20 February 2017

Clothing, a Modern Day Suit of Armor.

I have had a life long affection, or you might call it a studied obsession, with clothing.  Where did it come from, why has it lasted and what does it all mean?

For me, it has never been about labels.  After all, I founded Ses Petites Mains, the childrenswear brand that celebrated the innate beauty of the child, not the logo branding stamped on the clothing or the coquettishness that other lines offered as options for little girls.  More compelling to me was the fabric of clothing--the hand feel, the color, the details--similar to the time capsule that is music, for me, a cloth can hold a treasure trove of memories.  I could draw on memories of clothing from my own childhood, growing up in Chicago and create modern shapes that resonated with new parents & young girls.  Creating Ses Petites Mains was like creating a barrier against marketers & manufacturers who were over-sexualizing our young girls.

Both my parents impressed upon me, the love of clothing--my mom, the construction; my dad, the details.  My mom spent endless hours rolling out fabrics on our dining room table (big enough to comfortably seat my parents & seven siblings).  With unbelievable patience she imparted upon my sister Jeannine and I, the knowledge of how to work with grain lines, pin down the commercial pattern pieces, hand stitch the markings and then, only, then, could you begin the tremendously joyful task job of cutting.  

I loved it. I loved the entire process which actually began at Lee Wards where we spent hours pouring over the pattern catalogs, selecting the pattern of our choice--the sky was the limit as long as you could make it.  Freedom from hand-me-downs lived amongst the pages of the Vogue pattern catalog!  

My dad was the keeper of fabric -- he excitedly took me to the Pendleton Woolen shop in Bear Country at Disneyland to show me the impeccable woolen plaids and tattersols.  Running his hand along the cloth, he made a point of having me feel the wool that wasn't the least bit scratchy.  It was the benchmark of woven luxury to him.

Pinstripes, chalk stripes, french cuffs, three piece suits, a three button cashmere coat and heavy soled wing tip lace ups, polished, heeled & worn daily.  My dad believed that you didn't need many pieces but the ones you had should be special, well-made and  if cared for, would last a lifetime.

My parents instilled in the me the joy of making and the eye for beauty.

women in clothes_edited
women in clothes rain coats_edited
I recently started reading 'Women in Clothes'--a collection of interviews of women from every background, that describes each one's unique relationship to clothing.  Some stand out more than others--such as Leah Dunham's wise advise to avoid gaucho pants; and another interviewee who waxes poetically about a dickie that she had as a young girl (I thought I was the only one!).  The common 'thread' is that a relationships exists but each is unique in its own way.  Not earth shattering but certainly nostalgic, at least for me.

I also love the protectionist element of clothing  You would have to be living in a cave these days if you were not aware of the complexities related to certain religious garb and its meaning.  Let's start with the hijab--the head scarf that Muslim women wear, in adherence with their faith.  

Hijab means 'cover' in Arabic and while worn by women, Muslim men also sometimes wear a head covering.  Muslim women have expressed to me, how safe their hijab makes them feel.  It offers a cover as a means of showing modesty.  Christian and Jewish women in some traditions also wear a headscarf as a cultural practice or commitment to modesty or piety.  

You could argue that wearing a head cover is not unlike donning a warm coat on a freezing day, a layer between you and the elements.  How can that be so misunderstood and fraught with fear from onlookers?  After all, in American schools, girls are often chastised for wearing 'too little'; school dress codes are scripted to dictate skirt lengths, strap widths, resulting in harsh treatment when not observed.  Do we actually want to do the same to women (and men) who choose to wear too much?

I find myself, these days, wearing my own layer of protection.  Not a hijab and not related to modesty. Its actually an Alexander Wang knitted vest, constructed of the most gorgeous, thick & nubby yarn with an extended funnel neck that drapes over my shoulders like the zip-up hoods of old varsity jackets.  The hook & eye closures at front are hardly visible and the high rib-start hem holds the bulky shape, close to my form.  Its a security blanket bar none.

And this cozy piece has recently been in daily rotation in my wardrobe.  We recently moved my beautiful mom into hospice care.  At 92, she seems to be winding down her full, creative, generous-of-spirit life.  As a grandmother to 11 grandchildren, she's been so active and loving in the lives of so many.  She held my hand at the birth of my daughter Somerset; she walked me down the aisle at my wedding; she stood by me through so much.  And although I honor her exhaustion, having endured the loss of my dad 20 years ago and laying to rest four of her eight children, I simply cannot conceive of a world without her.  

So I layer my vest on each morning and pull it close to me, hoping it will shield me from the 
harshness of that reality.  Sometimes I appreciate the anonymity of the gesture while at other times, I find I'm slightly jealous of those whose clothing calls attention to their difference.  I am not 'myself' right now and perhaps will never be the same again.  

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