counter top with the shirt in between. Like Larissa, I don’t get them either because I’m 6′ tall and counter top is far too low. I would love to have this problem – you can replace a shirt, but you can’t replace a back.

      • says

        Don’t worry, Sidra. You and I can go get back surgery together! I’m short, but my boobs kill me. :)

        My friend Andrea is tall, and she had her counters raised in at least one bathroom. Expensive, but worth saving her back.

  34. Elin says

    I haven’t read all the comments but I have the answer: zippered sweatshirts take teeny bites down the front of our shirts. I try to be conscious of holding the sweatshirt out as I zip it, but it always seems to happen anyway. I have this in cheap and not-so-cheap clothing. But there are still many reasons not to buy junky, sweatshop clothing….

  35. says

    My hubby was *JUST* pointing out a hole in a shirt last night (one that had been “good last week, grrrr). I really think it’s the button on my jeans rubbing against the counter as I wash dishes/cook. HATE that I never seem to be able to wear a shirt more than 8 months before it ends up in the rag pile…

  36. says

    I theorize that the holes are the result of dishwater and cleaning because I get lazy about wearing aprons.
    I too go back and forth on the cheap clothing. I need to do better.

  37. Arli says

    I get the holes and could never figure out where they came from! The pants button/zipper/belt theory makes sense, but I get them all over the t-shirt, not just the bottom. However, they only appear on the front. And it happens in some shirts and not others from same store/owned same length of time. I HATE those holes!

  38. Jessica says

    I know this post was about tops, but ahh, not a reduction! It’s the clothes that are wrong, not our bodies! I have the same body type. I wear 36K in UK sizing. Check out Pepperberry, like the previous commenter said, and also BiuBiu and Simply Be. Also, are you wearing the right bra size? A properly fitting bra helps to distinguish boobs from waist. The bra calculator at A Sophisticated Pair is almost always spot on and has a lot of tips on how to tell if your bra is the right size. Can you tell that this is a passion of mine?

  39. Jasi says

    So I buy some cheap clothing because like the hulk, I change sizes when I’m angry.. or on the rag, whatever! I’m only 5 feet tall so those 5-8 period pounds are nearly 2 dress sizes. Then there’s post New Years skinny clothes.. post-post New Years “what resolution?” clothes… omygosh-it’s-almost-summer sizes.. finally lost those pounds now it’s too late for a bikini slim autumn sizes.. and i don’t give a damn, it’s the holiday sizes… I like to keep it to a minimum but geez! Anyone else’s weight bipolar?

  40. Alison says

    I was *just* talking about that hole below the belly button thing with some friends the other day. Our going theory is that it’s where your shirt rubs against your jeans button, or whatever fastener is on your pants. I usually stain my shirts beyond saving long before I get holes, so I have no first-hand experience.

    Amen on the reduction, sister.

  41. Tammy says

    I never had this problem…UNTIL 6 years ago, when we built this house. In my case, it IS definitely from rubbing against the countertops, in particular the travertine in our bathroom. The edge where I lean over to brush my teeth has a little rough spot. The combo of T shirts, jeans buttons, and rough marble has wreaked havoc on all my knit shirts. Being the genius I am, I put a strip of Scotch tape along that rough edge. Problem solved! You cannot see it and I change it every few months because it gets all roughed up too. Try it and see if that doesn’t help.

  42. Jessica in WI says

    My sister just alerted me to this post you made and I want to say that I have the SAME DARN PROBLEM! Why? Why?! I buy lots of my clothes from Goodwill and thought maybe that was the problem, or maybe my washer and dryer, but both have been replace in recent years with no change in the holes. I also get small spots that almost look like an oil stain but only on certain fabrics. Has been driving me insane for years. Please investigate. I will be most grateful.

  43. Mimi says

    I get the holes too!!
    I rarely wear the tshirts anywhere but home, so im always in pyjama bottoms (so the Jeans theory wouldn’t apply for me).
    I thought it could be moths, but the holes wouldn’t always be in the same place (right under the belly button). And none of my husbands clothes have holes either, so it can’t be that.
    And we hand dry all our clothes, on an inside rack. So they either dry folded over a bar, or on a hanger.

    Im blaming the constant friction from counters (chopping, cooking, washing dishes)… ??

  44. says

    I figured it was from sitting at a desk all day. I like to sit really close to my desk. I guess it’s the price we pay for wearing thin jersey and not tucking in our shirts. It is so much softer than the thicker t-shirts of 10 years ago. If I ever get organized, I’d like to develop a wardrobe of short sleeve woven tops to wear to work. But I’m still wearing t-shirts and trying to fancy them up.

  45. says

    “tasting the bouquet of cotton and only taking a bite when the finish has the unmistakable zing of thin t-shirt, China.”
    That is just too funny. My Husband’s T-Shirts get that but not mine usually. It is weird! I also don’t wear T-Shirts too often though. They aren’t very flattering on my and I am 5’2″ so they just never seem to hit at the right place.
    Thanks for the laugh!!

  46. Kaili says

    My husband has the same problem and we figured out it was his belt!
    Sadly, his tshirts were not cheap, but we got him a flat belt buckle and the new shirts are all beautiful!

  47. says

    I to am a sufferer of the tiny holes in the front of my tops around the waist area. I think I’ve found out what it is now though. I believe its caused by the spray cleaner I use for my kitchen worktops. When you spray the worktop a fine mist is sprayed out and I think some is hitting my tops. As these cleaners usually have some pretty serious chemicals in them, I can only think that it is ‘eating’ away at the material. The holes are so tiny too. I’ve lost about half a dozen tops in the last couple of months – its driving me crazy!

  48. Cheri in the Lone Star State says

    I have heard the holes are caused when you wash your shirts with jeans and leave the zipper down. Shirts will snag a bit and then tear a hole. My oldest dd and I now wash our t shirts separately and I don’t have the issue anymore. (We also try to make sure we zip and button all the jeans before laundering.)

  49. says

    I just had to comment. I never used to get these holes and do now. Ever since we put in granite counters in the kitchen. As I’m washing the dishes I lean against the edge, rubbing ever so slightly as I move. Expensive, cheap – doesn’t matter – they all eventually get holes right at that level. I try to fold a dish towel and lean against that to slow the process down … that’s all it does … is slow the process. My husband doesn’t get it – he has a lovely leather belt with a metal buckle to protect his shirts!

  50. Jennifer says

    I just came across this blog and I thought I was the only one with this problem! For me, my shirts have only started getting the tiny holes in them around the belly area for about a year or so now. I wear a lot of Old Navy and Gap… I have shirts from there that are at least 5 or even 10 years old…. yet, when I buy shirts there now, I will get holes in them… sometimes after wearing it for 3-4 months, sometimes it is holey after ONE wear. I have started saving all my receipts; last Spring, I bought several shirts at Gap and by October, every single one of them had the holes. I had the receipt and I returned all of the shirts at one time (about 7 shirts) and they refunded me my money! It is so annoying, though!!!! I am beginning to believe that these stores are just using very cheap material now… considering I have older shirts from these companies that are still in good shape. Thanks for letting me vent!

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