It’s May, and finally warm enough for the annual shift from the winter wardrobe to the summer. It’s also the first return to warm weather wear after my retirement, meaning I no longer have to look respectable. Clearly it’s time for some wholesale cleaning out, so I set aside a large plastic bag to be filled with donations for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Finally, some much needed closet and drawer space.
What I call my “grown-up” clothes, those I wore to school as a teacher, were fairly easy to decimate. Nope, nope, nope, won’t need that, didn’t much like that skirt, don’t need 3 pairs of black pants, etc. etc. The bag’s dimensions were expanding steadily, but there was still plenty of room for more.
My much loved Granny had always told me – over and over and over – that if you haven’t worn it in a year, then get rid of it. (My Granny was kind of the opposite of a hoarder) But she obviously never had to (or wanted to) deal with souvenir clothing, clothing with a story attached to it.
Whether or not souvenir clothing is or ever shall be wearable is irrelevant. It is the story that matters. I have recycled most of our sons’ outgrown clothes, but still have one tiny handknitted outfit that I made for our eldest in the “newborn” size. Arriving at a hefty 10 ½ pounds, our eldest was never newborn size, but the wonderful nurse at the hospital was determined he would wear that outfit home. As she manipulated his chunky legs and arms and stretched every last knitted stitch to its utmost, she gritted her teeth and said, “Honey, you made this for him and he WILL wear it home.” And he did. Once.
Size S outfit for a size XXXL baby
Our second son, younger by 2 years, wore his brother’s hand-me-downs in many cases, and having been well used by two active boys were either recycled or deep sixed, depending upon their condition. But Halloween costumes are another story. I have no skill with a needle, and most of their costumes were of the unimaginative, store bought variety. But when Ben was 2, I carefully affixed a pointy black electrical tape tail to a bright red footed blanket sleeper, and little electrical tape horns to a red knit hat and voila – a little devil. The shape of things to come? Only those teen years, maybe just a little. I also fashioned werewolf outfits for them both, ripping holes in jeans and flannel shirts and sewing (!) patches of fake fur so that they protruded from the holes. Still have ‘em. Will always have ‘em, even if no grandchildren ever come along.
T-shirts are often bought because they tell stories. Profundities such as “Age and treachery will triumph over youth and skill,” and “Books, Cats, – life is sweet.” subtly (or not so) reveal my philosophy of life to the world. A map of the London Underground, a picture of Big Ben, artfully embroidered lilacs from the Rochester Lilac Festival, Cosette’s plaintive face from “Les Miz” – all reminders of places visited and memorable experiences. Gifts from my students – the slightly too small t-shirt emblazoned with a few dozen magic marker signatures – mine for eternity. Don’t care if they are stained or the underarms are starting to disintegrate. They will never go.
Another category of souvenir clothing is gifts from our 2 sons. When they were very young these articles of clothing were often……interesting.
As their fashion sense developed (way past my own in many cases) their gifts of clothing became stylish and were much worn, treasured beyond their actual utility because of the source. They will never leave my closet.
The final category are the quiet stories – nondescript, unadorned pieces of clothing that are important simply because I have worn them on some particularly memorable occasion. I still have the platform sandals I wore on my first date with my husband; he found my continual falling off of them charming. (now, I’m just a klutz) There is a shapeless white blazer that looks like a throwaway from some low budget medical establishment. It came on every single summer vacation at the Jersey shore when the boys were small. It had lots of pockets for the unending detritus that the parent of every small child accumulates, and was the perfect weight for cool seaside evenings.
And, finally, my last article of souvenir clothing, reminder of a perhaps somewhat less cherished memory. Last summer in England I had an accident involving a great deal of blood and the ensuing loss of my ring finger. I was wearing my favorite jeans and t-shirt to go on a bucolic horseback ride in the park when my day was so rudely interrupted. They had to cut off the t-shirt at the ER, but I was not about to part with the jeans.
Completely saturated with blood, I wrapped them in two layers of plastic bag and packed them in the center of my suitcase. Fortunately, I was not chosen for a baggage check, or I think I would have had some explaining to do. Once home and run through 4 cycles of cold water wash, they are (almost) as good as new. The accident wasn’t so great, but the British people who cared for me were. These souvenir jeans are still functional, and I will wear them next year when I return to go on the ride I missed. Well, maybe some souvenir clothing gets re-worn, now and then.