One of my favorite places when I was a little girl was the attic of my mother’s childhood home. It was dark, and mysterious, and full of nooks and crannies containing hidden boxes that kept me amused and entertained for hours. There was a coat rack with dust bags full of fancy dresses and gowns that my mother and her sister had worn in their heyday, and I loved caressing the delicate silks and scratchy tulles, smelling the distant aroma of cigarettes and perfume that had been become part of the fabric with the passage of time.
Often my mother would hold up a dress and say “Someday when you’re bigger you can wear this to a fancy party…” and my mind would wander off to an imaginary place and time when I would be glamorous and sophisticated. What neither my mother nor I factored into our dress-up equations was that I would grow to be much taller than her, my feet 3 sizes larger, with a completely different body type than her petite and delicate frame.
When she died several years ago I was again confronted with the enshrouded gowns of my youth, along with a closet full of clothing that I knew wouldn’t fit, nor that I particularly wanted to keep. Armed with a box of garbage bags and the address of the nearest Salvation Army, I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to dispose of a wardrobe that spanned a lifetime. I’ll save the emotional histrionics of cleaning out my mother’s closet for another post – in fact I have an entire blog dedicated to the process of emptying out one’s childhood home if you are so inclined – but what I wasn’t expecting to find in there were the treasures that have now become part of my daily sartorial lexicon.
I must have been too busy to notice that she favored baggy men’s cashmere sweaters, or that she purchased her silk slips a size or two too big. I was delighted to discover that her cardigan sweaters fit me perfectly if I pushed up the sleeves and intentionally went for a slightly cropped length. I dug deeper into the recesses of her space and found alligator bags from the ’50s and (now) vintage Hermes scarves. I took a mink coat to the furrier and had it cut, relined, and cleaned, transforming her “coat” into a saucy 3/4 length jacket for myself. I honed my tie-dye skills and dyed her slips to suit my personality. Several of her belts I can wear high on my waist, rather than low-slung as she wore them on her slim hips.
I guess I assumed that because we had different styles and different shapes that her wardrobe would never be something of interest or value to me. Finding a new purpose to items that she wore and loved helped me transition as I processed and accepted her sudden passing. By wearing her things it makes me feel that she is still part of my life, and given her penchant for repurposing and recycling things, I bet she is watching me and thinking that she really got her money’s worth!