Week 3 of Slow Fashion October is upon us, and this week’s theme is LOVED, as in your proudest accomplishment / most loved item / most frequently worn item / thing you saved up for / investment pieces / thing you worked a long time on / oldest thing that’s still in rotation. (I just noticed that’s seven suggested prompts and I might literally do one per day on Instagram this week.) What is it about those items that makes them so cherished?
I wrote last week about some of my most-loved and most-worn pieces, but in anticipation of this week I’ve been thinking about the times in my life where I put on an outfit and thought, man, this is it. This is what it feels like to put on clothes that are me. The first time it ever happened I think I must have been 11 or 12 years old. My mom told me she’d heard about a new children’s boutique one suburb south of us and she thought we should check it out. I was old enough to be mortified at the idea of being taken to a children’s boutique, but shopping was also something of a difficulty with my mother and me, and I was not about to turn her down. It turned out to be full of things that made me drool, but the defining moment was when I tried on a burgundy velvet pantsuit that fit as if it had been custom made for me, and was the coolest outfit I’d ever been near, much less in. My mom or the shoplady, I don’t know, had picked out a dusty pink blouse to go under it, and there happened to be a matching pink “silk” (who knows) scarf with Karen written on it in burgundy caligraphy. Which of course got tucked under the collar, ends dangling so you could see the name. It sounds horrific, I know — it must have been 1979-ish? — but I’m telling you, I felt like I could rule the world. I’m sure it was expensive, by our standards, but my mom agreed it had to be mine.
I’m pretty sure I felt the same thrill every time I put that outfit on, and it was definitely a lesson in how good clothes could and should be, but I think that was also the outfit that ultimately taught to me to steer clear of statement outfits. When something is that much of a standout, and thus memorable, you don’t get to wear it very often. People will definitely recall that you had it on the last time you saw them. And I either didn’t yet have the hang of mixing and matching, or I didn’t have other pieces in my closet that would work with just the pants or just the jacket. I’m not sure how often I wore it or what ever became of it, but it was the garment love of my life at that stage. And probably also the birth of my love of a good blazer.
Flash forward to 1994. I’m 25 years old, going through one of my biggest hardships, and had been briefly and tumultuously dating an older man named Bob. We’d decided to stop dating, having found it impossible to get through an evening without having a massive fight about something ridiculous. But before the break-up, I had bought two tickets to a Counting Crows show and made a date with him, and it turned out he still expected to go. Obviously, I needed to look amazing. I was broke but an excellent bargain hunter, so I hit the mall, and I came away with these two items that together gave me all the confidence I needed to go on this awkward non-date. The natural linen tunic came off a clearance rack at The Limited (made in Hong Kong — I just checked) and black linen mini skirt off another clearance rack at The Gap (made in Malaysia). I already had the perfect black sandals. It was the summer of the best tan of my life, and it was also blazing hot in Kansas City — the year all those people died in the Midwest. So the outfit would help keep me cool (physically, anyway) in addition to boosting my confidence.
Bob and I have been together 21 years now. I don’t credit this outfit for it — it was a trouble-filled evening, and we definitely did not get back together that night — but at least I felt amazing in uncomfortable circumstances. And I knew he noticed.
I loved both these garments and, as you can see, have never been able to part with them. For years, they were in an underbed box with some other souvenir clothes, almost all of which I finally parted with when we were packing up for our cross-country move last year. But these two remain. The tunic went back into my closet — I figured it would be useful in the Tennessee heat, and I’ve wound up wearing it multiple times a week since we got here, including through the winter under sweaters. At this point, it’s threadbare and a little discolored around the edges, and I’m glad I have the sewing skills now to make a pattern for its successors. The skirt is a little too small and a lot too short for me now, but it’s still one of the best-designed pieces I’ve ever owned and I think of it all the time. (In fact, there’s a bag in my sewing WIP basket right now that’s black linen with contrast stitching, inspired by this skirt.) It has the perfect shape, perfect pockets, perfect amount of detail. I apologize for not ironing it, but it’s a garment I’m studying and thinking about how to translate it into something that will work for me now. Garments with long lives and legacies, that’s what I crave.
I just realized the most recent instance of pulling on an outfit and having that magical feeling has a lot in common with the linen combo above — it’s the linen and wool combo below, which I don’t apologize for posting again! Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind it reminded me of my Counting Crows clothes, or maybe it’s a coincidence. But it’s nice to feel that old feeling again, this time in clothes knitted and sewn with my own two hands.
PREVIOUSLY in Slow Fashion October: Elsewhere