Thursday, April 28, 2005

The clothes make the woman

I've cleaned out my closet and drawers. Thoroughly. I've been ruthless — if it doesn't fit now, or if it hasn't been worn in the last three years (is that too generous?), away with it.

I threw out my red shoes. The faux-fur-lined red-vinyl lace-up ankle boots that made me feel so... individual in my final year of high school, 18 years ago. They had their day.

Then I opened the trunk. I thought I'd pretty much emptied the trunk; the only thing I remembered storing was a couple articles of maternity clothing, just in case.

The trunk.

My Brave New Waves t-shirt ("with apologies from CBC stereo"), black with pink logo, circa 1986, when Brent Bambury was host, which I won for some contest or other. When I worked late into the night on school projects, listening to Skinny Puppy and Einsturzende Neubauten. When I learned about Philip Glass and John Zorn. When I first heard of Italo Calvino, listened to a reading of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.

The leather jacket. The black leather motorcycle jacket. My brother's jacket. It was his prize possession when he was in his early 20s; I was barely, not even, a teenager. My punk-ass brother and his jacket were the epitome of cool. Many years later he handed it off to me. It served me well through university. I wore it to London and to Paris. It hasn't really fit me in ages — it was always snug, but there's no hope of ever zipping it up again. But some seasons I still pull it out, feel the weight of it on my shoulders and hug it close. (There's a pin in the lapel, commemorative of Christmas in Italy, 1943 — my father's.)

A wide-brimmed black velvet hat with a spray of roses. I spent a fortune on it ($25 in 1988). I wore it only a couple times — in a photo shoot for a friend, and to a vernissage — because it wouldn't stay put. Also found: receipt for one large pearl hat pin ($1.50 plus tax) from retro shop. Helena is going to love this hat.

Various wearable nostalgia. Two The The concert tour shirts. A t-shirt from a vineyard on Long Island: "Life is a cabernet."

My father's fishing cap.

My mother's early 60s beaver pelt turban-style hat with glittery brooch.

Little black dresses. My mother's little black dresses. The wool dress with the fringed bustline (New Year's Eve 1956). The one tiered in lace ribbon with the wide velvet shoulder straps.

I remember those dresses sheathed in plastic hanging in my mother's closet when I was a little girl. She never wore them. Years later, home visiting from university and worrying over what to wear to some party or event or other, she gave them to me. I wore them a lot, to clubs and cafes and on dates, and I wore them well.

When I rediscovered those dresses in my mother's closet when I was 18, in some sense I discovered my mother, saw her as a woman for the first time. A woman with fashion savvy who went to dances and parties, who had special occasions that didn't involve her children's birthdays, who had a romantic soul, and an obvious sense of nostalgia.

I'm keeping some of my own dresses as well. The skirt and jacket my mother made for me out of red and black brocade upholstery fabric, cuz I asked her to. A couple sexy party dresses. The swishy-skirted dress I treated myself to in Poland. The yellow sundress I was wearing the day I first laid eyes on J-F, waiting at the bus stop with a mutual friend. The skirt and jacket I wore to that same friend's wedding, when I met and fell in love with J-F.

Someday, I expect Helena will be looking for something special to wear, for a party, maybe a date. We'll open up the trunk. Maybe she'll realize something about the woman her mother was before she had a family, and she'll wear that too.


melinama said...

My daughter's been doing some of this winnowing every time she comes home from college. Clothes she loved because somebody gave them to her, or they remind her of a wonderful occasion. But she'll never wear them again. I don't mind all the clothes she's left here but I wish she'd get rid of the shoes.

I have too few of my favorite clothes left. I've been too ruthless. I often sigh over something I wish I'd kept. It's not like my attic is so small.

I wish I hadn't thrown away my "Locrian String Quartet" t-shirt from 1975 (my first silk-screening project, only five were ever made - yes, it was a quartet, but somebody's significant other wanted one too)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't believe that you have kept all that stuff over the years, Isabella. Then again, knowing you, perhaps I DO're not like me: rash, impulsive, short-sighted...shall I go on here? Nah, you get the idea; I'm envious, truly.

Diana said...

Beautiful, Isabella. Made me a bit misty...