Most men own clothing for four basic reasons: 1.They aren’t allowed to walk around naked, 2. They want to be comfortable, 3. They wear stuff that makes them look good, and 4. Their significant other bought it for them. Except for perhaps a ratty old concert Tshirt, they don’t make emotional connections with their wearables.
For most R.W.’s however, clothing is more than all that. Clothing is even more than a sign of our style. Our clothes tell stories. Our closets and drawers are like a library with a selection of everything from short stories to long biographies. Sure, some things like the T-shirt you bought at Old Navy for $5 to use for workouts doesn’t have much in the way of an exciting plot. It’s like a boring and poorly written sonnet. But there are plenty of others that have tales to tell.
Some stories are a bit sad. Like that section of “someday I’ll lose enough weight to wear them” outfits that live next to the “someday I’ll have an occasion for it”s. I still have one dress that I bought years ago hanging in a spare closet. When I bought it, I was younger, thinner and my body was in much better shape, and this English muffin dress (shows every nook and cranny) looked really hot on me, but I had no reason or excuse to wear it. Now, there’s no way in hell I could wear it. Yet there it hangs, tags still affixed, keeping my “vacation in the tropics” dresses company. All very sad and dramatic like the Sylvia Plath of clothing. I don’t like to dawdle there.
Moving on, there are the short stories that tell a fun memory around the purchase. The funky skirt and matching shoes you bought as a treat when you got a promotion, or the bright fun shirt your girlfriend talked you into buying, or the cool trendy denim jacket you bought to wear to a concert. Putting any of these items on transports you right back to those moments, and they make you smile.
If you wear some form of uniform for work, those clothes could tell enough stories to fill a lengthy based-on-reality novel or great movie. Perhaps it is a good thing that those articles can’t talk.
My favorites are in the historical biography section. The other day, one of my BFFs was over for some social distancing time by the pool, and she complimented me on my swimsuit cover up. I said “thanks, it’s from our honeymoon.” She looked really confused and said “Honeymoon? Like YOUR honeymoon?” Yes, the vacation that was 22 years ago. My ever practical husband said “well, really, it only gets worn a few times every year in the summer.” He was being kind, when the reality is that I have a hard time letting go of items that tell longer and older stories. Every time I put that cover up on, besides remembering time with my new hubby in Antigua, I think of the local woman on the beach selling her wares who came back every day to talk us into buying something from her. And when we finally did (that coverup), she had to go get change for us and my hubby made her leave her goods with us so we knew she’d come back.
Similar in age is my 26 year old Tshirt from a fitness conference I attended. Way back then my side job was an aerobics instructor (that was a thing then), and the conference was my first ever experience visiting Las Vegas. Yes, I still have the oversized sleeveless T. It is kind of yellowed and old, but it is baggy and loose and comfortable to put on when I’m doing yardwork or going for a bike ride, and I think about meeting some of my then role models at the conference, and traveling with my coworker instructors and eating rice cakes pretending we liked them.
The most heartwarming stories are wrapped up in those items that either were given by a loved one, or were once owned by a loved one. I still have a blue lightweight bathrobe my mother made for me when I was in my late teens. It is threadbare and doesn’t really reach around me anymore (in those days I was built like a toothpick). She passed away when I was in my late 20’s, so keeping this loving-hands-at-home piece of material hanging in my closet makes me still feel connected to her all these years later. And yes, sometimes I still put it on… as long as I’m sure no one will see me in it. It’s not a pretty sight.
Then there is my dad’s college sweater from when he was on the ski team. Thick wool, with the year, 1953, big and bold across the front. None of us kids have ever worn that sweater. I have kept it carefully stored, and every now and then get it out to look at it and consider all that was going on when that sweater came to be. The Korean war was over, my dad was back home. He went back to college, married my mom, and somewhere along the way did ski jumping on a team. Bits and pieces of stories he used to tell us float through my head, and I wish I had been better about writing them down. Instead, there are stories secretly woven into that wool, just waiting for my imagination to make them come alive.
From time to time, most of us with go through our closets and drawers and get rid of things we no longer need. The clothes we purge are usually those with less appeal, or just no longer fit well. Sometimes we can’t bear to get rid of things, even if we no longer wear them – because, well, stories. What I like to believe is that some of the items I donate will go on to tell the stories of their new owners. Maybe one of my donated shirts is now hanging in someone’s closet, carrying the happy memory of a couple of women shopping in Goodwill together and finding great deals… or even better, becoming a gift for someone, or helping someone land a new job. The possibilities are endless.
What stories are in your library?