Clothes and I have never had any problems. Clothes have taught me a thing or two about penny-pinching, distorted body images, and beloved jackets. And just like how you change on the inside throughout the years, “my style” has evolved too.
[Thanks, Marta for the inspiration for this post.]
Running around with the boys, I usually played outside, and didn’t pay much attention to my appearance. I don’t have fond memories of outfits or remember wanting a dress or a shirt or anything like this. I was more obsessed with Barbies, G.I. Joes, Star Wars action figures, Legos, and arcade games.
I grew up during the ‘80s which meant neon socks in jelly shoes, Madonna-inspired lace, bracelets, and jewelry, diagonal stripe mini dresses, shoulder pads, and a wall of crimped, permed, teased Aqua Net flavored hair which fashionably framed your face.
The one item of clothing that defined my teenage years (and in many ways my identity) was my acid-washed denim jacket. [Why yes, I had a knock-off Member’s Only jacket, too!] But this wasn’t an ordinary jacket, it was cropped so it sat above my waist, and was covered with heavy metal band patches. I wish I still had it.
An obscenely large Megadeth patch in gold and black spanned across the back shoulders, a Vic Rattlehead (“official mascot” aka skull) patch of the metal band was stitched on the back. On the sleeves were a Guns ‘n Roses and an anarchy symbol because that’s how bad-ass I wanted to be. I took the military name patch from my father’s US Air Force days and sewed it on the front and wore his dog tags.
Like most young women, I went for the way things looked, not how they made me feel. I wore uncomfortable bras, panties, pants, and shoes (oh, what we put our poor feet through). I was also clueless as to what looked good on me.
My mom wanted me to dress a certain way, and I’m not sure what took me so long to figure this out, but she wanted me to dress the way she would have liked if she had my figure. I was also told not to wear fitted clothes and since I felt awkward about my body, I often wore loose and baggy clothing.
But I learned two important lessons during this time. One would take a longer to fully enter my fat head, but the other stuck with me and it was this. I found (at a secondhand store) and bought a beautiful red vintage double-breasted cashmere coat while on holiday for about $50. It was the kind of material I loved to run my hand over inside and out. I didn’t even like red, but this hue was nice, and I felt like one of the Beatles when I wore it. The trouble though was I never wore it. I wanted to save it for a special occasion.
The coat came up when I was with my teacher training colleagues. My friend Mia said, “Why are you waiting to wear it? Wear it now. You’ll never wear it if you wait. Wear it tomorrow to class.”
Wearing head-to-toe red took some getting used to, some guts, but in overcast Oregon, I stood out. Folks complimented me, told me that the color cheered them up, and later when I was a teacher on the playground supervising my students, I was easy to spot.
The other lesson was I truly did not know how to shop for clothes. I didn’t understand that just because it looked good on the rack, that didn’t equate to it looking decent on me. When I went shopping with some girlfriends, they helped me purchase two blouses, one of them fit well, and it took a lot of convincing from them to get me to buy it.
My partner describes how I used to dress as “you were a head floating on top of a swath of fabric” or something to that effect. We met teaching at the same school and I wore mainly dresses.
But once we started dating, he had a remarkable influence on the way I dressed. As an artist, he knew what looked good and assessed what I needed – and it was a waistline. He also began to veto anything my mom sent me.
I had been a big fan of consignment stores since high school theatre days when we’d scour Goodwill for costumes. When I moved from a tropical climate to a cold one, I needed a winter wardrobe quickly so secondhand stores saved the day. Then my friend Gina taught me to hit up the stores near universities at the end of school terms as that’s when students get rid of a lot of excellent clothes, sometimes never been worn, brand name beauties.
So when I became a teacher and needed a teacher’s wardrobe on a budget, it was thrift shops again. There used to be a fantastic one in Chiang Mai and one day the BF inevitably joined me. He made me try on dresses that I never would have picked out. But then I’d leave with 3-5 dresses, wear them to work, and receive compliments after compliments from staff and students alike.
There’s a price to pay, mind you. I have to listen to him make a game show buzzer sound whenever my hand hovers near a dress that I think will look good on me. [Do you know how embarrassing this is with other people near by? He’s quite loud.]
Also trying on clothes in SE Asia’s humid heat is no picnic either. There is no A/C in secondhand markets or consignment shops. You have to be willing to look through a lot of duds. Are there stains or missing buttons? Is the dress lined or see-through? But the worst is when you can’t try it on and you have to use your best judgment, but for less than $3 I can donate it and try again another time.
What’s your relationship with clothes?