Why Some Clothes Are More Than Just Clothes To Me

A few days ago I finished reading the book Worn Stories by artist and writer Emily Spivak. In it,  Spivak discusses the meaning that clothes can have for those who wear them. From a grandmother’s sweater to a necklace or a favorite pair of shoes, clothes can bring you back a special time or place, memory or person.

Spivak shares the as-told-to stories of others artists (and authors, directors, fashion designers, and writers) and the clothes that hold special meaning for them. There are shoes that walked the length of the Great Wall of China, a handmade tie passed down through generations and a t-shirt donated to a thrift store by one friend and bought by another. Although each of these articles of clothing may seem meaningless to an outsider, each one carries a unique story - and these are the ones that Spivak shares.

Even though I’ve never hiked 13,000 miles in one pair of boots or owned something from a great-great-great grandparent, I do have many things in my closet that have a special place in my heart. Some are more interesting than others, but they’re important to me all the same.

Like Spivak, I agree that clothes have the ability to transport you back to a certain time, place or feeling. I vividly remember my outfit on my first day of fifth grade - a blue Jonas Brothers t-shirt and matching seersucker Bermuda shorts - and how excited I was to have picked it out for myself. It was the first time that I can remember starting the ritual of picking out the next day’s outfits the night before (something that I still do religiously to this day). That outfit is ingrained in my memory as a big moment in my fashion-centered life. It was the first time I really cared what I was going to wear (however sartorially misguided the outfit itself may have been).

Aside from that outfit, there are many more pieces whose stories I could share - I could talk about the sweater I wore when I found out I got into my dream college or the first pair of expensive sneakers I ever bought. But somehow I narrowed them down to three, and this is my own “worn story.”

1. A floral sundress

My mom wore this dress for her and my dad’s (second) marriage ceremony. After their real wedding (you know, white dress and veil), they spent their honeymoon in Hawaii. While they were there, my dad surprised her with another ceremony, and this is the dress she wore.

Fifteen years later I got to wear the same dress on our family vacation to Hawaii. And it fit like a glove. It was so special to be able to wear something that meant so much to my mom. I haven’t worn it since, but every time I look at it I’m reminded of the sentimentality it holds for her, and now for me.

If I think about it for too long though, I get a little bit weirded out about it. Either I had the body of a 32-year-old at age 14, or my mom had the body of a 14-year-old at 32. But maybe it’s just one of those dresses that fits any body type. Either way it's still special. Maybe one day my brother can wear that super stylish shirt my dad has on in the picture. He's known for never throwing away old clothes (or buying new ones), so I’d bet money that he still has it.

2. A black onyx ring

Another sentimental one - my mom gave me this ring when I turned 18, a ring that she got from her mom when on her own 16th birthday.After getting it, I wore the ring every single day (it helped that my closet is almost entirely black and white, so it goes with everything). I stopped wearing it when I went to college, choosing to leave it at home rather than risk it being lost or stolen. But I wore it every day over winter break, and have worn it every day of summer break. My hand feels naked without it.

Even though it doesn’t trace back generations and generations, it’s still special nonetheless. One day I’ll pass it on to my daughter, she’ll pass it on to hers, and eventually it may reach that coveted 100-year-old status.

3. A cozy sweater

I bought this sweater on sale for 75 percent off, it’s technically three sizes too big and now has a mysterious orange stain on the sleeve, but it’s the best sweater I own.

I wore this as many times as I could without it getting ratty during freshman year of college. (You could even argue that I may have worn it too often). I’d be it every weekend and almost every weeknight, and it was the warmest thing to wear in the buildings that were always painfully cold. 

I never really thought about what this sweater meant to me, but it turns out it actually means a lot to one of my best friends. The first week of school, she came up to my friends and I in the dining hall asked to sit with us. She’d never interacted with or even seen us before, but she had the confidence to come ask to sit down. I remember that day not only because I was floored by her confidence, but because it was the beginning of a friendship with one of the best people I’ve ever known. She remembered that day because after a week of meeting people she didn’t click with, she finally found a group of friends she loved.

She reminds me every time I wear the sweater: “Hey. You were wearing that on the day I met you.” Although this sweater doesn’t have a ton of sentimental value to me (although it is my favorite sweater right now), it illustrates how clothes can hold such important memories inside of them. Every shirt’s stitching can carry a story, a ring can be more than just a piece of jewelry, and a dress can have so much more meaning than first meets the eye.