“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” ~ Aristotle.
I don’t remember being very fussy about clothes as a child. As the youngest I inherited most of my ‘gently worn’ outfits. I remember one dress in particular. It had not been handed down from my own sisters or cousins, but came in a package from the USA. This was apparently a custom started during World War II, to send ‘care’ packages from the US to England, to help those suffering under attack from the Germans.
The dress was white, with large red tulips, a long red sash around the waist, and a skirt full enough to standout almost completely when I twirled around. So I twirled around a lot! On the whole though, as I grew older, I don’t remember being particularly interested in my clothes. In Jamaica all school children wear uniforms from pre-kindergarten through high school, which made life very simple. After high school I went to nursing school, which meant another uniform, and then for most of my working life with the exception of the last 12 years, it was the nurse’s uniform. Thankfully, the days of wearing white exclusively are long gone. Scrubs now come in all colors and fabrics.
There was one dress that I bought when I was about thirty-five years old. I was not feeling as young as that sounds now, as my life was divided into work and family, with little time for socializing. There had been a fashion show at work for nurse’s week, and this dress called my name. It was far more expensive than anything I usually bought for myself, (although that was not saying much, I had the usual mother’s inability to splurge on myself), and beyond that, it was an outfit I had no need for. I forget the name of the designer, perhaps Donna Karan? Again, I was the opposite of fashion conscious, and this was a black cocktail dress, strapless, with a wide skirt that if I twirled around it would stand straight out! It transported me from being a working mother of four, to being someone who could dance and have fun!
It was a radio story (as usual) that got me thinking about dresses I have loved this week. Emily Spivak wrote a book called Worn Stories, which has since been made into a TV series. She collected stories inspired by items of clothing, from over sixty people. One story in particular was touching, about a convicted prisoner who was so disgusted with his ill-fitting prison outfit, and how it changed how he felt about himself (he even had to change his walk to accommodate the loose, falling down fit) that he decided to take it in. In his redesigned outfit he felt different and was treated differently by his prison mates. That resizing and refashioning of his outfit earned him extra time in solitary as it was definitely against the rules.
We take so much for granted every day, and one of them is the freedom to express ourselves through our clothing, our hairstyles, our look. The pandemic lockdown gave many of us permission to give up caring, to choose comfort over fashion for so long, we almost resent having to ‘dress decent’ again! The pandemic pounds we have added means that our fitted waists may not be so comfortable anymore! But I am sure that even though many of us may have taken the easy way out, there are others who dressed for success every day, fabulously flaunting their fashion sense, even when there was no one there to appreciate it!
It wasn’t until I was in my forties, and my kids were teenagers, that I discovered a social life worthy of pretty clothes. There were enough of my former high school graduates living in the South Florida area for us to form a chapter of our alumni association, and we started hosting fundraisers to send scholarships back to struggling students. Our annual ball was a red carpet special, with an array of outfits and colors on display. Past students traveled from far flung states and countries (Ohio, New York, Canada, UK) to spend Labor Day weekend partying and reminiscing (dancing, laughing and eating). All of a sudden I was shopping for ballgowns and party dresses, instead of work clothes and jeans.
The pandemic put all of that on pause, and we have struggled to find ways to generate funds from a social distance. With vaccines more widespread, and case numbers dwindling, perhaps it is time to start shopping again! Parts of the world are waking up like a slowly unfurling flower, however we still hear terrible tales coming from India and South America. We have to celebrate cautiously, since until we are all safe, no one is safe.
In the meantime, we can clear out our closets and donate some of those hardly worn outfits to a local charity. Though we have been blessed enough to buy far too many clothes, there are many others who are struggling. Let us celebrate life by taking some of the lessons of the pandemic and downsizing our needs. It is time for us to follow the advice of Mother Theresa, to ‘live simply, so others may simply live’.
This Friday morning, may you have memories of outfits that brought you pleasure, and made you feel like a different person. May you have enough, but not too much. And may you dance, laugh and love with abandon (make sure it is in one of those dresses that stands out when you twirl!).
Have a wonderful weekend, family!