Loved Clothes Last

My mother’s clothes

One of my earliest memories is of my mother’s high heel shoes clicking on the linoleum floor of our kitchen. I couldn’t wait for the day that I too could wear heels and make such wonderful sounds. To this day, I prefer hard surfaces and shoes with hard soles – I’ve grown up enough to disabuse myself of my romantic notions about high heels – and I still love that clacking sound.

When I was in my early teens in the late 1990s, the 70s redux was on full blast in my middle-of-nowhere-northern-Idaho fashion world that consisted of Seventeen magazine and Clueless. My mother lived her teenage years during the real 70s and every time she would say “oh I had (insert awesome clothing item here)!” I would curse the fashion gods that she hadn’t foreseen that her teenage daughter would need those clothes 20 years later.

The last time I was home, in the house I grew up in, my mother and I ventured into the cubbyhole in the wall in her room, accessed by a tiny door at the back of the small closet. That tiny door and the space I couldn’t stand up straight in were magical as a child. Not only was it like a door to a fantastical closet but it also contained my mother’s clothes she had lovingly saved and stored. We brought the clothes out for some adult dress-up and I recognised many different pieces I hadn’t seen in years but immediately uncovered childhood memories.

The blue and white floral maxi sleeveless shirt-dress I remembered her wearing constantly for a few summers. The purple silk summer dress she had made herself and that featured beautifully in a set of holiday photos of my aunts and uncles at my grandparent’s beach house, before I was born. And that gorgeous, wonderfully unnecessary, fantastic purple swede mini skirt. I do not remember the first time I saw it but it must have been around the time I first saw Pretty Woman because I always called it the Pretty Woman Skirt in my head.

Crawling in and out of the cubbyhole and admiring each item of clothing I felt a shift in my fashion thought process. These clothes were well-made, as old or older than me, they still looked great, and they carry with them both the love my mother had for them and the memories I have of my mother wearing them. Nothing, and I mean nothing – not even the latest “blogger must-have” Zara top – from the high street will ever come close to being as stylish and meaningful as the items I was gently trying on.

A few weeks later, back in Europe and back at work I wore that blue and white floral maxi dress and I felt amazingly connected to the piece itself and to the woman my mother was when she wore it. Those summers when she wouldn’t take it off must have been stifling hot, like the summer I was experiencing, and she must have loved the breeze her legs and the fabric made when she walked; she must have loved that the length meant she could forego shaving her legs one more day; she must have felt amazing in this dress. I got more compliments for that dress than anything else I’d worn.

Reconnecting with my mother’s clothes changed the way I shop: I almost exclusively buy good-quality second-hand items and if I’m in the mood for something new I buy from sustainable brands with transparent production. Buying new items and hanging them next to my mother’s clothes seems obscene when I consider where each one came from, who made them and under what conditions, and if they have been physically touched with loving intent or with cold, calculated consumerism.

My wardrobe fills me with warmth and inspiration when I think of the clothes’ previous owners and how they might have worn each item. And I feel amazing every time I replace a fast-fashion piece with something older, more worn, but a better quality and that belonged to a human being before me.

Not all of these items, but some (especially my mother’s), will stay with me until I have a daughter-figure to pass them on to. Because loved clothes last.

 

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