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Dressed to Impress

32 comments | April 10th, 2012

(story by Mir, from WouldaCouldaShoulda)

I don't think I'd characterize myself as "fashionable," past or present, by any stretch of the imagination. The way I dress is… fine. I think. I enjoy clothes, and I especially enjoy shoes. But I don't spend a lot of money on clothes, or a lot of time. In my current life, I'm a jeans-and-t-shirts type, most of the time. Do I clean up pretty good? I like to think so. Do people look at me and go, "I wish I had her fashion sense!"? Probably not unless they're sniffing a lot of glue.

Still, it's clothing that encapsulates so many memories for me, when I look back on my life. I've written about some of my more unfortunate clothing incidents here, even. There's lots of good memories attached to clothes, too, though… even though a lot of the clothing in question is—now, at least—similarly cringe-inducing.

There was my first pair of Esprit pants, in middle school, when Esprit was very "in" and hip. The pants were wide ankle-crops and sort of a coral-colored chino, and I loved them so much, I wore them all winter (with no socks, because socks would've been uncool!) while my ankles froze. I often wore them with my one and only genuine-Izod polo shirt, which was white, and which I wore with the collar flipped up whether I was wearing it alone or layered over a turtleneck. Eventually I retired those items as Cyndi Lauper and Madonna caused us all to run out and buy neon-colored slouchy socks and jelly bracelets.

In high school, there were the acid-washed Lee jeans (hey, it was the 80s, I swear they were cool then) I loved beyond all measure; they came up past my belly button and were tapered down to the ankles, and they made me feel so cool. I wore them with big, baggy shirts or sweaters I pilfered from my father's closet.

There were the two lovely wool skirts my mother bought for me, doubtless picturing me looking a little less hobo-like than usual, and finally wearing something pretty, which I then paired with deliberately inside-out sweatshirts and—the crowning horror, in my mother's eyes—long underwear bottoms, instead of tights. In fact, I remember a stand-off one morning before school, when she finally put her foot down and said I was not permitted to leave the house looking like that, because people would think she was neglecting me. I was fifteen, and tried to point out that anyone who assumed she was still dressing me at my advanced age had other issues. I remember being incredulous that she was worried anyone would judge HER based on what I was wearing.

For years, in college, I had several pairs of overalls I wore with a variety of tops, making sure to cross-buckle only one strap, because that was the cool way to wear them. Apparently I was both a college student and Huckleberry Finn. For occasions requiring me to look a little nicer, I had a black-and-white pinstriped Liz Claiborne jumpsuit thing… sleeveless, with long pants… and I rolled up the legs a little just to make it look even better. (I don't know. I just know it seemed like the thing to do.)

When I got married the first time, I selected a vintage dress that was unlike anything I'd ever worn, or even seen before. It was pretty. I thought it looked the way a bride should look. I felt attractive yet somehow alien on my wedding day, which turned out to be an interesting sort of foreshadowing to the marriage itself. The second time 'round, I bought myself a cocktail dress sporting a riot of pinks and oranges all around the skirt. I felt like jubilation, and like my best self. (So far, that was pretty good foreshadowing, too.)

Trends come and go. Some of the items I loved in the past make me roll my eyes, now, but they were still easy ways to try on different skins and see what worked.

I remind myself of this, now, as my daughter begins forming attachments to various outfits. We joke about the One True Shirt and One True Jeans and such, as she cycles through loving certain pieces of her wardrobe. I don't always love what she puts on, but I try to bite my tongue. (Just to be clear, I would speak up if she were to wear something immodest, but that's not been an issue.) She's looking for what fits. And what I know, even if she doesn't, yet, is that what fits today may not be what fits next week or next month or next year, but that's okay. Change is inevitable. Will she look back and cringe? Maybe. Maybe that's part of the process, though.

Do you remember parts of your life via clothing, or am I just weird? If you're a parent, do you veto your kiddo's choices if you find them odd?

(Get More Mir here)

 

32 comments

  • Rachael

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    I remember Guess jeans… and rolling those up so tight at the ankles that I literally cut off my circulation in my calf muscles one day paired with the button down shirts. I remember the sky high bangs phase, too… and my little orphan Annie curls that I hated.

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    • bj

      Posted on April 10, 2012

      I too remember the Guess jeans. Mine had zips in the ankles. I hated the trend of t-shirts over button downs when I was in middle school. I still dislike the layering trend.

      I remember a woven blousy shirt that tied at the side, that I thought was super hip. I was annoyed at my roommate when she borrowed it and wore it before I’d had a chance to wear it around the dorm.

      My daughter found a picture of me wearing high wasted baggy jeans in college and was very amused. I still think that people who grew up in the 60’s/70’s had cooler vintage looks (though I’ve had difficulty explaining the big hair look, as we watch Quantum Leap and explore the variety of styles through the decades).

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  • the Iowa Expat

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    Oh yes, I definitely remember my second grade year–my mom made me wear the “wonderful” hand-me-downs from my cousins (several years older than me) because they were “good brands” on M/W/F. I was allowed to choose my own togs on T/T. And seventh grade was the year of the rust corduroys.
    I still remember the dolman-sleeve rainbow stripe top all the cool girls had (not me, obvs.)
    And no, I don’t veto the weird combos my girls have put together. My rule is that the clothes need to be clean and cover all stuff.

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  • Jessica

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    Calvin Klein jeans. My grandmother bought them for me because my mom refused to spend that kind of money on on pair of jeans. I treasured those suckers. I even put the belt UNDER the label so the label would be clear to everyone.

    I even fall prey to this now, shamefully. I bought my first pair of Toms two years ago. I have worn holes in them and they stink, but I still wear them!

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  • Rachel

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    Good heavens, yes.

    Jumpers in grade school (not even a uniform!). Rolling over the cuffs on the jeans super-duper tight. The “wave” bangs in 8th grade.

    For the last day of our senior year (when the whole bloody world would be taking pics), I wore rust-colored cut-offs, my dad’s short-sleeved tan button down shirt, and didn’t bother to do my hair or put in my contacts. I think I thought I was sending a “too cool to care” message. Too bad it doesn’t look that way in the pics.

    Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for the opportunity to relive THAT.

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  • Kim

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    My girl is five, and just coming out of her princess dress phase (all dresses qualified as princess dresses. There are certain pattern combos I’ve nixed, because oh lordy, MY EYES, and I still do climate control to some extent (long sleeves or pants, that kind of stuff.) But other than that, she chooses her clothes. For the most part. I am working on my aversion to flipflops. Sandals are fine, I just want to know her shoes will stay on her feet and I think kids should be able to run in their shoes. Whatever, Mom!

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    • Rachel

      Posted on April 10, 2012

      When my three-year-old daughter chooses to dress herself in ways that I wouldn’t, I just figure that her friends are too young to make fun of her… and I don’t really care what any of the grown-ups think. :)

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  • Megan

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    One day in a store in Alaska a young man stopped me and said, ‘I just want to tell you I think it’s AWESOME that you let your son dress like that! My girlfriend never lets me wear stuff like that.’ I turned around to look at my son who had been allowed to dress himself that morning (we were on our way to go fishing – salmon don’t care about fashion). He was wearing a pair of camouflage trousers and a Hawaiian print shirt. I hadn’t even noticed.

    Mind you, not ten minutes later a small girl stared at him in wonderment for the full two minutes we were in the checkout line, finally turning and saying loudly to her mother, ‘Mommy! He’s so HANDSOME! I can’t BELIEVE it!’

    He was four.

    I would like to say he has improved but yesterday he happily wore his white martial arts gi thingy to go shopping and he plans on sporting a kilt to his final day of classes this year. He is, however, still so handsome!

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  • bj

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    PS: My daughter saw a picture of her when she was about 6 months old and complained about what she was wearing and wondered why she’d ever have permitted the wearing of that outfit. I did point out that was before she got a say in what she wore. She’s forgotten about that period, the period when I got to dress her.

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  • ste

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    I so desperately wanted a pair of acid-washed jeans but never ended up having a pair.

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  • Mary Fran

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    Oh, yes! The raiding of my Dad’s closet for shirts and sweaters. In middle school, there were gaucho pants – mine tied at the knee, were turquoise, and I wore them with horizontal striped knee socks and clogs. Rockford, Illinois was the fashion mecca back then. But I’ll never forget the Forenza sweater – worn backwards, of course.

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    • Arnebya @whatnowandwhy

      Posted on April 10, 2012

      Mary Fran! How you just took me back w/the gauchos. It amazes me still (I know it shouldn’t) how things will come back into style and the younger people think it’s this new fabulous thing. Um, I wore coolots when I was your age too, so it’s not really “new.”

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  • Arnebya @whatnowandwhy

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    The brown velour sweater and skirt from third grade. So soft. I treasured it and remember the feeling of incredulation when, the following winter, I went to don it and the elastic ends were above my wrists. The skirt was too short. My mother let me keep it though. I’m pretty sure I slept with it for a while. And like two other commenters above, there were rust colored pants. Oh, how I loved them. I remember my mother vetoing certain things I wanted to wear and I remember rolling my eyes as dramatically as possible.

    My oldest daughter is 11 and has, from the time she could point to something different, let alone put it on herself, had her own mind regarding clothes. Stripes and dots, purple and orange. As long as she’s covered where she needs to be covered, I couldn’t care less if she “matches” (the store Little MisMatched is a favorite of hers right now). She walks around with a sketch book of clothes she’s designing. It makes me smile. My younger daughter (8) seems to prefer I choose clothes for her. And the boy is only 2, but I get a kick out of him saying no, not that shirt, mommy, maybe tomorrow (as he puts on a checkered shirt with camouflage pants. Um, okay then).

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    This is why I don’t like the dress codes being imposed on kids in school. I think you need to experiment to find out which style is “you.” If they have to wear khaki pants and a blue polo shirt when the true “them” is neon overalls, then what? Have them experiment with more permanent things like piercings and tattoos, or actions like drugs or alcohol instead? I say, do what you want with hair and clothes (modesty requirements of course) and leave the other experimentation alone.

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  • aem2

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    How did all you people avoid the neon clothes phase in the mid-80s? I got a neon orange jumpsuit for my birthday in grade 7. Awesomeness in one piece.

    We wore our polo shirts *under* the long-sleeved Tshirts, thankyouverymuch. Collars up, naturally.

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  • mamaspeak

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    I had the Guess cropped w/zippers jeans. I liked to wear them w/2 layered polo shirts, coordinating “pearls,” white keds & coordinating colored socks. I walk into the stores right now & I’m very like, “oh the color!”

    My girls are 8 & 5. 8yo doesn’t care that much about clothes. Most of hers are hand-me-downs from 11yo cousin. This is lucky, bc her mom has good taste. The biggest problem we have is that she’s tall, (4’9″) and really needs size 10 for length, but there are size 4s that fit her around. We do better in summer than winter. And she’s just going to have to know that some shorts are too short, bc her legs are so damn long.
    5yo has her own sense of style. Always has. Turns out she has some sensory issues, so her refusal to wear pants, socks & shoes actually have a reason behind them. Not just that she was being contrary. We recently had her diagnosis, so it wasn’t news to us, it just gave it a name. That and LOTS of mom guilt bc there are some things that would have made her life much easier. I just figured, pants are not always optional in real life, so we do what you have to when you have to. She tolerates jeans to go horseback riding, and tennis shoes to ride bikes. Mama says she can’t do those things unless she’s dressed properly. We also thank the baby Jebus for crocs, bc she can wear socks w/them (and not completely lose her shit,) as well as ride a bike & her feet can sweat w/out feeling sweaty. You combine that w/her personal sense of “style” and I’m personally keeping instagram afloat. Maybe I’ll make a book out of those. It’ll be one of those where you can put your own face in the picture. 😉

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  • RuthWells

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    Turquoise Esprit crop pants and a matching cropped t-shirt with “ESPRIT” blazoned across the chest in salmon. Worn with scrunched-down puffy socks and white Keds.

    Black acid-washed jeans with narrow ankles, worn tucked into ankle boots of various types.

    An array of men’s blazers from the thrift store, worn over turtlenecks and jeans.

    The insanity.

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  • Amy

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    I started out pretty young wearing things that I very consciously knew were not exactly what all the “cool” girls were wearing. I think part of it stemmed from the fact that my family couldn’t afford whatever shirt was The Shirt from The Limited that year, although I never would have admitted it then. Blossom was my fashion idol. I had these wild outfits that I LOVED–and that no one else seemed to have the guts to wear.

    As I type this I’m thinking of a million other clothes stories, and I just don’t know how to start without it getting unwieldy, so I’ll just say that yes, I definitely remember parts of my life by the things I was wearing at the time!

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  • Joan

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    Calvins. Or actually, I had to settle for Bill Blass jeans, which I bought with my own money. Man, I loved them. I bought my pair on sale at an outlet mall the weekend after the Thanksgiving when I was 17. On Christmas day, I fell through the ceiling from the attic onto my bedroom floor while wearing those jeans. (We were putting boxes away from our move into the house a couple of months earlier. My dad decided that would be a fun activity for Christmas afternoon. I stepped on a weak board, and was suddenly in a heap on my bedroom floor.)

    When I got to the hospital, they were going to cut my new jeans off for the x-rays. I wasn’t having it. The nurse couldn’t believe it. She said, “Everytime you move, it hurts, but you’re willing to wiggle out of those pants rather than have us just cut them off of you? Cutting will save you a LOT of pain.” My response was something like, “Whatever. It hurts anyway. You’re not cutting these jeans.” She got my mom to come talk to me about it. But my mom knew before she even asked what my response was going to be. So the nurse found some help, and the two of them helped me wiggle out of my designer jeans.

    I knew even then that my injury was going to be pretty serious. It was. I’d crushed a vertebra; I literally broke my back. Luckily, the vertebra I crushed was just a couple above my tailbone, so I wasn’t paralyzed by the fall. What I didn’t know was that I’d spend the next six months in a body cast. I didn’t get to wear those jeans again until June.

    Would I do the same thing again now for a newly purchased favorite? Yeah, probably.

    To answer your question, yes, I can peg the time of a lot of small events because I can remember what I was wearing at the time. And, until recently, I’ve always been able to remember exactly where and when I bought what and usually how much I paid for it.

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  • Kemi

    Posted on April 10, 2012

    I was desperate for UNITS clothing. (Were they even a thing anywhere else but Utah?) The problem was, they were too expensive, and I was too chubby to make them look right. (I was more Violet Beauregard than Peter Pan.) I was in a play where part of our costume was a UNITS-knockoff “belt”, and you can bet I wore that thing with every single plain-colored knit shirt I could find. I must have looked ridiculous, and desperate.

    Guess? jeans were huge when I was in middle school, and Girbaud jeans were big in high school.

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  • dgm

    Posted on April 11, 2012

    My memories are very clothes-centric; in fact, I remember specific outfits I (and others) wore on particularly memorable occasions. In retrospect, I’ve worn some hideous outfits, but they didn’t seem out of place at the time. I’ve always let my kids (girl 13 1/2, boy 9) dress themselves because I know how important it is to express oneself through clothing–so long as they aren’t indecent, I’m down with it even if it’s whacky. (I actually like when they wear things that are different from what everyone else is wearing.)

    BTW, I used to raid the ESPRIT Outlet in San Francisco almost every weekend of my high school life! Got my favorite bold black-and-white striped shorts there in the $1 bin!

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  • Ali

    Posted on April 11, 2012

    I went to a private school so we wore uniforms. This suited me just fine as I had no sense of style (still don’t). This school only went to the 8th grade, so one Friday a month (or every Friday – I have sort of blocked it)as a “treat” for being so special and old, the 8th graders got to wear street clothes. Most of those little girls were on cloud nine, but I was miserable. I would have preferred to just wear my blue plaid skirt. Instead, we went to Sears and got the latest trendy Silver Unicorn (their Polo knock-off) outfit and that’s what I wore. Which explains the picture of me wearing a tie in 1984.

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  • CJ

    Posted on April 11, 2012

    My mind is filled with a lifelong fashion show–the horror!! Royal blue stirrup pants with a crisp white and yellow striped “big” shirt buttoned over it, tank top underneath. Sleeveless mini dress with a tire tread belt slung over a hip and checkerboard socks peeking out of flats. Parachute pants! This followed the checked tattersall button-down shirt with chinos and Sperry topsiders with the twisted laces since they wouldn’t stay tied and the wooden handled purse with interchangeable monogrammed button-on covers. Somewhere in there were Jordache jeans and gallons of Loves Baby Soft.

    My 8th grade daughter doesn’t care much about fashion (jeans and t-shirts, mostly with writing on them), but she loves to flaunt her some cotton camis with the bra straps showing. She needs to be reminded to change these every, say, DAY since she would just wear the same for a week straight: “I didn’t spill anything on it!”

    Thanks for the blasts from the past and the anticipation of the future :)

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  • Liza

    Posted on April 11, 2012

    Zipper ankle jeans…
    Giant shirts or sweaters with a wide belt, possibly buckled into a downward-pointing V shape…
    Ridiculous high heels with lacey ankle socks…
    Elf-looking ankle boots…
    Flying into a rage if someone accused me of being preppy? (I thought I was safe if I avoided the designer labels.)

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  • Andrea

    Posted on April 11, 2012

    My grandparents bought me Guess acid washed jeans when I was in 6th grade, because my mom was definitely not down with paying that much for one! item! of! clothing! I wore those things every other day for who knows how long. A year or so later, I started sort of experiementing with what I liked…and it was usually out of my older brother’s closet. I remember in 7th grade, I had taken to wearing my late grandfather’s beat up denim coat. A girl in my class told me that she loved how I wore what I wanted and didn’t care what anyone else thought. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that was a back-handed compliment, but luckily I was too dumb to realize it then.

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  • Ann from St. Peter MN

    Posted on April 11, 2012

    Do you suppose in 20 years, the teen boys of today will lovingly look back at the times they wore their way-too-baggy jeans at half mast, so the crotch of the pants hung between their knees and it required a backbend to get their wallets into their back pockets? And how the whole world was subject to looking at their nasty drawers? Please tell me they will shake their heads in disbelief at how stupid they looked!

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  • Anna

    Posted on April 11, 2012

    I rarely had anything with a label, but I remember Guess and slouched shoulders and such. Someone up there mentioned stirrup pants, and I *did* have those!

    Also, my husband and I were reflecting yesterday that the unzipped-and-flapped-open-jeans style didn’t last long, THANK GOD, as far as I know. It appears there’s a new trend of a sheer shirt with a colored bra, has anyone else seen this? I hope it lasts just as long. Horrid.
    He came home from work yesterday, and had seen this at a professional development class- not regular office hours. I told him that I had seen the same thing at Walmart, and figured it was a People of Walmart moment, not high fashion. Does anyone else see the problem with the fashion trend being confused with PoW?

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  • Shanna

    Posted on April 12, 2012

    Oh Man! That sure brings back memories of the horror of dressing in the 80’s. I mean obviously we were cool at the time but when I get brave enough to drag out the photo albums, because we did real printed pictures back then as well, I just shudder at some of my selections. It does entertain my 18 year old son though and I get alot of “REALLY? You wore that outside the house?” yes my boy, back in the old days we also had to leave the house to socialize. 😉

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on April 13, 2012

    Actually, part of me still misses the high-waisted jeans . . so long as they’re properly concealed under a longer shirt. They hold in my gut much better than the lower rise fashionable these days, which just rolls over and sits UNDER my gut (even the “tummy control” varieties).
    ;-D

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