Clothes: A Love Affair
Standing behind me, looking at my reflection in the full-length mirror, the store owner whom I had adopted as my role model for aging regarded the clothes I was contemplating buying and said, her hands on my shoulders, “Enjoy your body as long as you can.”
In my early 50s, I did not understand what she meant. Won’t it always be like this? I thought. I’d been tricked, you see, by the slowness of the change into believing it would not come.
We go to the beach for the family reunion, my sisters and me. Three of us appear at dinner in curated outfits. (Only one of the four sisters didn’t get the clothes gene, unless it’s a wedding, then watch out.) None of us dress alike. But we each put more emphasis on what we are wearing than, looking back, I see in the other women of the extended family. That’s why it took me so long to notice. Because my posse, without conversation, showed up dressed.
It’s what we held in common, my mother and me. Shopping. Loving clothes. Bragging about a bargain. She didn’t understand vintage, but she’d go with me to the Charlotte stores. I didn’t understand the outlets, but I’d go with her, driving almost two hours to get to the good ones. She had definite opinions (What’s wrong with you, you don’t like homemade mayonnaise?) but not about clothes. For that, from the moment I was three years old and pulled my frilly underwear on backwards so I could see the ruffles (“Gogi, the ruffles go in the back.” “I can’t see them in the back.”) she let me make my own clothing decisions. Given that permission, I have flown free.
I thought of my love affair with clothes today when spring was in the air. At one point in my life, the changing of the seasons made hope rise. Not because I expected new love or to be able to wander in newly-greening fields, but because I could buy new clothes.
The emotion coursing through me was nostalgia. Wistfulness for the long brown corduroy duster I’d once owned—it would’ve been a perfect throw for the outfit I had on. Which led to mourning for the yellow full-length slicker raincoat I loved until it fell apart. I thought not of the many clothes I have kept (no, not sensible “classic pieces,” unless you consider a splattered red and blue vinyl miniskirt is classic) but the ones I’ve given away. My best guess? Because—thanks to COVID keeping me at home and the neuroma in my foot making the perfect shoe hard and waiting for a real-skinny phase to wear the loud Pucci pants—the “enjoyment” part may be coming to an end.
Even now, when I say I love my clothes, I feel brave in the face of those who believe clothes foolish, vain, shallow. But if I had sustained such a life-long love affair in any other subject, surely all would admire it? And recognize its loss as such.
I can only hope my husband will lay me out in the casket in a get-up that causes everyone to cluster on the sidewalk outside the funeral home asking in hushed tones, “Did you see what she had ON?”