Jezebel.com recently posted a new essay about clothing and memories, “When a Coat is More Than Just a Coat: How Certain Articles of Clothing Take on a Special Meaning.” The piece is inspired by Nora and Delia Ephron’s off-Broadway show, “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” The show has a rotating cast of five women who relate vignettes gathered from interviews with real-life women – stories about those moments in their lives that are so intertwined with their wardrobes.
The essay on Jezebel, by staff blogger Hortense, focuses on a pair of shoes that walked the author through her first kiss, her first relationship, her first break-up. More importantly, the shoes gave her confidence, and made her feel like she at last had a piece of clothing that made others jealous; everyone had something to say about them.
It made me wonder if I had any specific clothes that I could point to as a summary of a certain period in my life. Of course I do, and I would be surprised if there were a person who couldn’t distinguish one piece from their wardrobe, either past or present, that was significant in their life.
The more recent the clothing, the more I appreciate it, I think. But I can reach back as far as my early childhood and remember the clothing I wore. Some of my most vivid memories are of my clothes, oddly enough. I don’t remember the first time I hit golf balls in the yard with my dad, but I do remember the shirt I most likely wore: A soft ringer tee emblazoned with a cartoon picture of the cast of “Sesame Street” that my parents bought when they took me to see “Sesame Street Live.” It was white, and the “rings” around the neckline and sleeves were a Crayola-vivid green. I loved that shirt, and can just barely remember its softness and what it looked like from above when I wore it.
When I was slightly older, I had a shirt with the Genie and the Magic Carpet from Disney’s “Aladdin” on it. They were high-fiving, and the text above them said, “Gimme some tassel.” I can remember that one because “Aladdin” was most assuredly one of my top five films at the time, and because I was particularly fond of that line from the movie. I was a big fan of Genie’s over-the-top theatricality, and I’m sure that he, in part, provided the inspiration for a stand-up routine I cobbled together while my mom filmed me. Definitely a classic moment in my history.
Of course, not all of these memories can be happy. I, unfortunately, had a pair of baby blue cargo-type pants from Old Navy that were sort of like athletic pants, but far less comfortable. My recollections of these pants are rife with shame (although that shame pales in comparison to the humiliation I feel when I think about the haircut I had at the same time. Needless to say I was a hot mess). It was around fifth and/or sixth grade, most likely that period where I began to discover and explore the notion that I could express myself through my clothing. Apparently what I needed to express was that I was a hopeless idiot with a thing for absurd pants.
Junior high school was riddled with embarrassments that extended far beyond my sartorial choices, so I remember little about the clothes I wore then, other than their frumpiness. I wasn’t comfortable with myself, and expressed that with bland t-shirts and sweatshirts and jeans.
Then came a revelation: my first pair of Converse tennis shoes. They were navy blue, and I still own them. They’re in fairly good condition, and it amazes me that I shuffled my way around high school in the same pair of shoes that I now stride across my college campus in. I’ve had to buy new laces for them on at least two occasions, but they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. But, they were more than just my trustiest pair of shoes. They were my inspiration to be a bit more adventurous when choosing my clothes, and this marked the beginning of my journey down various different wardrobe paths. Typical for a high schooler, I’m sure.
Freshman year, the crowning pieces of my wardrobe (besides the Chuck Taylors) was a pair of socks with a pattern of red and blue ferris wheels on them and the words “Navy Pier,” and a black t-shirt with a picture of Einstein riding a bike, surrounded by green circles that, I swear to God, could glow in the dark. Over top were the words, “Way to go, Einstein,” and no phrase could have been more perfectly in line with my teenage sarcasm. I would actually wear that shirt more than once a week, I was so proud of it.
I would give anything to have that shirt again. It made me feel like the smart, nerdy but witty high schooler that I imagined myself being. Also, the shirt and the Navy Pier socks also came from family trips, so the sentimental value goes beyond the selfish.
I’ll skip over the ill-advised brown corduroy jacket I wore over almost everything in tenth grade (favorite outfit: red long-sleeve t-shirt, brown corduroy jacket, boot cut jeans, navy blue Chucks, color blind eyes) and move right on to the two wardrobe memories that are most important to me. The first is another pair of Chuck Taylor’s, this time a multi-colored tweed. I bought them because they’d go with tons of different colored clothes, and because, even at a time when basically everyone in school was wearing Converse, no one had a pair like these.
They are now worn beyond belief – the soles are cracked and the laces are dingy, and they have a faint stink about them. But I do own them still (in fact, I bought a replacement/back-up pair on sale not long after I purchased the original pair) and I cherish them as the shoes I wore during many of my most important high school experiences. They were on my feet when I won “Best Non-Musical Act” with my stand-up routine at the talent show senior year, and when I emceed a benefit concert and got tons of laughs and compliments (toot toot, there goes my horn). I wore them during the voice lessons, choir and theatre classes that got me to come out of my shell. I wore them at practice for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (in fact, they remain the only pair of non-costume shoes that I have ever performed a choreographed dance in). I suppose I could dub them my performance shoes, my “star” shoes. Almost every moment from high school that gives me confidence, even today, happened in these shoes.
Then, there is the cardigan, mostly in general, although I can pinpoint my first cardigan, a navy blue one with a deep v-neck, to show off whatever junky t-shirt I am wearing underneath it. This cardigan was the inspiration for my entire college wardrobe, and my numero uno rule about clothing: It’s fine to look casual, but why don’t you throw on a sweater? It’s so cozy, and it just makes you look classier. Turn that hooded sweatshirt into a cardigan. The cardigan, to me, is much more than just my favorite piece of clothing. No, it is the most versatile piece of clothing I can imagine. It looks great over a t-shirt, over a colorful tank-top, over a button-up shirt, over a v-neck shirt, over a thermal shirt, under a pea coat, buttoned, unbuttoned, and even with the sleeves rolled up. So many different looks all in one piece of clothing, is there any thing better? Cardigans are a part of me. People I know equate them with me. I’ve almost had to be physically restrained in Old Navy to prevent the unnecessary purchase of new cardigans. At this point in my life, my various cardis are the crowning achievement of my wardrobe. All hail the cardigan.