Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Don't Mess with the Dress
Many of my friends up here complain that there’s nowhere to shop in Kincardine, especially for clothes. I’ve found that between Southampton and Goderich there are plenty of boutiques, some lovely consignment shops and even a few mainstream stores. “But there aren’t any malls,” my friends moan. To which I quietly respond, “Thank the Lord.” Because I really, really hate malls.
I’ve never been much for owning the latest fashion trend, although I often notice and admire folks who wear their clothes with flair. I think clothes should be functional and fun, and serve as an expression of your personality. The problem is that my fashion personality of late could best be described as indifferent. Or, as my sister so eloquently puts it: “Meh.”
I like to wear clothes that make me happy, like a colourful dress that hugs my body and makes D’s eyebrows go up like Groucho Marx’s, or jeans that are so comfortable I forget I’m wearing them. This summer, most of my clothes just make me shrug. My jeans are torn and frayed, or else they sag and make me look like I’m wearing a full diaper. My tee shirts are stained, stretched, moth-eaten or all three and my favourite skirts are older than my marriage certificate. I have beautiful closets, and nasty clothes.
Since I’m done being pregnant, over my career crises, and my other health issues are fairly under control, I’m hoping my wildly fluctuating body shape will settle down where it’s currently at, give or take a few pounds. Last year’s happy Buddha pot-belly is gone, D keeps asking me whether I have any pants that don’t have torn cuffs, and I’m getting a bit tired of searching for shirts that haven’t been used as a moth picnic. But what really made me realize a shopping trip was in order was a conversation I had with Jade before I left for the city.
“Hmmm, which top should I wear with this skirt?” I mused aloud as I surveyed the tumbled mess of half-folded shirts in my closet. I’d chosen a longish cotton pencil skirt emblazoned with a dragon-phoenix-y thing; it was a hand-me-down from my more fashionable sister. D hates that skirt because it hides my legs. I love it because it's comfortable and good for days when I didn’t feel like shaving my legs.
I reached into the closet and selected a garnet-coloured tee shirt that sort of matched the feathers in the phoenix-dragon’s wings. The v-neck was stretched and the colour was faded, but it was the best I could do. “There, this will look nice.”
Jade, who was standing beside me, crossed her arms. “No, it won’t.”
“But...it matches my skirt?” I said, taken aback that my four-year-old daughter had an opinion about what I wore.
“No, Mumma,” said Jade. “I will choose you something else. That one is yuckky.”
As I watched my child rummage through my motley collection of shirts, it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be taking advice from someone who thought wearing pink pyjamas every day for a week was the height of fashion sense. Then it hit me; my daughter noticed what I wore, knew I wasn’t all that happy wearing it, and that made some kind of difference to her. Which got me thinking about how I’d been dressing lately: sloppily, without much thought to whether my clothes were neat or clean (the one clothing rule I enforce with both my kids), or whether I felt good in them. I’d forgotten an important fact: little kids notice everything. As a parent, I was a living, breathing model of adulthood, from the way I brushed my teeth to the way I handled a phone call from the “this will just take a moment of your time” telemarketing company. As trivial as it seemed, the clothes I wore and the way I felt when I wore them was all part of the model.
As Jade handed me a sheer orange top with an image of Ganesh surrounded by twinkly rhinestones in the middle, I thought about my own mother and her flair for fashion, as comfortable in silk dresses and high heels as she was in the terrycloth tank tops she wore in the garden. I didn’t need to prance around in yellow silk, but maybe I needed clothes that made me feel good about myself to keep my “roughing it” outfits in balance.
Lots of people I know adore shopping. My mother was the master of it, and my sister Tanzi and friend Ruth are the same. They have an incredible instinct for finding outfits that are the right size, colour and style, usually on sale. Even D, on his rare annual shopping expeditions, can pick out half a dozen shirts and pants that look great on him in less than an hour. Me? Not so much. I don’t mind window shopping, but honestly, I’d rather clean eaves troughs in the rain than try on clothes. The trip to the city was a golden opportunity to right my fashion wrongs, though, and I figured the mall, as much as I loathed it, would be the quickest and most painless way to get myself a few summer outfits to help look more like a confident, funky mama than a bag-lady.
There are days when I really feel my age. Like when Dylan runs away from me and I nearly have a coronary trying to catch him. Or when I walk into a store at the mall filled equally with thud-thud electronic music and pretty teenagers clad in white shorty-shorts. Then I feel every millisecond of my forty-three years.
As I took my fourth step into the store, I had three immediate thoughts:
1) Why is everything so short?
2) Why is everything so cheap?
3) What the hell am I doing here?
I should have turned around and found a different store, one with fewer teens and more down-tempo music. Instead, I ground my teeth together, grabbed a random sampling of synthetic stuff off the “Now 3$!” and “2 for 10!” racks and corralled a bored-looking clerk. I told her I wasn’t sure what size I was so I’d taken two of everything to try. She chewed her gum, flicked her eyes over my body and shrugged.
“Prob’ly a medium,” she said with another shrug and nodded at me to follow her as she scuffed her bejewelled ballet flats across the store to the change rooms.
After trying on my third absurdly short sundress, having had to squeeze my way out of my tiny change room to the communal mirror each time, I gave up. The clothes just weren’t me. In fact, the whole store just wasn’t me. I felt, more than ever, like a sloppy, un-funky, old-bag-lady mom and fled the store.
In vain I searched the mall for stores with styles that might speak to me, that girl who used wear fun dresses to work, the woman who used to get tarted up to go out dancing, this country mama who wanted something pretty but functional, casual but flattering, feminine but tough enough to withstand sticky embraces and blueberry pancake missiles. It didn’t take long to figure out that whatever I needed, I was definitely not going to find at the freaking mall.
Hot, flustered, angry at the stores, the clothes and myself, I got into my car and started driving. I went past the beautiful wooded trails where I used to walk on my lunch hours, past the old building where I’d spent seventeen years of my working life, past my favourite sushi restaurant. Suddenly I was downtown Waterloo, near Young Street. And that girl who used to know how to dress whispered “Turn left, TURN LEFT!” so I did, and found myself in front of Unique Boutique, a clothing store my sister and I had discovered a decade ago when we’d both lived in the city.
The shop is owned by a warm, lovely woman named Gosia. She’s the type of person who wears her clothes so effortlessly that you feel as though they’re simply part of her. Her store is full of outfits and shoes and jewelry that are one-of-a-kind, colourful and, well, unique. I hadn't been there in years, but Gosia remembered me and asked about my sister, too. She listened carefully as I stammered through my sad mall story, the fact that I had two kids and was a completely different size than I'd been last year. She nodded, thought for a minute, and then began to fly around her store, gathering dresses and blouses she thought would suit me and my lifestyle. I’ve never had such fun trying on clothes; I’ve never felt so well attended in a store before. It was the best hour of shopping I’ve ever had in my life. I even stuffed the garnet shirt and phoenix skirt into my purse and wore a new black dress and long beaded necklace right out of the store.
And that, my friends, is how I finally ended up with the delightful sundress I’m floating around in today, a wild concoction of peacock green with red and purple paisley spots with spaghetti straps and a deep V-neck that flatters my boyish chest. It’s just short enough to make D smile, and it’s cool and stretchy enough for me wear while I dive after the kids. Like the other stuff I bought, it wasn’t on sale, but I can tell it will last me more than a few summers.
Jade took one look at me after I’d put the dress on this morning, fingered the soft material and said, “Ooooh, Mumma, this feels so beautiful and cosy.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.