I have fashion on the brain these days. Not in a musing, semi-intellectual art-nun kind of way, but like how when you’re a little kid and you’re like “I want red shoes! I want a ruffly blue dress!” Want, want, want, want, want!
Maybe it’s because during pregnancy I felt like I couldn’t enjoy clothes as much as I usually do. It wasn’t like I had it bad during my baby-incubation months — my style always gravitated towards a silhouette with a looser top and a tighter bottom, so I wore a surprising amount of pre-pregnancy clothes for much of my pregnancy. (I got away with my regular jeans and pants with the help of makeshift waist expanders made of hair elastics until my third trimester, when I caved and got two pairs of maternity jeans. So that was the extent of my fashion accommodation: maternity jeans from H&M, because I hated the idea of spending money on clothes I couldn’t wear forever.)
Now, though, the craving for clothes is emotional, almost spiritual even. It’s a pattern of mine — I daydream about what clothes I’ll buy for a season in times of identity flux, a way to mark off a new stage of existence. I’ll even dream about clothes at night unconsciously. (I’m vaguely mortified to think about how many of my dreams are about shopping for things, and how amazingly visceral and pleasurable they are. I once dreamed about buying perfume and smelling the most exquisite orange blossom and jasmine scent in this dream…and now I’m like WHERE CAN I FIND THIS FRAGRANCE IN REAL LIFE?!! It was pure beauty! But I digress.)
It’s very basic to use clothes to feel out the changing parameters of identity, at least for me. I used to love to figure out my first-day-of-school outfit, taking time and care in figuring out my year’s persona, like “cartoon heroine glamour” or “English garden party grunge” or whatever. (Those were legit fashion statements I tried to make during my high school and college years, though honestly, I probably just wore the same style year after year: striped shirts, black tights, boots, army parka.) Sometimes I think identity is sort of a tension between who you want to be and who you really are — i.e. a pas de deux between self-acceptance and life-as-creative-act — and style is a visual, tactile, concrete and a sensuous way to figure out those boundaries.
It was easier to figure out and play with this tension when I was younger, and experimenting with your self is just part of, well, youthfulness. But this new stage of my life — being a mama, yet somehow trying to integrate it with my past artsy-adventuress self — feels tricksier. I look at the list of things I feel drawn to or am intrigued by, and it makes no sense. It’s a mishmash: Nike Pegasus 83s, leather totes from Madewell and Everlane, pink and grey striped sweaters from Uniqlo, mustard yellow Vans Sk-8 high tops, a navy blue cotton lawn dress, an artsy-looking slate grey cocktail dress. Some things I hope embrace the changes in my life; others are kind of pure denial. I’m inspired by random things: Sofia Coppola in her Cali/married to Spike Jonze days (pictured below), stylist Camille Bidault Waddington (pictured above), a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker taking her daughters to school. Again, mishmash.
I do find a pleasure in dressing my baby. Contrary to what you’d think for a former fashion-y obsessive, I actually haven’t bought much for him — my baby inherited a lot of baby clothes from older cousins, and I’m too practical to lay out for things that will only be outgrown in a few months. (I also figure the baby is too wee to care much about hand-me-downs now, so I should take advantage while I can.) I love the innocence of children’s clothes: rounded collars, happy colors, tiny charming embroidered details. I don’t want to match my baby, nor do I want to dress like a child — but I do find myself interested a kind of sincere, innocent joy and happiness in clothing now.
Finding that — and integrating that with my past fashion selves — is a bit of a challenge, though. One of the strange existential challenges is delving into this whole new life while often missing my past life and self. Perhaps I’m looking to clothes as a concrete, sensuous way to do this — dressing as a way to honor my past but still accommodate my present reality.
Truth is that I don’t really know how to dress anymore, or what to dress for: my body is still changing every week, my spirits soar then flag depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten and how hormonal I feel, sometimes I get out of the house and other days all I do is sit on the sofa and read and watch TV and feed my baby. But I do know the days I “make an effort” tend to be better — fashion as ballast during a tumultuous, beautiful and challenging time in my life.
The other day, while the baby was sleeping, I dug up the storage bins of clothing I put away for the season, or when I was pregnant and couldn’t fit into them anymore. I ended up culling about a third of my wardrobe — things that I knew I wouldn’t fit into for awhile, or seemed too jejune or just “not me.” But who is “me” now? I don’t know. Part of my reasoning for axing some clothes was “That’s not how a new mama facing down 40 dresses,” which I found weird and interesting. I’m smart enough to know that being a mother doesn’t mean I need to dress in capri pants, a fanny pack and some little button-down shirt — but I do need to think practically (spit-up is a new challenge) and I do want a little dignity and grown-up-ness.
Of course, as I write this, it’s 5 in the morning and I’m up after feeding the baby and I’m wearing sweatpants, a t-shirt and a hoodie. So maybe my cravings will remain simply a craving for the time being. Or at least a way to dream while awake. Which is what great clothes let us do, of course, no matter where we are in life.
- I’m experimenting with using my Tumblr to keep track of what I’m listening to, reading, watching, etc. I never quite figured out how to use Tumblr or what it was for, but it’s so easy to use on my phone, and ease is pretty much the crowning criteria of nearly all things these days.