I love shopping as much as the next girl, but my clothes and I have a less amicable relationship. I'd like to think it's because I am so consumed by other loftier pursuits. More likely, I'm a bit weird.
My wardrobe and I have a rocky history. I went to a private, Christian elementary school with a strict dress code. One of my earliest memories, which I probably remember for its psychological trauma, is of getting in trouble because I wore shorts to kindergarten—blue cotton, with an embroidered smiling butterfly. As a classic firstborn, five years old and eager to please, I was mortified. I memorized and observed the regulations, without incident, until we began home-schooling in the sixth grade, and dress codes abruptly disappeared from my life.
Around that time, my friends and I became enamored of Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, and Anne of Green Gables. We took to sewing and wearing long calico jumpers, still donning them long after we grew past our "little girls playing dress-up" because of some strange reverse peer pressure in our ultra-conservative home-schooling circles. But it was fun while it lasted. And then we got to college.
Those years were even more interesting. We donned the no-sleep, no-fuss uniform of ponytails, hooded sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers (or flip-flops when the snow disappeared). I wore a skirt to campus when I had to come by after church. Feminine dress was not encouraged at my male-dominated engineering school.
When I moved from my rural home outside a barely-urban campus to the fashion capital, New York, I again had adjustments to make. As I've thoughtfully culled through old pieces, working toward a grown-up wardrobe, I've discovered that I love each piece in my closet for its own unique story.
I turned eighteen during my first semester of college, and as is family tradition for the grandchildren's birthdays (I am the oldest grandchild; my now four-year-old cousin will not be so lucky), my grandmother took me shopping well in advance to pick out my gifts. I was in my American Eagle phase at the time, and there I chose a few garments which showed up, boxed and wrapped, at my birthday party a month later.
I've forgotten most of what I received, but one piece still comes out when the air gets cool—a soft, sky blue, cotton, hooded sweater. The sleeves are too long which makes the sweater wonderfully cozy—like a giant hug. The color is just right, and because it's a sweater instead of a sweatshirt, I can wear it nearly anywhere. Six years later, it still attracts compliments from perfect strangers.
Not much of the clothing my eighteen-year-old self wore still remains, but this sweater has stuck with me. I love it for its lovely color and its soft hug, but I love it more because my grandparents gave it to me on the last birthday that I had as a kid.
My paternal relatives have the thickest Boston accents you've ever heard (think Good Will Hunting, or The Departed). They all grew up in and around South Boston and have all the city pride that goes along with it, preeminently a rabid love for Red Sox baseball. Dad told starry-eyed stories of Little League trips to Fenway Park to meet real Red Sox players.
Although he left Boston for the navy when he was nineteen, and he never moved back to Massachusetts, Dad's love for his Sox never faded. I was brought up to instinctively spit at the mention of the New York Yankees. For a late Christmas present a couple of years ago, we brought Dad to a baseball game at Fenway, his first since his youth. While we watched from the standing room railing at the back of a section behind first base, David Ortiz hit a grand slam with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth inning and won the game. I remember looking over at Dad, whom I'd never seen scream so loudly. I'll never forget the look of pure joy on his face.
That week I went home and bought a T-shirt from a Red Sox fan website that read "Real Women Don't Date Yankees Fans," and wore it proudly to make Dad proud. Later, I moved to Yankee territory and married a boy from New Jersey. Dad did eventually approve, but only after he ascertained that Tom isn't a rabid Yankees fan.
My Dad passed away last year. At his funeral, someone ruefully mentioned that he must have just been sticking around, Simeon-like, to see the Red Sox win the World Series. They won the World Series again this October. My mom and I talked of the party he's probably throwing in Heaven.
I haven't worn that T-shirt in a while, but I love it too much to ever give it up; every time I look at it, I think about my Dad and how much I've always wanted to be like him.
Too often, when looking at pictures of weddings, I'm reminded of those elaborately frosted white cakes with a Barbie standing in the middle, attempting to mimic an enormous, frilly wedding dress. I know this was the style once upon a time—and many women managed to look lovely in it, or perhaps in spite of it, but I always knew this wouldn't be for me.
Unlike many girls, I didn't plan out all the details of my someday wedding at pre-teen sleepovers, but I did choose my dress long before I met my husband. One afternoon, while procrastinating by shopping for party dresses online, I discovered that J. Crew is not just the headquarters for preppy cashmere. They also had a lovely, surprisingly affordable collection of fancy dresses. I fell in love with a pearly ivory dress with a draped Grecian neckline and a simple floor-length skirt with no train.
I contemplated buying the dress many times and keeping it in my closet, but every old-fashioned book I'd ever read made me irrationally feel that buying a dress without an engagement would doom me to a life of spinsterhood. It just wasn't right. It didn't fit yet.
Years later, God brought Tom into my life, and we knew it was right. Tom proposed in the West Village, on a dock overlooking the Hudson River, with an early spring sunset for a backdrop. And the day after we got engaged, I went to the J.Crew website and bought the beloved dress. When it came and I slipped it on, it fit perfectly. No alterations needed. Of course.
Any girl will tell you that the most grief-inducing, irrationally sized garment is not a bathing suit, a pair of shoes, nor a dress. No, jeans are inevitably the Waterloo of womankind. There's no rhyme or reason in denim, no size standards. Girls know that if you find the magic jeans, the ones that make you feel like a million bucks, spare no expense. They're all you'll be wearing until they're in shreds.
I, too, hunted for the magic jeans since I grew old enough to care. Then, I visited my childhood best friend, Sarah, in her new hometown, Orlando, Florida. I'd been to Orlando many times, but I hadn't experienced the city outside Disney World, and I had no idea that along with Mickey Mouse and Epcot, Orlando has delightful designer outlet malls.
After making a lot of necessary, deeply discounted purchases (a wallet, a pair of black flat shoes, lots of stockings), I nearly walked past the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet without a look. After all, at the time, I was working in Rockefeller Center. I could practically throw a rock out my office window and shatter the famed Saks window display.
But something drew me in and toward the back, where a display of Seven for All Mankind jeans sat waiting. I pulled a pair off the rack, and I couldn't find a price tag, so I just tried them on—which was a mistake or a stroke of genius, depending on how you look at it.
They were my Magic Jeans. I felt amazing. Had they looked awful on me, I would still have bought them, because they felt so great. The inseam was the proper length (always a problem for me), with a perfect rise, a lovely soft, dark wash, and the smallest of waistbands. I begrudgingly realized that the Magic Jeans were probably way out of my price range, and when I finally found the sales associate, I discovered that they were indeed more expensive than any jeans I'd ever bought, but not obnoxiously so.
Yes, I bought the Magic Jeans, and they were an excellent purchase. For a year and a half, they've been almost the only pants I need. They go everywhere. When I started a job this summer with a casual office, the Jeans became my wardrobe staple, my go-with-anything, feel-great-on-a-bad-morning comfort. I am not being irreverent when I say this: I thank God for the Magic Jeans with more regularity than anything else in my closet.
I could go on; it seems that each piece in my closet is a small testament of God's grace to me, and His love for me in some way, whether in my relationships, my daily pursuits, or my silly, feminine foibles. And when it's put that way, then I think do love my clothes; every morning I'm reminded of the ways God has blessed me.
Peter Menzies is the Alberta-Northwest Territories commissioner for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and past publisher and editor-in-chief...