A Mile in Her Clothes
I prefer old clothes. Not “old-old,” per se, but clothes that have been passed down to me. I am fascinated with their history, the weight of that history, the stories intrinsic in these belongings, known or unknown. Writing this blog, I’m realizing just how many of the pieces I gravitate towards belonged to people I loved.
I’ve always been a firm believer in investing in classic pieces that will last a lifetime; lessons learned from my grandmothers and my mother. They believed that, and that’s why I have so many special pieces from them.
I lost my mother four years ago (I’ve written a little about her here). I often feel overwhelmed with how much more I still had to learn from her and ask her. And I feel like I’ve been losing her gradually, more and more, the more time passes. So, lately, I’ve been trying to get to know her again.
Most of the clothes I have inherited from her are pieces she bought before I was even thought of–her Burberry trench coat, her Ferragamo Varas, special pieces she bought for milestones in a life that existed before me. Others, mostly everyday clothes–a J. Crew sweater I’m particularly attached to, her Barbour, a fleece–are clothes that I remember, and cherish because of that.
Each time I put something of my mother’s on, I try to remember her wearing it, or the first time I borrowed it, or when she gave it to me (or when I stole it from her closet.) I’m discovering that you can learn–or remember again–a lot about a person from their clothes. And I’m learning about an entirely new person, really–Susan, not my mother, someone who was, quite simply, herself.
The picture in this post is one of my favorites of her. Here she is, young, engaged to my father, in the middle of a successful career in interior design. She hasn’t yet been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She has her entire life ahead of her.
It’s strange to think of my mother as a separate individual, not in relation to me–my mother. I wonder what she would have thought of me. I hope we would have been friends. I hope so. I certainly know about her, the way she was before I was born, through stories she’d shared with me, or stories from her friends, or pictures of her. But this is a different way of knowing someone. Seeing what they valued, their style, how they wanted to be viewed by the world.
My mother and I looked a lot alike–everyone who knew her remarks on it, from the way we walk to our hair color and smile; the difference is the color of our eyes, and that she was slightly taller. So putting on her clothes, sometimes, it’s like looking into a mirror but seeing my mother at thirty-one, instead of me.
It’s hard, no longer having a mother. Finding her again through her clothes is something that came as a surprise to me, but it is something infinitely more precious because of that. I’m glad of it, and grateful for this gift.