“Can I wear this?” my teenage daughter asked, holding up a black silk shirt from my wardrobe. “I need a black top for drama and I don’t have one.”
“Ummmm…” I paused, remembering that the last time I wore that shirt it was ripped off me in a moment of passion by a man (not her dad), back in the days when I had that kind of power over men. Look, it was a long, long time ago. Which raises the question: why do I still have it in my wardrobe when a) I haven’t worn it in 16 years, and b) it’s unlikely I’m ever going to wear it again?
It seems it has survived the biannual spring and autumn wardrobe cleans, neither for its wearability nor timelessness as a fashion item, but simply because it holds the memory of a hot and lustful night. And, let’s face it, who couldn’t do with the harmless thrill of opening one’s matronly wardrobe and catching a glimpse of that memory nestled between the daggy old sundresses and bathrobes?
My wardrobe is divided into two clear halves. The half I wear, and the half I hoard – the latter driven by the same sentimentality that keeps me holding on to my late granny’s pillbox and my grandfather’s tie pin; they link me viscerally to times, places and people gone by in textures of silk and satin and chiffon and lace. When it comes to memories, I’m an antique collector.
Take, for example, the long, navy, tie-dyed dress I wore the day I found out I was pregnant with my son. I’d bought it at a little flea market I was wandering through with my daughter. I wore it at her second birthday party because she was enchanted by the butterflies on it, her miniature fingers tracing them on the material over my newly pregnant belly.
I haven’t been into long dresses, tie-dye or butterflies for at least a decade. But nostalgia and superstition prevent me from giving it to a charity shop for fear I might throw away some of that joy with the dress. With its ties at the back, which could be loosened, I wore it right up until I gave birth, and I feel a certain loyalty to such a giving and forgiving dress – one that, with almost Buddhist kindness, never (unlike my bitchy bikini, haughty halter-neck or mocking miniskirt) made me feel huge or claustrophobic.
Then there’s my wedding dress, a plum satin slip with a pink-netted overlay with embroidered flowers and an even pinker chiffon jacket, which now reminds me of a dressing gown I imagine one might wear in a brothel. Back then I dismissed white as conventional and regarded pink as radical. I must have been having a Laura Ashley moment, common in even the most tomboyish of brides. I now look at that dress and feel the way I do about ex-boyfriends I once loved, but have no desire to ever run into again. But getting rid of it feels adulterous.
Cluttering up my shelves is a medley of scarves, shawls and sari-inspired items from a time when I fancied myself as a bohemian gypsy; long, flowing, colourful pieces that can be worn in layers and did a fabulous job of hiding the flab for years after my children were born.