We’ve had some turbulent weather over the last week and the worst of it came on Wednesday with heavy rains hitting the area. I had dinner plans with my mom that evening, which were quickly canceled after we got caught in the downpour. When I got to my mom’s house I wanted to change but I’ve already ransacked the better part of Annette’s existing wardrobe, taking her most comfortable sweats, so I had to borrow clothes from my mom, who is TINY. Dressed in her clothes I looked cartoonish – all limbs sticking out of her tiny sweater and pants- so she suggested that I wear some of my dad’s stuff since we were closer in size. It made sense, so I did.
There was an unexpected comfort in wearing my dad’s clothes, and I was surprised with the familiarity and closeness that these few pieces of fabric brought me. I fell asleep in his sweats that night and had a strange but oddly enjoyable experience dreaming not necessarily of him, but rather as him, seeing the world through his eyes. I have to confess that I haven’t dreamt of him recently so it’s interesting that his old polo and grey sweat pants were able to trigger such intense emotions that I found him re-entering my subconscious.
This experience reminded my of the power of clothing and fashion. I think we’ve heard it all before – what we wear can be a demonstration of who we are and what we feel. Dressing up, or even down for that matter, is an opportunity for us to express our individuality, communicating to the world a version of ourself that we want others to see. There is something therapeutic about being able to craft these expressions. Furthermore, we can also assign meaning to clothing, and a quote from this New Yorker article, “Twenty-One Dresses”, underscores the potency of clothing as bearers of memory – “garments never lose the imprint of the body that was once inside them; indeed, the chemical reactions between the materials of the garments and the wearer’s body are ongoing.”
It’s no wonder then that I’ve seen a number of fascinating projects connecting the power of dressing with the process of remembering and I wanted to discuss my two favourite briefly. The first project is by Karolina Jonderko, a Polish artist who lost her mother in 2008 and through her series “Self-portrait with my mother,” Jonderko recreates her mother’s outfits to relive memories. Jonderko relies on relics from her past (her mother’s clothing) as a means of mourning, remembering and reliving.
The second project, entitled Knickers Model’s Own is drastically different in tone and purpose but is equally important, shining a light on how we connect clothing to memory. Caroline Jones lost her mother Mary to cancer in October 2014 and at the beginning of this year, Caroline vowed to raise money for Cancer Research UK by wearing a new charity store/thrift shop outfit every day for the entire year to honour her mother’s legacy. Mary had been a long time volunteer at charity shops supporting cancer research in Hertfordshire, England, and Caroline’s project raises awareness on issues of sustainability and consumption while also collecting money for an important cause. In six short months, her work has attracted 1000s of followers and raised an impressive £11,605.00.
I’m notorious for constantly purging my wardrobe, clearing things away and trying to live in a minimal way. I’ve often maintained that it’s all just “stuff”, and perhaps it’s true to an extent. However, in the wake of the last few months, I’m finding that these things, all my stuff, has the potential to carry enormous emotional weight and every day I’m thankful to have them because as these two projects have demonstrated, the act of dressing can also be a way of remembering.