I recently had an odd experience whilst sorting through most of the clothing I’ve kept in storage these last few years.
It was peculiar, melancholic,* unsettling and, occasionally, just downright weird.
Each t-shirt, each pair of jeans, even underwear — each carried memory and baggage. Which is odd and not really something I have dwelt on up until this point.
I would pull out a shirt and remember how I wore it for a friend’s wedding. Or remember discarding a different one on a lover’s floor. I haven’t seen her in years, yet I remember that.
Clothing to me is first and foremost a practicality. Yeah, sure, I like things to look like I’ve at least given my clothes a passing thought — rather than thrown on a bunch of colours and styles — but I’ll always choose hard-wearing travel and wilderness-ready gear over fashion (although the muted colours I favour: greens, browns, greys and other earth-tones, handily go marvellously with one another, as do the textures: rip-stop polycotton, ventile, canvas, wool). †
So it was strange, to find that these pieces had become invested with memory, some so intrinsically tied with one particular event — a break-up here, a night out there — that I could almost savour the emotion one last time. When I had packed them away I had not thought about them as items of repository, simply as, well… as clothes.
What did I do?
After some thought I decided there was only one route I should take. I was ruthless and cut down all into two piles — keep, give away. The give away pile ended up perhaps ten times the size of the other.
And this filled me with such a mix of emotion I felt I should share it here.
Did I make the right decision? What about those jeans — I’d had that pair for years, recall walking barefoot through an apartment, feet warm with the underfloor heating, knowing I should not be there. What about that jumper — I’d worn it when I learnt of a friend’s untimely death. Or the mundane — work trousers I had worn so many times all the memories blurred into one giant montage of sitting at a desk, then sitting in the Winter Gardens having lunch, then desk again, before leaving later to drink far too much for a week-night. In many ways this perfectly summed up my final few years in the city, perfectly encapsulates some of the reasons I left.
Does any of this matter?
Without the object and a detailed story — double-spaced and spell-checked and properly archived — each item would become solely material, a reflection of a style or pattern or, dare I say it, fashion, linked to a particular time. Archaeologists could examine weave, pocket layout, dye, embellishment, but they could never know the stories I connect to these things.
And so it goes in life — we make our own tales, what we wear is rarely crafted for each memory, it is what is, what was, at that moment.
I have so many stories, all spinning around and whirling through my mind, some are mine, some are the tales of others, some both. Many of these are attached to things, others to places, people, seasons, different weather. Each is perfectly crafted through the act of existing, ready for me to add glazing, alter names and locations, times and season. Yet the kernel is still there.
Writing is all about reality, even when all is fantasy. We must keep the reader ensnared with snippets of truth whilst disguising their origins (some of my stories, true though they are, have been met with disbelief when retold — perhaps those will work better experienced as fiction). We must stitch stories together from the sum of our whole lives. Not all fiction is based on individual occurrence, that is not what I am trying to say here — instead it is better to say that all individual occurrence adds to the writer’s experience of life and in turn filters into a product.
So my clothes go somewhere else, given away without their attached stories — these remain locked in my head, the brief recharge helpful, peculiar and timely. I hope someone else gets to add new tales to some of them and the more worn items get turned into useful eco-friendly products, such as furniture stuffing.
One day I may be reunited with the final section of my clothing, mostly consisting of suits. These, as everyone knows, are the item most commonly worn in our western European culture to weddings, to christenings, to funerals, to job interviews.
I wonder what stories they may jolt into my psyche?
*not sad, per se, more of a meditation on the past — not always bad, especially when looking to a future.
† please note – these photos are simply here to break up a wall of text… Sorry about my bum.