I was raised by parents who cared very much about how they dressed. It was all about how you look. School or homework didn’t matter much but what you wore was major. I can remember my dresses. How itchy they were; starched nylon pulled in at the arm with elastic. The crinoline had to be extra starchy to stick out so I had to wear a slip underneath because it was so “picky” on my legs. I can remember crying with arms held out, “it’s picky!” But if it was beautiful, I wore it.
My parents wore nice clothes. My Dad had his suits made at John Bullock and his shoes custom made. My Mom shopped at Holt Renfrew and Harridge’s. Did we have ‘money’? No! And now that I look back on it and know a bit more, I can hardly believe they would even go there let alone have credit cards. We lived in an apartment in Don Mills and there were many things I was told I couldn’t do because they couldn’t afford it. Like go to college! Clothes….. now that was important.
But my sense of style was not to their liking. They didn’t care what I liked…. they cared how I looked because it reflected on them. The first of many teary fights started with a blanket coat and a John Lennon hat. That’s what I wanted so much but was refused both. That Christmas I got a ‘jockey hat’; blue velvet with a rabbit fur pompom on top. I hated it. I felt humiliated wearing it, which was only once, to the Christmas dinner at my aunt’s so she could see how cute it was. We had a family picture taken and I still just see that stupid hat and how unhappy I was.
That’s when I started to babysit. Living in a large apartment building gave me lots of jobs; enough to save up and buy clothing on sale or at Good Will (before Value Village came into being). I developed a style my parents hated. “You look like hell!” my Dad would say. That only confirmed how good I looked.
Clothes remained a priority until I met my future and now ex husband. We were hippies. He liked overalls, t-shirts and no make-up. I wouldn’t wear anything he didn’t like and that list grew over the years. My mom hated the way I dressed and continually asked me why I never wanted to get ‘gussied up’. She bought me a curling iron one Christmas hoping I might be inspired but I just stared at it in disbelief.
This went on for way too many years. My sense of style died along with my sense of self. I tried to please these two people more than myself because pleasing myself would be selfish. I bought the cheapest, generic clothing I could find.
But in my forties I started to realize I could not make these people happy because they were never going to be happy. I started to go to counselling and everything changed, but that’s a whole other blog. My mother passed away, my husband couldn’t or wouldn’t change his abusive ways and tossed me out….. this time I went for good.
It took a few years to get right. I didn’t just find my new found freedom and fly. I was depressed for a long time. I had lost my identity; everything I used to be was over.
TV became my new friend. Now I could watch as much and whenever I wanted. I had never even heard of What Not to Wear but quickly became a fan. I realized I still had those old voices in my head. I was saying things to myself like; “I love that but I would never wear it”. Why not? Too “gaudy”; my mom’s voice. not tasteful enough. When I had this realization, I went back and bought some sandals with rhinestones on them that I had loved and rejected. My ex would’ve hated them, too.
The other one was, “it’s an old lady’s store”. I’m still laughing at myself….. 60 years old and I’m calling it an old ladies store. How much older do you have to be? Women half my age shop there, for Pete’s sake!
We don’t like to be judged by our clothes but it can’t be helped. Clothes really do express you even if that message is ‘I’m depressed and have no self-esteem’ or just ‘I don’t give a shit’. That’s still expressing yourself. I’ve been paying more attention to what I wear now and enjoying it. I’m expressing my Self.
And there is no one to put me down…… only those telling me I look great.