I’ve been thinking a lot about clothes lately. I mean, I think about clothes constantly — I love fashion — but recently I’ve been aching for a new look, the right look. This happens every once in awhile. Years go by and I begin to notice that the wardrobe in my closet doesn’t match me anymore. In one way or another, it doesn’t fit. Like a sloughing of the skin, a regeneration, I begin to itch in the once-perfect sweater. I notice the bruised, tired soles on the once-favorite shoes.
My various looks have been governed by many a whim and many a hope. In 8th grade, I bought every piece of clothing that was covered with sunflowers, so that a field of the cheery hippie-90s flower hung in a long hangered row. By sophomore and junior year of high school, I’d eliminated all that mustard yellow for crisp A-line skirts and dresses, platform patent leather maryjanes and any cheap modern knock-off of Mary Tyler Moore’s style (Mr. Grant and Rhoda era Moore, not Dick Van Dyke). For the briefest moment I sought all things Tommy Hillfiger and Polo. Carefully collecting classic striped sweaters, khakis, and clean-lined brown leather ankle boots, I tried to sell myself as serious (and more monied) chic, but though others wore the brands so crisply, to me it felt like the most boring disguise. My retro theme soon returned in the form of polyester short-sleeve button downs in loud patterns and colors, and supa dupa fly white shell toe Adidas.
In college, I played twee baby “punk,” dumpy hoodie schlump, and thrift store art girl. The latter felt the most authentic even as I carried the giant patent leather bag of someone’s dead grandmother and rocked the pale blue trousers of the slim matching gramps.
Sometimes I dressed up hoping I’d find the person I was looking for waiting in the neon purple mohair, or filling the pink suede triple-velcro-strap sneakers. Maybe I’d find her in the thickest smudge of eyeliner. Maybe I’d glimpse her in the mirror wearing fishnets and pointy stilettos.
Other times I dressed for my mood or my body. Recurring depressions are archived in dark baggy clothing. The year I went “sporty” in oversized baseball t-shirts, loose jeans, and hip running shoes, my sartorial choices quietly covered over the tear-stained junk food binges.
The cobalt blue and white H&M wrap dress tessellated with geometric shapes bespoke confidence, comfort, the beginnings of self-acceptance. Paired with 4.5 inch chocolate wedge sandals, I walked healthily, happily, to teach my first stand-alone classes.
One grey and gnarled college hoodie marked a year of loneliness, a sadness I couldn’t fathom, a fatness that somehow seemed less shameful or (maybe, hopefully) invisible under this cloak. It couldn’t really be so, but I remember the texture of this piece as fuzzy, furry, but rough like a Brillo pad. It said, “don’t touch me, don’t see me, I’m not really here.”
A thin-mint green wool sweater, three-quarter-sleeved with a jaunty shoulder-baring collar. So 50’s sweater girl, yet I wore it while presenting a paper at my first academic conference.
The fright/glee when my skinniest pair of jeans shimmied down of their own volition, past jutting hip bones, into a sloppy sag. To take them off at the end of the day, no need to unbutton, no need to unzip.
Sometimes you just hold on to these things too long, not the memories, but the things themselves plus the memories of what they meant. That’s where I’ve been recently. Holding on to those garments that made me feel strong and proud. The clothes that made me feel the most me. . . until they didn’t any longer. I waited, season after season. Fall and Spring catalogues cycled, recycled. And still they hung ghostly before my bed. I wondered, “When will I be the person who can wear those clothes again? When will I be her/me again?”
A few weeks ago I participated in yet another ritual cleansing, stuffed all those relics away into white garbage bags destined for Goodwill. And again I’ve started building, picking, buying, collecting. Starting again with a simple but bright orange mod-style dress, short sleeved, artfully loose, but clingy and friendly to the curves. And piece by piece I begin looking for myself again.
Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.