January 31, 2018


When I was sixteen, I ignored my mother's weary sigh after trying to tell me not to and then realizing what she'd done, and sewed some culottes out of some heavy beige- and blue-striped fabric that would have been better suited as a pair of sensible curtains for a bachelor's bedroom, or maybe a few neutral-colored throw pillow covers.  The culottes were boxy and clown-like, with overall straps of different lengths and mismatched buttons.  I had little experience with the Singer machine beyond what it had taken for my Girl Scout badge when I was nine, and this was coupled with an underdeveloped sense of taste in clothing.  

I wore them to school the next day.

I wore them exactly once.  I can still hear the derisive laughter.

I've always been ... challenged ... where taste in clothing is concerned.  Ironically, I'm a clothes horse now, and Old Navy and I are tight.  Now that I'm 40, I think I've figured most things out, and I dress well.  Not rich, not couture, but well-put together.  Swing dresses with cardigans and sweater tights and Mary-Janes are a staple.  Loose blouses with flowing linen or silk pants and leather sandals are standard fare in the summer.  But I haven't arrived at what one might term "informed taste" yet.  P.J. pointed out just the other day that I really ought to be wearing my favorite infinity scarf looped twice, not hanging down to my knees.  Now I have to cut the scarf and hem the edges.  I missed that memo.  I'm glad I have her to keep me straight. [sic]

It wasn't just those culottes.  I rolled up my jeans a lot and got laughed at.  I bought the clothes off the K-Mart clearance racks that were completely unsuitable and got laughed at.  I chose dresses for church that were designed for much older women.  I didn't get laughed at, but only because those around me wore veils woven of Southern decorum (97%) and Jesus (3%, for stretch), and kept it to themselves.

And it goes back even further than that.  My mother made some of my clothes when I was a kid-kid.  That yellow tank and shorts set with black floral trim when I was eight ... I remember not wanting to go outside and play that summer, lest I be seen.  I knew that something was wrong with that.  It's just that once I moved into adolescence and had the freedom to make my own clothing choices, they turned out to be rotten as well.

My slip and my knee-highs showed under my dresses.  I was helpless against static cling.  The use of undergarments to fight fat rolls is a very recent concept.

It's possible that I would have come to an understanding of these things earlier in life, were I the sort to allow photos of me to be taken.  However, anyone who has come within fifty feet of me with a camera has been shot on sight (in my mind).  I've invited a boss to fire me over not having my picture taken.  It was that crucial.  No pictures, no way.  I still don't know how I managed to engage in selfie behavior.  Oh, yeah.  Hypomania again.  Fine.  Maybe it has its uses.  But the few photos that exist reflect to me absolutely heinous clothing choices.  They're always a revelation.  They always effect change.  One I've kept because it makes the perfect "before" snapshot, were I ever to create a "before/after" pic.  Note to self, I said:  Do not ever tie your jacket around your waist again.  Ever.  Dear god.

I want to believe I've got it all together now.  I want to feel like I've arrived, and finally know all of the secrets that my peers had passed down to them by parents who took them shopping (mine didn't) and taught them about clothing basics and style and the particulars of their body shapes.  I've fumbled my way through the racks. 

And on some level, I must believe that I've more or less caught up.  I was at the grocery store Monday, and a couple of new teenagers, Josh and Riley, who are not just a welcome relief from John's Military Academy of Aisle Six but are actually engaging in their own right, were working another register.  A woman I've never seen in the store before passed by, heading for the exit, and waved at them.  "Bye, boys," she purred.  They waved back at her half-heartedly.  She was a little older than me and was wearing a tight, moisture-wicking fitness shirt and even tighter yoga pants that left nothing to the imagination.  I thought briefly of camels and mumbled something disparaging about the miraculous existence of tunics.  "What was that?" Josh said.  "Nothing," I said.  "It wasn't very nice, so I won't repeat it."  

They looked at each other, and then at me.  Riley grinned.  "Was it, perhaps, something ... comical?" he asked hopefully.  "It might have been, it might have been," I said while keying in my PIN.  "Hypothetically, it might have generally pertained to the lengthening of garments."  They looked back out of the sliding doors at the woman, then started laughing, and turned back to our conversation.  Riley kept bagging groceries and said, "Nah, I really can't say anything.  I have to be professional."  Josh looked at me and said, "But you can say whatever you want!" and kept laughing.  I instinctively looked down to make sure my swing dress hung to my knees and tights were slightly loose and scrunched.  "Hey, it takes all kinds.  Debit, please."  

Plain and modest and a little bit scrunched.  This is my garb.  This is me.

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