Wear and Tell


You know, I was never very attached to my wardrobe -I suppose that’s been obvious for years- but recently I have started to wonder about it. I’ve come to think of apparel, not so much in terms of its use for protection, or as a way of hiding things, but more as a process. An evolutionary journey.

I mean, fashions come and go, colours brighten and fade, but like pets, clothes stick around as if they didn’t really care what we did to them. I suppose it’s a survival thing -a better red than dead awareness- but you have to hand it to fabrics for their adaptability and persistence -we really notice when they aren’t there, right? But they almost always are. No matter the weather, there is usually at least a token member on duty. They take their job seriously.

But how much does the average arm know about their history? Or a leg? A forest expects trees; a leg, pants. Period. And it’s this very insouciance that I have come to decry now that I am in my yellow leaf and have time to reflect on these things.

I suppose it began to bubble up to the surface when I realized that Retirement called for a different assortment of clothes than I had been used to. There is absolutely no use for a necktie during the average room-to-room-wander, for example. And apart from wiping the peanut butter off my sweatshirt, it is an anachronism, an affectation. So, for that matter, is a suit. It looks silly out in the garden, and if I wear it on one of my perambulations down to the village, I can never get more than a few hundred meters along the road before a car stops and asks me if I am lost and want a ride. And since deeply embedded within the idea of  a hike is that it is an exercise in time-killing, declining the kindness is hard to explain to someone intent on getting to their own job.

So, it’s always a good idea to know something about the clothes you’re wearing, even if people are too polite to ask. You have to rehearse the answers, though. Stains, and rips arouse the most curiosity, whereas missing buttons, unless their absence is obviously related to trauma or neglect, are boundary items. Disparate, self-sewn seams or pockets safety-pinned to the wrong spot are probably best hidden from public scrutiny, however -used for rags, or discarded; they tend to give the wrong impression. They are whistleblowers.

Especially when your clothes are of a different epoch -when people suspect you’re not actually trying to look retro, and glance sideways at you while pretending not to- it is helpful to be able to preserve at least a modicum of dignity and to feign knowledge. I mean we’re not talking about quoting from Costume and Fashion: a Concise History, or anything. You don’t even need to mention James Lavers, the author -or at least I probably wouldn’t.

So you see the problem. Short of landfill, what to do with those old faithful friends, who, through no fault of their own, were solitarily confined? Closeted. Clothes are loyal servants, and deserve better than we sometimes offer. In this country, you are not allowed to destroy servants once they retire, or once they cease to be useful. So, although I cannot burn them in good conscience, I do take them for little walks around the bedroom when the mood strikes.

Like my perfectly wearable light blue corduroy disco leisure outfit that I got on sale somewhere. Well, they called it disco, but since I never actually went to one, I’m not sure whether I’d have captured the moment. Anyway, the legs turned out to be a bit short and I remember I had to wait until I’d lost some weight before I could do up the fly. But for some reason, I found it rather hard to part with, so for a while I sometimes wore it around the house, although I was always careful near windows, and decided I would never wear it to Starbucks.

And yet, closets are not so much for clothes as for memories -although as the years drift past, I forget what goes with what, even if I sort of remember that I rather liked them. I realize that this is not fair to those more charismatic souls in disregarded corners hung. So the shadows are heavy with guilt; the colours are wasted in darkness.

Still, it became clear to me that, even at the risk of destroying much of what was once me, I should recycle some of my older outfits to charity, although I quickly realized that apart from costume parties, most of them were unlikely to find owners, even deep in the downtown charity shops. Bell-bottom trousers -you know, the ones with the little stripes- or those two-tone purple shirts with the long floppy button-down collars that look like the ears on Disney’s Goofy would need a lot of explanation to the deep city’s clientele. My altruism would not be understood -rather, I might be suspected of dumping. Of misunderstanding, if not demeaning, the very concept of charity.

But I don’t really expect others -strangers especially- to understand my devotion. And I don’t really want them messing with my memories either. Clothes are stories as much as anything else: personal, edgy, fraught. Each imperfection, something earned or discovered too late to find the bill of sale. Each size, a journal telling of eyes thinking much smaller than waist. Guesses gone horribly wrong.

Clothes are diaries of who we once thought we were. Journeys into the vagaries and vicissitudes of hope. And that they no longer fit, or have faded with time, cannot completely erase the salad days that live somewhere deep inside -or, in my case, more probably squat sleepily on a cuff waiting patiently in the shadows for forgiveness and a good wiping.


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