Twice a year, around about when the clocks go forward or back, I go through my wardrobe and store out of season clothes. But this makes me sound more organised than I really am. Each time the clocks change I have to prod myself into going through my clothes. Often I’ll trick myself into it – a quick whip through my summer clothes, after one a hot day after months of cold ones, will turn into a wholesale clean out.
One year I was lucky enough to go through my clothes with a friend on my bed, which made the process much more fun. But not just fun. It was also irksome to find out that the skirt I’d worn again and again didn’t pass muster, and that my favourite cardigan looked like just that, and nothing more. I can still remember the short silence that followed after I buttoned up my tweed jacket. Karen’s short silence, no longer than the intake of a breath, made me realise that my tweed jacket’s days were numbered. ‘But it’s so useful’, I said, springing to its defence. ‘I can dress it up and down.’ There was another tactful pause. ‘Also it’s the jacket that my daughter likes me in most.’ Karen demurred, nodded her head, and the tweed jacket stayed.
That was five years ago and now my tweed jacket’s days are over. Even the short leather jacket that my husband bought me to look sexy in has aged better than this tweed jacket. And yet for years I’ve loved wearing it, often done up with a scarf. I’d wear it into town or on a hike – all the while my kids wishing that I’d wear a fleece like normal mothers. I thought of my tweed jacket as smart camouflage, something that I could button up and not have to think about all day.
Two weeks ago, dressing in a hurry and not wanting to think about what to wear, I grabbed my tweed jacket off its hanger. However the moment I put it on I knew, despite my hurry, that I simply couldn’t wear it. My tweed jacket had died, precisely when it was hard to say, and it was useless pretending that it hadn’t.
My daughter despises the vanity of fashion to the inverse degree that she is influenced by it. Much as she hates admitting it, the cut of a tshirt and the fit of her jeans matter to her a whole lot more than they did five years ago, when she’d defiantly patch her clothes and wear her elder brother’s hand-me-downs.
I knew I’d made the right decision about my tweed jacket because the morning that I felt like mutton dressed as mutton, and said as much to my daughter, she let the comment slide. ‘It just has to go’, I said to her flatly. At that moment I could already see my tweed jacket squashed on a rack in the charity shop, hemmed in by slightly musty clothes that I’d never pick out myself. ‘Fifteen years is a good innings even for a well-made high street jacket,’ I added. Or perhaps my daughter had decided that, given how confused her opinions about her own clothes, it wasn’t her place to disagree with mine.
At this point I remembered a scene during a trip to the UK to see old friends. A close friend, who was quite sick at the time, asked me to spend the day with her. For someone who hadn’t lived in the country for five years it was a tricky drive, and I felt relieved to arrive safely at my friend’s house in Brighton. I can still remember the flash of disappointment that crossed her face when she opened the front door and hugged me. At first I couldn’t work it out, given that she was clearly thrilled to see me. Later that day, by which time I plucked up courage to ask, she explained. ‘It was because I thought you would have changed in five years’, she said. ‘But instead when I opened the front door you look exactly the same’. What I think she meant was that I’d gone all the way to Australia, and was living a completely different life, and yet I was still wearing the kind of jacket that I could pick up any day in Oxford Street or Paddington.
I don’t know the direction my life will take from here on, not really. However I do know how I feel when I put on my clothes each morning. Going forward, that terrible phrase, will I wear more of the same, or will I strike out in a new direction? Perhaps this is what my clothes are nudging me towards.