Your mother wears Army boots.
March 11, 2011 § 17 Comments
I am well on my way to dressing like an eccentric old bat. Before walking the neighborhood I reach for a hat—not a red one—but a stiff-brimmed straw hat which belonged to my dad. Its brown shoelace strap goes through rusty grommets, then under my chin where it is held snug by a slide-up wooden bead.
When I was young I would have spent the whole walk imagining the spectacle I was, parading around in my father’s hat. Now I know the neighbors probably don’t even notice, or, if they do, they don’t care.
Apparently, neither do I.
I have moved from being easily embarrassed, to being an embarrassment. Time shifts us to the more comfortable side of that equation.
When I was young I was sure that the package was all that mattered. Each new outfit was an experiment in a possible new self. I’d put something on and see what my friends thought of this new person before deciding whether I liked her.
But the slippage from dressing as if the whole world were watching to indifference does not stop with wearing my father’s hat.
The inventory of what I am wearing now, and where it was purchased is as follows:
brown sweater (Goodwill)
celery-colored blouse (Goodwill)
plum tank top (a hand-me-up from my daughter)
socks (I thought they were my husband’s but he claims he has no idea where they came from and wishes I would stop putting them in his sock drawer)
Oompa Loompa boots (hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law; and I do have a nice pair of Army boots in the closet)
undies (original equipment, purchased new—bet you’re relieved about that).
Like all daughters, mine is young and beautiful. She has tried to help me out. She decided that to dress well we needed to discover my “color.” After studying me long and hard, and holding up a variety of garments so they could harmonize or argue with the color of my hair, skin and eyes, she announced that my color was…brown. And she is absolutely right. Brown is my color. But only on ordinary days.
On extraordinary days when I sing or make author appearances I am as gaudy as a bird in breeding plumage. I take one look at myself and know that I am on.
But most days my clothing is sparrow-colored and I am easy to not notice. Observing friends who consistently look eye-catching, I can tell that it takes a lot of work to put on that kind of display. I guess I don’t really care how I look.
Okay, that’s not strictly true. A woman who doesn’t care at all about how she looks has been dead for at least three weeks—so I still care a little. What I hope is that people will like me not just for how I look (which gets less reliable each day), but for what I say and think and do.
It is a relief to have figured this out.
I now wish I had been easier on my own hopeless mother when I was her fashion advisor. For years she subscribed to “Vogue” as part of one of those bundled magazine subscription deals. I pored over each monthly issue. Convinced I was going to be a fashion designer, I drew page after page of my own creations. I despaired over my mother’s appearance. As my brother shot up she began wearing his outgrown clothes!
Then there were the straps. An unexplainable number of them showed at the neckline of her dress or slid down to hang over her upper arms. Bra and slip accounted for two of the straps, the third strap and beyond made no sense. Didn’t she even look at “Vogue?”
I didn’t understand, my mother had crossed over to the other side of the equation. No longer easy to embarrass she had become an embarrassment—and she was comfortable with it.
Now I am too.
Post Script: I wrote this while on a short vacation earlier this week. Somewhere in St. Pete Beach I lost the brown sweater I was wearing in the description. I searched for it everywhere, which causes me to add, while old clothes do not offer the promise of a whole new self, they become comfortable and familiar old friends.
Dang, I miss that sweater!