Unbound: What You Can Tell From A Wardrobe


T’is the season for the changing of the wardrobe. Around this time of year, when the temperature drops a little, I say a bittersweet goodbye to the wispy garments of Summer, and pull out the chunky polar fleece numbers. This twice-yearly ritual concludes in me arguing with my vacuum cleaner and a couple of those air-tight storage bags (last year’s squabble ended with a dent in my forehead), and then I’m ready to face the coming Canadian winter.

So, hey, what’s the point of completing a chore like this without a quick, introspective dip into something deeper, right? One’s wardrobe is more than just layers of warmth and protection. It’s an opportunity to examine a world view. Here’s a quick synopsis of mine:

  • There are no high heels.
  • There’s nothing that requires a second person in order to zip up or undo.
  • My clothing is decidedly wedgie-free, and fits without the aid of spanx or other major scaffolding.
  • There are only breathable fabrics, ones that don’t make me sweat like a teenage boy.
  • Tags are quickly yanked and anything scratchy is either reconfigured or chucked.

Okay, just so you don’t think I dress like a nun (I don’t), it would be accurate to say that my clothes are eclectic. I love weird prints and jewel tones. I proudly parade around in bold graphics and sarcastic t-shirts. I feel no need to “dress my age” or be “appropriate” in any other sense. One might even call some of my stuff weird or tacky. My wardrobe stands not only as a sampling of my personal tastes and interests, but also as a testament to a dearly-held belief:

I am entitled to be comfortable.

It’s a lesson I learned from my mother, who, throughout my young life, insisted that I be allowed to get dirty, get changed in a hurry, climb, roll around, run, jump, and not sustain any clothing-related injuries. This same wise woman also refused to French braid my hair, teach me how to put on make-up, or make getting in and out of a car in a ladylike manner a priority. She made it very clear to me that although it was fine to want to cultivate my own style, look presentable, or make a statement, torturing myself with the contents of my closet was just stupid. I remember her smirking ironically as she uttered the words “One must suffer to be beautiful.”

Fast forward a few decades, and now I’m the one stocking the cupboards for a little girl. I’m the one making choices about whether she should “look nice”, or be able to go about her business unencumbered. Maybe it’s a remnant of my own upbringing, somehow passed along genetically, or a product of my endless rants about the perils of pink frilly crap, but my daughter’s made it easy for me to pass along my mother’s teachings. At age three-months, she shrieked in agony as we tried to stuff her into a frilly frock. At two, she told me to throw out a pair of stiff jeans because they were keeping her from lifting her legs high enough to climb. Once, during a shopping trip to a vintage store, I held her hands and steadied her so she could try shuffling around in a pair of stiletto heels. She gazed frantically into my eyes and told that she wanted out of them before she broke her legs. Fancy barrettes and headbands seem to slide off in a matter of minutes, as if her hair itself is rejecting the inconvenience they present. This little grasshopper learns fast.

I am entitled to be comfortable.

I could (and often do) rant about the vile messages little girls are delivered via the children’s clothing industry. Everything (and I mean everything) has pink on it, even if it’s just a bow or a set of buttons. Most items are covered in lollipops, fairy folk, or insipid messages like “Daddy’s little this or that”. The way little girls’ clothing looks is disturbing, but I think  I could suck it up and deal with it if it weren’t for the way it actually functions (or doesn’t). Clothing for girls is thin. It’s short. It requires tights and belts and ribbons to hold it all together. It bunches, and creeps up, and requires hand-washing. The shoes sometimes have heels, for Pete’s sake. It’s bad enough that my rug rat might have to apologize for being a girl by sporting something cute and sparkly. The fact that she might not be able to move, breathe, or even think straight while wearing these tot-sized contraptions leaves me worried.

For the time being, she doesn’t fight me when I put out leggings and a t-shirt for her, and is more than happy to slap on a pair of runners. But I know the time is coming (maybe sooner than later), when she’s going to fight me on this one. It’s likely that one day, she’ll feel compelled to stuff herself into something uncomfortable for the sake of social acceptance.  She may spend formal occasions unable to exhale or eat much. Her feet will blister and ache in horrible pumps. There will be chafe marks and pit stains. If truth be told, I too went through years of this nonsense before I figured out that my mother was right.

Outfitting a wardrobe, whether it’s for an adult woman or for a little girl, is a political statement. That’s probably not the first thing on a mother’s (or father’s) mind in the midst of wrestling a squirmy little kid into their clothes before breakfast, but it’s there in the footnotes of everyday parenthood. There are deeper, darker notes to comments like “Suck in your stomach so I can zip this up.” and “You won’t be able to run in these.” I’m desperate for my daughter’s version of style, whatever that turns out to be, to include both literal and figurative freedom of movement, of being able to accomplish what she needs to accomplish. When her friends and associates think of “being in her shoes”, I don’t want any of them to cringe.

I hope that she chooses well. I hope that she wears her clothes, and not the other way around. I hope that one day, while she’s putting away her summer clothes and she surveys her wardrobe, she smiles to herself, takes a full, uninhibited breath, and utters the magical words:

I am entitled to be comfortable.