Monday, May 4, 2015

The IMPORTANCE of Costume

One of the things about the clothes we wear, even people who aren’t obsessed with fashion or looks, is that for most of us, some events or feelings actually imprint themselves upon what we are wearing at the moment something happens. How many men do you know who have a “lucky” pair of shoes or shirt or the like? How many women wear some particular outfit because it was what they wore when they got a particular job or met someone or just had a great day the first time they took it out, and it still makes them feel like a million?

I am not even sure where its box is right now, and will never so much as fit an arm in the thing again; but my wedding dress is one of those artifacts of my life I’ve never found a way to “give up” … Not least because giving it to any relative of mine would bring with it the knowledge that I was a rotten bride and my marriage broke up, but also because I’m not close “like that” with any of my cousins, and my nieces don’t appear to be stacking up (ahem) to the same build I had (chest-less), and my style in 1993 probably isn’t to either of their tastes anyway. But that dress was made for me – literally built ONTO me, over the course of a day – by a friend I still consider deeply dear to my heart. It is a thing of gorgeousness, and its fate – preserved in a box, never to see the light of day – seems largely inescapable. Who would wear it? I can’t bear to cut it into crafts projects. It is the only garment in my life I ever expect to be one-and-done, so to speak; worn only one time and literally never again.

But even lesser things have their psychic cachet. I can tell you exactly what I wore to work on the first day of my last job; one, because Cute Shoes remarked on it to me as the first clue I had some style. And two: because it was the dress I was wearing when I was laid off, on a gorgeous day in spring, from the previous job – and that dress deserved better than that. It got it; I had hated previous-job anyway, and been looking for months before I won the layoff lotto at an employer that “never” did that. Except that one time.

Today, I wore a dress with an odd mix of emotional ghosts attached. It’s a tasteful number in beige and white, just longer than the knees, sleeveless but conservative, an empire waist with a tie, and a little pattern from there up. It made as good a choice as possible, during the heat of an August day, when I had to go to traffic court: and found myself served with a half-million dollar lawsuit.

The lawsuit is over, and at about the moment that happened, last year, I purchased my Prius – getting rid of a *car* freighted with too much emotional weight – and somehow this dress, the thing covering me at the moment I experienced the greatest horror and cowering fear in all my life, does not bring with it the latter emotional recall, but only its own light color and comfortable wear. Yet I can’t wear the thing without knowing its history.

I color that history now with gratitude – because that ordeal IS over, and I am intact. And it feels GOOD to know that, to remember the fear, to have that in the past. And the dress looks nice, its lightness speaks of spring and of summer, its conservative and flattering lines give me a power-boost at work, and the memory of the people who have said it is a nice dress feels good too. Even my MOM liked this dress. It’s a good dress.

And memory is good, and keeping myself honest, and being grateful – these are all important.

Some days, it can feel important just to look slick. Looking slick in comfort: bonus points.

But memory is always there. Of the important things – and the less-so. The day you were wearing the comfy jeans you like, walking alone on an autumn day, kicking leaves. The boots you had on once when you almost slipped on ice, and didn’t – whether they really saved you or not, you’ll always think of them as Good Boots, and you’ll have them repaired if you can, rather than tossing ‘em and buying new when the leather stresses or the laces go or a grommet on an eyelet comes loose. We can develop actual gratitude even for clothes, if the serve us well.

This is why the disposable clothing industry is sad (even aside from its implications for our natural resources).

I have a little jersey jacket. They’re wonderful, little light cardigans that can stretch a sleveless top’s seasonal functionality, or take us from chilly morning to warm afternoon with no changing or little fuss.

This one, I happened to buy the last time I saw Mr. X.

I’d arrived in the town where we were meeting, and it was early afternoon, and I didn’t “need” to check in immediately, so before I got to my hotel, I stopped at a Ross Dress for Less, and bought a couple things. A long blue sundress with beading around the neck; this little taupe cardi with a bit of a peplum and a nice drape.

The thing about jersey – particularly lightweight jersey – it’s a very flat fabric. If it develops a hole or even a run, there is little that can be done. And what heroic measures would even the best seamstress take with a $12 garment already three years old?

This little jacket is great, I use it all the time, through three-quarters of the year. It’s flattering, goes with many things, and stretches any number of outfits’ utility and versatility.

And it has a little hole in the back, in the peplum, in a broad stretch of fabric that wouldn’t lend well to mending even if I had the skills. A patch would be bulky and unsightly – and, indeed, any bulk over a weak spot could actually create weak spots in its own perimeter. This fabric is THIN.

And the jacket has had three years already – in a variety of garment generally manufactured to last six months or less. This is actually part of the design/making of disposable clothes. They’re meant to be ditched. Not fixed. Just replaced. There’s another cardigan jacket out there just as good; there are fifty; a hundred. This is meant to be tossed, replaced by new.

This is something I wore three YEARS ago, when last I saw the man who ruined me for all the other ones. When last I saw the friend in this world who knows me better than even my oldest. When last I saw his laughter, heard it, MADE it. He’s touched those sleeves, put his arms around the back of this jacket. Felt how soft it is, even as I have a hundred times since, without him.

There’s really no way, even with the finest needle, to pick that hole and pull it back together. It’s small, but it is a hole. It can’t really be fixed.

And yet. And yet. I resist throwing the thing away. It keeps me JUST warm enough, it looks good in front still.

If only I didn’t know it had this flaw. This unfixable, and un-hide-able, flaw.

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