Been reading Linda Grant’s books lately, namely The Thoughtful Dresser and The Clothes on Their Backs. Her writing is a blend of narrative and meditations on the power of clothes and our relationship with them. I’ve never read anything that deals with this subject, and I must say it’s rather refreshing and enlightening.
It irritates me how being interested in style and fashion is, as Grant identified, sometimes perceived as shallow. Outfits help me construct my mood for the day. When I put on nice clothes, I instantly feel good. Conversely, donning an outfit that doesn’t suit me causes uneasiness for the entire time. Yes, we could probably live with one less dress or two, but nearly everyone is conscious of their appearance regardless of their knowledge of fashion trends. So why not look the best you can, provided that it’s within your financial means?
There’ve been many times so far when clothes saved me. As a lanky pubescent teenager with braces, acne and greasy hair, the little clothing I owned were mostly baggy and oversized to accomodate my rapid growth. I was at that awkward stage when I could neither wear children’s nor adults’ clothes. It was as though my real self was dying to break out of its unflattering shell. Those times compelled my escape to my mother’s closet, trying on almost every single piece of her clothing. I was clueless about dressing and those were my learning sessions- about cut, colour, fit, material, texture, embellishments etc. I marvelled at the delightful touch of silks and velvets. Of course, most of them were ill-fitting and overly mature on me, as they were made for a grown woman’s body. Still, I had fun and looked half-decent. It was only then when I felt confident enough to look at myself in the mirror, at the curious girl staring back.
As a student with a limited allowance, I scoured Salvation Army (a short bus ride from my school) for good deals, as low as 3S$ for a piece of clothing. I still own many of my finds, including a white maxi skirt, dark blue pleated skirt and denim cutoff shorts. Me and my sis scored some nice vintage pieces there too like a white lace dress, a black flapper purse and mint green Salvatore Ferragamo flats. I learnt to save up for new clothes, to be patient and trawl the racks regularly in order to obtain the better pieces. I cultivated an eye that could spot a hidden gem among piles of dusty rags. Gosh, I still remember the musty smell and the dust that got into my eyes, causing them to water.
There are several pieces in my wardrobe that I’ve kept for many years and continue to admire with fondness. Pieces that I plan to do the same with. Ones I gave away only because they were worn out. All these garments combine to form not only a personal history of dress, but also a record of myself and my life that I can look back on many years later. A pair of jeans that fits me like a second skin. A perfectly simple pair of gold T-bar sandals. A brown leather belt suitably distressed from years of wear. Clothes are my companions, accompanying me through various stages of life.
The tradition of playing dress-up continues for me today. Every time I buy a new item, I can’t wait to get back and try on new outfits with it. I’d like to think that I’ve become smarter and more selective in my buying. As much as I’m tempted by low prices, I try to invest in pieces that may cost more but prove their worth in the long run. My style has evolved over the years and become a statement of my identity. It better be speaking good things about me.