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Pay for the clothes you keep, send back the rest. I am standing by the window, talking to a student from Alaska. She is artsy: spiky, hennaed hair, facial piercings, tattoos and lots of black — banded in thick leather, accented with silver studs. They are dressed — both male and female — in assorted shades of gray. Uniformly monochromatic. Sharply tailored, snappily pressed, white shirts and ties.
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Seniors — similarly attired, hoping to make a favorable professional impression — accompany them. Some wear trenchcoats, still crisp with newness and belted smartly at the waist. I see what we all see when a politician removes his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and loosens his tie when he courts voters in a Pennsylvania steel town or Iowa diner. Other students hurry by. They are dressed like students — baggy, disheveled, wired, Ugg booted, Coach bagged, Abercrombie and Fitched.
They belong to the team. They wear the uniform. There are many reasons we dress as we do, but none is more important than associating with a tribe.becksgf.com/wp-content/139.php
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Call it Tribal Wear. From Amish elder to ghetto rapper, from football fan to fashionista, from bohemian nonconformist to Versace-toting social climber, we dress with our clan, wear the team colors, align with the tribe we want to be part of — association by the clothes we wear, the things we carry.
These loyalties can often outstrip comfort and common sense. I am a college freshman home for Christmas. I have a favorite old pair of jeans riddled with holes. So I have gathered scraps from other jeans, a favorite shirt, a peace sign snared from a head shop like a merit badge or military patch. I am sewing these onto the jeans, proud of my dexterity with needle and thread, my anti-materialistic frugality and my intimacy with the character of fondly worn things.
I love these old jeans. But my appeal to her Tribal Wear sensibilities, to dress like my friends up north, is holding no traction with her.
The eruption is now full force. No child of mine, she went on, is going to walk around town with patches on their clothes like some old hobo or bum. And now you sewing patches on your clothes. We clearly stood on opposite sides of the chasm. She only cared about what other people thought, and I grasped the principle at stake here, a self-defining generational statement about mass consumption and materialism and conformity and a cultural ethos being transformed by my generation — a cohort to which I demonstrated allegiance by wearing my authentically patched jeans to validate my tribal standing.
As I say, she and I had many such disagreements until she mellowed, outgrowing her intolerant attitude toward wardrobe and lifestyle. It hurt to let it go. That is something else important about clothing.
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A jacket, a shirt or sweater, a pair of jeans or boots acquires character over time, or is meaningful because of its history. I believe in the souls of inanimate objects, in spirits coming to inhabit the things we love. I bond with the things I wear. We go through life together, loyal and constant companions; they are what I walk around in, work in, play in.
I dress for comfort, I say — like everyone else — pulling on what feels right, the way it feels on my shoulders or skin when I move around in it. This is where it became clear how emotionally attached we can become to our clothes. What I needed to remember, my mentor reminded me, is it's not about the article of clothing. As much as I treasure the memory of buying those jeans at the thrift shop in Paris and wearing them on that wonderful trip, I don't have to keep the jeans — which are uncomfortable and don't fit well — to keep the memory.
And yes, that powerlifting hoodie speaks to who I was at a transformational time of my life. But the oversized hoodie is not a talisman; I don't need it to remind me of the accomplishments that meant so much to me. As a deeply nostalgic person this was the hardest part of this process. Many clients struggle here, Kinney says. A lot of times our feelings have nothing to do with the clothes but the memory around the clothes, their significance, and not even whether it looks good.
But she doesn't cruelly insist you part with every treasured item. The process was emotionally draining and far more intense than I'd have expected. By now I was feeling a little down on myself. The small dressing room that's home to my closet was also in mayhem, and living in a mess takes a toll as well. I was ready for the fun part, stat. At last, fun! I'd worked and waited weeks for this moment — not that she didn't warn me. On a Friday afternoon she sent a link to my digital look book, my new virtual closet, and I literally couldn't put my laptop away the rest of the night.
While a few picks raised my eyebrows I don't think I'll ever wear a romper others were uncannily me. I'd mentioned a beloved jacket I'd lost and without seeing a photo she picked a jacket so similar in spirit I could have wept.
Dress sense: My life in clothes
A pair of boots reminded of me of some my dad had when I was a kid and were perfect. And a green, vintage-influenced dress from British designer Boden was everything, I texted her gleefully. I stayed up long past my usual bedtime shopping from her selections. UPS deliveries were better than Christmas as new clothes started rolling in. I texted delighted mirror selfies to Kinney sporting my new garb. And I even ventured into brick and mortar stores with her as my remote shopping partner. A pair of super snug black suede jeans I wouldn't have considered before? Suddenly the old clothes I was still hanging onto became much easier to part with.
The process motivated me to make the closet and dressing room an enjoyable space, so along the way I had them both painted. When I finally hung my new — plus newly appreciated old — clothes back up, I was giddy. With plenty of breathing room between the downsized wardrobe items, the closet — a standard issue, just-barely walk-in — felt like a boutique. I couldn't wait to get up every morning and choose what to wear.
And Kinney was there to support that, too. I added photos of the pieces I'd kept to the look book, and as I write she's putting together outfits for me in the virtual closet. At the beginning I wished I could have done this in person, just let her take over the job of picking my clothes. But I'm so glad we did it this way. While I have to go back to my accountant every year because I'm not going to learn how to prepare my own taxes, now I am equipped to style myself.
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