Style

What My Mother Taught Me About Style

When I was growing up, my mother was never interested in fashion. She had a silk scarf or two, which I enjoyed waving behind me as I ran around the kitchen island, but aside from that I remember very little about her wardrobe aside from the paint splatters that covered her work clothes. She was – is – an artist, at that point a painter, and her basement studio in the house where I grew up was always a riot of half-mixed colors that covered walls and floors and clothes and everything she was working on. 

She didn’t teach me how to dress, or anything like that. I remember asking her to take me to the Gap for jeans while I was in elementary school, because I’d shown up on the first day of the new year and I was the only person still wearing sweatpants – lime green, the same pair that I continued to wear to gymnastics class, and which once fell down when I was on the trampoline, scarring me forever.

Generally, I wouldn’t be shocked if she’s the font of some of my own stylistic influences, both in the way of embracing the a bit of artist’s dishevelment and in rebelling against it. I wear a combination of messy, slightly disarranged clothing and some easier tailored pieces, although I think I tend to make all of it look about the same when it goes on, and if I covered it all in paint I think I’d cut a figure that the childhood me would recognize with ease. My father hates shopping – hates clothing, generally – and will only occasionally go to thrift stores or malls (grudgingly, mind you) to try to find, with limited success, clothes that are soft and comfortable enough for him to wear without complaint.

Neither of my parents ever told that I should look a certain way. On occasion I was made to tuck in my shirt or, even more rarely, comb my hair, but that ended by middle school. My father never wore a suit or tie to work (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him wear a tie), so I didn’t grow up admiring tailoring, nor was I forced to join groups or attend events that would have demanded that I change out of baggy jeans and oversized skate shoes. There were no classes on manners, no Sunday School; instead I went to places like the art gallery where my mother showed, and of my father’s co-workers that I did meet, 90% of them were, like everyone else in Boulder, wearing Birkenstocks.

For better or worse, I’ve never been taught to baby anything I own. Or, if I was, I suppose I’ve always been determined to ignore the advice. Instead, I was taught that experiences are a more valuable currency than cash, and that most objects can be replaced. I try to take care of my belongings, but I don’t fret over the state of my clothes. In fact, I don’t really think I own them until I’ve cooked in them or worn them to a deserving occasion. Of course, one of the side effects of this is that I rarely look pristine, but I find that preferable to spending my time worrying about scuffs on my shoes, pulls on my sweaters, or tears in pants and shirts. My mother has always shown an impressive ability to destroy things, so perhaps in some ways I’ve rebelled by not dressing entirely in tatters.

Only in the last few years has she embraced a little bit of the fashion world, no doubt partly due to my damning influence, and she now owns a handful of pieces from brands like By Walid and Yohji Yamamoto. One of my old Silent by Damir Doma hoodies remains a favorite workout sweater. Even so, she’s still most often found in the slightly random collection of items I remember from my youth. Instead, her interest in fabric and fiber has led to a fascination with quilting and hand-stitching inspired in part by American quilts, Middle-Eastern rug designs, and Japanese boro techniques.

Her hands have always been busy, and patching, stitching, and quilting was a natural draw for her. She used to – and still does – repair all my jeans, but she’s moved on to other projects now. If you’ve been on the forum for a while – or if you’ve been to our yearly Proper Kit trunk shows – you may have seen a few of them already. I’ve claimed a handful of her completed pieces for my own, and they’re by far the most special garments I have in my wardrobe. Sometimes I’m tempted to baby these items, both because of the sheer amount of work that went into creating them, and because of the obvious sentimental value. Then I remember everything she taught me, and I go out of my way to wear them to whatever it is I have to do.

I took a boro jacket she made with me when we visited Japan, brought a full-length many-colored cloak with me to Pitti, and one of my most-worn garments is a Banana Republic shirt she bought for herself back in the 80’s, and which is more patchwork than shirt at this point. It’s tissue-thin, and in the places where it’s not covered in stitching, doodles, or scraps of fabric, you can almost see through it. Even so, I don’t spend my time worrying about keeping them clean, or even in ensuring they stay intact – instead, all of those experiences have been made sweeter because I’ve been wearing an emotional connection on my shoulders, and I attach even more value to those garments because of the places they’ve gone along with me. Besides, whenever I do inevitably damage one of these garments, I know exactly where I can take it for repairs – and then the story will continue.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, at almost thirty years old, I’m still wearing clothes my mother has made for me – and I couldn’t be more proud of it.

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