Monday, 14 October 2013

Dressing Down

'You cannot do this to me!' shrieks the 11-year-old. I reverse out from under the bed and find her brandishing a hairy brown banner. On closer inspection, it turns out to be my favourite Sunday skirt. My daughter sees the sentiment in my face and blanches. 'Mum,' she says in more patient tones. 'I'm doing this for you. I'm putting it in this pile here.'

I am performing the solemn annual ritual of retrieving my winter wear from under the guest bed and stowing my summer clothes in its place. Ordinarily this is a task I enjoy. Summertime I find stressful with its pressure to haul a bronzed and hairless body round beaches and barbecue parties. I have to start my annual hunt for the iron when my summer cottons emerge from hibernation. In winter I can vanish comfortably into wool which, even after a season in a zipper bag, hangs in biddable clumps without need of intervention.

This year, however, my daughter has appointed herself supervisor of the proceedings. Two piles rise on either side of her. The smaller comprises my collection of skinny jeans, some bobbled tops from Oxfam, redeemed by their French Connection label, and a slippery white Moment on Madness from New Look. It is dwarfed by the neighbouring mound of tweeds and polyknits, destined to boost the retail revenues of the local cat charity.

I look on stricken as the 11-year-old examines a length of lumpy orange wool. She sees a sad relic of Dorothy Perkins' history; she doesn't know that it's the surviving half of a twin set bought on a reckless spree the day I was made redundant so that I could walk tall in the dole queue. The stripy polyester trousers, unwearable now I see them through her eyes, were one half of a matching pair bought by my mother and me on our final family holiday in Llandudno. The corduroy skirt with the loud flowers was chosen from my first Boden catalogue while administering a dawn feed to my newborn.

My wardrobe, like my photo albums, is an eloquent record of my history. I rarely buy new garments unless I foresee a long-term relationship. So intense is the bonding process on the shop floor that I can recall the origins and circumstances of almost everything I own. When moths eviscerated half my jumpers it was a bereavement. The Laura Ashley jacket, a brave gesture from the Vicar in our courting days, and that hairy brown skirt, presented by my brother to ease my transition into Vicar's wifedom, may be modified with scarves and knee boots to disguise their antiquity, but they will always be part of the family.

I consider explaining all this to the 11-year-old who is now screaming over some elderly corduroy which I like to think still bears the hairs of my first cat. But I realise this is a truth she will learn for herself when her past starts to outweigh her future. Instead I bait her with Strictly Come Dancing on the sofa and, while she sits entranced by the silks and sequins, I creep back to the dominant pile in the guest room. She is right about the polyester trousers and the loud-flowered corduroy, but, furtively I reclaim the hairy brown tweed and the length of orange wool. Twenty years may have passed since that dole queue, but old friends can still help you walk tall.

Does your wardrobe contain old friends or are you a ruthless purger?

10 comments:

  1. I have items that are at least 15 years old that I still wear regularly. I admit I am in a fashion rut, but I could not give a hoot! I love my winter clothes, cosy jumpers and boots, and knitted tights. My daughter says some of my clothes are a bit mumsy. But I am a mum, so who cares!

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    1. I'm sure she'd be dismayed if you dressed like a rock chick!

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  2. Ohhhh, yes yes yes. And even when my old favourites get holes in, I find myself whispering sad farewells to them as I place them gently in the bin.

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  3. Not ruthless, but I've promised myself that every time I put something new in my closet that I would take something out and donate it.

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    1. I admire your discipline, but that would put me off buying anything new again.

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  4. I am the worst for buying new clothes! My excuse, everything always comes back in style or mom doesn't like to follow the trend. I do have another closet of clothes now - my daughters, we are the same size and I love it that I just go in hers and borrow something. No need for shopping.

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    1. Lucky you! I now fit my daughter's shoes but they are way too grown up for me!

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  5. I completely understand your attachment and regret very much having been a regular ruthless purger - not just because everything I used to own was far better quality than I could afford now, but, being ancient, I am now watching fashions return for the third time! I have had to get rid of clothes that remind me of hurt xx

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    1. That is very sad to have painful memories in your wardrobe and I quite see why you had to be shot of them.

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