“Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion.” — John Berger, 1972
I have nothing to wear.
Last winter, when my life fell into a blast furnace, there were eight items of clothing I could put on my body from day to day that didn’t make me want to crawl out of my skin. Those items were:
L.L. Bean wool sweater (red)
L.L. Bean wool sweater (black w/pattern)
Brown leather hiking boots with red laces
Nike Cortez tennis shoes
Double-breasted wool topcoat (camel)
Wool scarf (gray)
Knit cap (navy)
Anything else, and I was wearing a costume. This was a dissociative experience, and I was grappling with enough of those, thank you very much. Why couldn’t I wear any of my other sweaters? Or my white Oxford shirts? An Oxford shirt is about as neutral as an item of clothing can get, but when I put one on and buttoned it up, I felt like an idiot.
Strangest of all was that I couldn’t wear what has been my winter uniform for years: black pants and a black turtleneck. You’d think when a woman is experiencing major depression, black is the only thing that will do. Jeez, aren’t the depressed issued a black turtleneck and black pants at the door? But to me, black clothing does not communicate sorrow or a lack of vitality. To me, black clothes, aside from being chic (and slimming!) communicate a person in command of herself, someone who wants to be taken seriously.
What was happening to me was serious but I felt in command of nothing, and chic? Chic was a planet other people lived on. Whose clothes are these, I wondered, as I moved hangers back and forth in my closet. At some point I stopped opening my closet at all, ceased to wonder or worry about it and I simply put on the same thing day after day. I laundered my clothes often because I wore them daily. Processing laundry took great effort but it was a simple enough task and the smell of Woolite never lost its charm. I’m still grateful for that.
How I dreaded the coming warm weather. I’d be screwed. Dressing for spring and summer is awful for me every year, regardless of mental state; precious few of us on Team Black Turtleneck cross the line over to Team Tank Top, even if the Tank Toppers seem more comfortable than we are come Memorial Day. This year, I feared would be way worse.
The season changed. And by the time my hiking boots were inappropriate — early May, I think — my disposition had improved considerably. But I had not been wrong to worry about the clothes and in fact the situation was worse than I had anticipated. Not only had I not caught a ride on a rocket ship back to Planet Chic, I did not want to go. It was time to bring out my low-heeled suede pumps and my Marni blouse and my side-zip, slim-fit black Vince trousers, but when I went to get dressed in all that, you would’ve thought there was a tin of rotting tuna fish in my closet. I’d wince and shut the door and then just stand there with my head on the closet door, trying to envision any assemblage of apparel that would not make me feel like I was wearing a dead woman’s clothes. It was that bad.
Not everyone cares as much about clothes as I do, and there are those who care far more. My reasons for caring about what I wear (if you’ll allow me to psychoanalyze myself for a moment) are not hard to figure out. I want to control the narrative. Well-designed things make life easier and less ugly. Beautiful clothes make me feel beautiful. And I think it’s important to evolve as a person. Clothes, because there are so many directions one can take with them, are tools we can use to reflect — even spur or solidify — who we are right now.
And that, my peeps, is the heart of the matter: I don’t know what to wear because my current evolution is still in progress. It’s the same reason I can’t whip out a PaperGirl post like I used to: That person moved out, and it appears the other problem with losing your voice is losing your shoes. On a purely material level, it’s a drag to lose all those shoes — I have really great shoes — but on a psychic level, it super sucks. I can’t walk around barefoot. I can’t wear hiking boots every day. Crocs are never an option. But I’d pick any of those options before I’d wear the shoes of the woman who left all her stuff in my closet before she died. That’s creepy.
What’s my new look? As my friend Irena would say, “What’s the mood?”
Ten months later, and I still don’t know. It’s doubtful the mood will ever be what it was before. Perhaps that’s a start; that’s useful data. As the weather cools, I am eyeing my boots and my red sweater, but this may not be the solution. The new fear is that I’ll put those clothes on and they’ll feel dead, too.
But I’m alive. And I will live to shop another day.
Kathlene in Ohio
It’s nice to hear from you (and that you are still with us) any time. Your humor (and sarcasm) and honesty always lift me up, Mary! Thank you for this post!
I have tears in my eyes from the deep pain I sense in your writing. . I recognize every single feeling you’ve shared , because I’ve lived them. I never had one millionth of your great gift to put words to them , or your gigantic courage , to share them. Everything that you share helps us feel more human. Whether we have experienced it in small , or unbearably large amounts. I wish that there was a way for much of the world to read what you have just written. From the little writing that I have tried to do , I know that all of it was so carefully & truthfully crafted. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
My Canadian Hiking boots and my gigantic warm wooly red sweater still live in my wardrobe. It’s a long time , since I had to force myself to not wear them for a few months of summer. So that I might not appear to be as lost & freezing as I felt. I can remember the safety , and how alien anything other than my safe things felt.
I would not have recognized the person who chooses the clothes & the footwear that I do , today.
My hiking boots were my refuge for so long. I will always be grateful for them , & even to them. They live in the bottom of my wardrobe now , & peep out from under the most wonderful array of batty coloured dresses.
Sending you very much love & thanks ,
I was so happy to see your post today! I look forward to them.
Not sure if they are difficult for you to write….hope not.
Thanks always for saying it the way it is; for being honest and transparent.
This is not meant to be sad at all, but germane to clothing. My dearest brother committed suicide in early August. All I want to wear is a grey tank from Target, a grey cardigan I got from Nordstrom’s last year and jeans, grey Skechers. Nothing else makes me feel normal. I wear, launder and wear. Day after day. It’s my uniform now.
So, yes, I most assuredly understand. I miss wearing red and black, but I feel like an alien in my other things. Be of good heart. We’re normal.
Mary Ann scanlon
Always lovely to hear from you Mary. And we look forward to chatting with you no matter what you’re wearing! But why is it so difficult to purge my closet of the last person who lived in my skin? I liked her but I am living who came next.
Glad to hear your progress
It may be slow but you are getting there
It’s funny how the clothes we want to wear change with our own seasons in life. The same three sweaters on repeat this month, the ones that feel like “home”, may feel completely alien the next month. Some seasons, we want to blend in and hide. And others, we show up with confidence and demand to be noticed and taken seriously. Some clothes I liken to armor, to be worn when going to war (or a contentious meeting at work). Seasons change, literally and figuratively. We change. We dress in clothes to fit the changes within us and around us. And, somehow, it all works out.
Hey Mary. What would happen if you packed up all the “out” clothes in your closet and put them on standby, somewhere else, out of sight and out of mind, for now? That’s actually the question that came to mind while reading your post. No theory whatsoever on the answer, except maybe it could lift a weight off you for a while.
Imagine the hugs coming your way.
Hey Mary! Thanks for writing ! By the way, you look good in black any time of the year . Black complements your skin tone and hair color!
First, thank you for being so honest and speaking your truth, many if us aren’t able to put it into words as well as you can.
Second, I agree with JB, box things up and see where that takes you. Maybe the new Mary needs a totally different wardrobe.
Third, maybe there needs to be a new PaperGirl, we change, life changes, something wonderful may be just around the corner waiting for PaperGirl2.
Sending love and hugs.
I get it. Well made clothing is not necessarily comfy. Maybe it’s texture. Maybe tennis shoes get you where you want to go faster… Maybe leave it to the pros, and order from a place like stitch Fix. You will get a surprise package in the mail with items that a stylist (or I’m convinced is actually a computer) picked out just for you!
Tami Von Zalez
Grrrl, you need to visit the thrift shops and try on things that you would never, ever consider wearing (course that sounds like most everything for you at this moment).
Free yourself from the constraints of what you should, could or used to wear.
Try on that purple hippy dress. Slap on a wig. Drape yourself in necklaces that are too long and clunky.
You need to have fun. That means having fun with your clothing choices too. Grab that friend and do a thrift/consignment/secondhand shop road trip. It would do you a world of good.
My dearest Mary,
Thank you for writing this. It is medicine for me to know that others feel this as well. When being in bed and “off” is all you look forward to. When even looking at fabric to sew with gives no emotion. We must all care for ourselves first and learn that everything else can just wait. I hope you are recovering. I’m only about an inch from the bottom but it’s upward progress.
Oh, how I’ve missed you my friend. And you are correct. Crocs are never an option!
Oh, Girl. Sending you a hug or 3 dozen. So glad to hear from you.
Please don’t fret over the closet issue. It, too, will resolve itself when it is time. If it helps, I actually asked someone the other day if Mercury was in Retrograde because – I kid you not – Everything I attempted went sideways, backwards or stayed put. No moving forward and onward.
I finally came to the understanding that whatever it was I was doing, it was taking its own sweet time. Keep that thought in mind. Like a cake in the oven, it takes the amount of time it takes to bake. Any less and it is raw and any more and it is burned. You’ll get there and we’ll be here when you do. And even while you are getting there.
So good to hear from you, whatever the situation.
There’s still the hat, right?
Dear Mary, I so appreciate your posts. I’m glad you’re on the mend even if it feels slow to you. Clothes matter.
You are in our hearts and prayers. Do what you need to do when you need to do it
I’m sorry! That sounds rough. I hope you find comfort in something in your closet. If I could wear black yoga pants and a silky, rayon t-shirt every day, I would. I am mourning the end of sandal season. I literally was just venting to my friend this week that my feet need to be contained in closed shoes and how sad that made me feel. Side note– crocs are EXCELLENT for quick dog pottie breaks.
Always thinking of you Mary. I think you look terrific in any outfit! You are a beautiful person, inside and out!
Mary, wear what you like (or not), when you like (or not), be who you want to be (or not). The moral of the story is this, your group of readers (and friends), will always be here for you. And I am sure many feel like me: wished we lived closer – we would come over give you a great big hug (or a thousand hugs – however many it takes). Feed you, cry with you, laugh with you. Do whatever it takes, to get Mary on again!!! Sending so many good vibes your way!!!!!
Mary, I just came onto your blog to take a deep breath and enjoy. It looks like I have some serious competition for President of the MFC (Mary Fan Club.) May your closet fill with new delights. Don’t be a stranger.
Thank you for your reflections on the clothing of a dead person. I can now look at my clothes and those clothes that were worn when I was working at a job to just hold on to the insurance benefits can now be given away as I am no longer that person. Having probably out grown them physically also helps but I can now look at things with different eyes.
I check in every once in a while to see how you are doing.
Hope all is well and you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Miss you, Mary. Be well.
Happy Christmas Mary Fons ♥️
Happy New Year,
I read some bits and pieces of your post, very interesting. I am much older 62, I feel sorry for so many younger women like you with good educations, pretty, and adventures, but i can’t help but wonder, not know you childhood was like , but it seemed good with your mom and her business doing well, and living in a quaint town in Iowa, what could go so wrong. Do you think that you had to many choices and being so busy that when it comes down to the day to day , sometimes you just were not prepared for the big picture of a simple boring life? Your health always has to come first before anything else in life. Take care and have a healthy , happy New Year 2020
thinking of you and hoping you are well… and missing your words
Life is just one damn transition after another. Especially hard for those of us who are mentally fragile.
Clothes are such a complicated marvel aren’t they? You -one- we could write volumes. They are another way of figuring out who is holding the pen.
I miss hearing from you Mary