Remember when you were a kid and the “look” that would appear on your mum’s face when you swanned downstairs on your way to catch the school bus? Or later as a teenager on your way out with girlfriends on a Friday night? The look, and the comment that usually followed: “Are you wearing THAT?” Like the shot heard round the world which started World War I, that comment always began the latest battle in the ongoing clothing wars. My friends and I all fought a war to be able to wear what we wanted, no matter how silly or ridiculous we looked to the adults in our lives.
I don’t remember if my older sisters fought these same battles when they were teenagers. Probably they did. But my own contraband outfits are legendary, at least in my mind. After all, those battles helped me evolve my personal style, for what it’s worth. Short skirts, made even shorter in the girls’ washroom at school by rolling up the waistband. Shrunken sweaters that barely reached the top of my hipster jeans. Mum used to rage, “You’ll end up with a sun-kissed navel.” Ha. Long, long bell-bottom jeans, so long the hems dragged on the ground, eventually worn ragged by my walking on them with my platform shoes. In winter, I wore short, chubby bomber jackets that barely met the top of my jeans. And I’d scuttle out the door to school in the morning, Mum calling after me that I’d “surely catch my death.”
Mum and I have been reminiscing about our clothing battles ever since I found the shot below in the pictures folder on her computer. We laughed out loud at how, once my sisters and I were grown, the battles sometimes raged the other way. My sisters and I indignantly instructing Mum in how she should colour her hair, or wear this, and not that. In the picture, Mum is clearly decked out in her spring gardening clothes. Wearing her favourite sunhat, and an old jacket of my stepfather’s which she’d shrug on when it was chilly and she needed to be digging, or moving fertilizer, or doing something dirty in her extensive flower beds. And my sister, clearly shocked, is asking the familiar question: “Are you wearing THAT?”
My favourite clothing battle which involves my mum and sister occurred when my sister Carolyn was visiting the farm back in the eighties. Unlike the battles of our teenage years, I think this one was a draw. My sister was an avid runner back then and, as usual, donned her old, grey sweatsuit for her morning run. Mum gasped when Carolyn sat down in the kitchen to lace up her sneakers. “You’re NOT running up the main road in THAT? It looks like your step-father’s baggy, old long-underwear.” Carolyn just smiled and set off. When she returned, she told Mum that someone had driven up behind her and, mistaking her for my mum, had yelled from their car: “Good morning, Dorena.” And she’d just nodded and waved and kept on running. Ha. Mum didn’t buy the story for long, but long enough for us to fall over laughing.
I love that picture below from a few years ago. Mum in my step-father’s old shirt to keep the sun off, and a pink, peaked cap from my brothers’s well-drilling company. I have the same hat for fishing. That’s my niece’s son Mathieux in the flowered gardening gloves, and Mum’s big hat. He loved to help Great-Grammy in the garden. And clearly he shared her taste in hats.
So, yeah. This week we’ve been laughing a lot about clothes. Mum and I talking about the old days, as usual. It seems I remember our clothing battles a lot more clearly than she does. Probably because they figured more largely in my life than hers. I mean, after all, if I couldn’t wear those ragged jeans to the dance my life would cease to have meaning. For Mum I was the last of her three girls, and maybe she was a bit war weary. Sometimes I even won the odd battle, or maybe I just flew under the radar. Ha.
I’ve been seeing old friends this week, and we’ve been laughing about clothes too. I visited my friend Debbie and we drank tea and looked through her old photo albums. Chortling at pictures of us with bad hair, or big hair in my case, and shrunken boys’ tee shirts.
And the other day my high school friend Elizabeth picked me up to go for coffee. While I finished getting ready, she chatted with Mum. As she rose to leave, Mum looked at her distressed jeans, sighed as if we were both still sixteen, and said, “Oh, Elizabeth… are you that poverty stricken?” Elizabeth guffawed, flapped her gloves at Mum, and cried, “I KNEW you were going to say that!”
And, you know, it felt kind of good to have Mum in her nineties still objecting to our outfits. Even though we’re in our sixties, and not sixteen.
Almost as if the world still made sense.
How about you, my friends? Did you fight clothing wars when you were young? Maybe you’re still fighting them?