Colorful and omnipresent, my clothes are the first friends that greet me in the morning. They make me feel good about myself, and they boost my confidence when I’m feeling low. My fabric friends come with me everywhere, every day. They’re the group I’ve always wanted to be around and the ones that I spent years curating to stylish perfection.
But I had to leave them all behind to move overseas. Now, I have no friends to find comfort in (of the textile or human variety) while I try to brand myself as an independent woman in a new place.
When I decided to move from my home in upstate New York to St. John, U.S.V.I., I didn’t fear how my rapidly approaching minimalist lifestyle would impact me emotionally. “They’re just clothes,” I reminded myself as I went through my closet, dresser, heaps and totes for the first, second, third and fourth time.
With each delve into the collection of shirts, pants, dresses, skirts and random accessories I had collected over time, the piles got smaller and smaller until all of my island-bound pieces, including six pairs of shoes, fit into one suitcase.
At a party a few weeks before I moved, my Give to Friends pile was unfolded and tried on by the people closest to me. One woman took two blazers to wear at the new job she was starting in a few weeks. Another snagged all of my tie-dye items made by my mom and I a few years before, and another fell in love with a group of cozy and comfortable knit sweaters that fit her in a perfect, warm hug. What wasn’t taken was added to the donation pile.
The donation pile was by far the largest. Complete with all the jeans I wouldn’t need in the coming fall on my new island home, trousers no longer required as I left my office job to work from home as a freelance writer, blouses that I didn’t love but made me look older and sophisticated than I typically feel, t-shirts from high school cross country races and college events that no one but Goodwill would want, and all of my padded bras, which would be appreciated at the local women’s shelter.
Contained to five reusable shopping bags this pile traveled in the trunk of my car for nearly two weeks. I felt guilty giving away the clothes that I had personified over time. In more than a few instances, I was overcome by sudden and gripping sadness brought on by giving away tangible pieces of memory.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt that hasn’t fit me since sophomore year was pulled out of the Whole Foods bag and put in my purse one afternoon. My rainbow sweater was saved as well. My Doc Martens were rescued from their thrift store fate to be stored in my sister’s closet in hopes that I will still love them the same amount when island time is over and I live in a place where my feet can stand the solid leather again.
With each fashion recovery mission to the back of my car, the Parent’s Basement pile grew until it became two sealed cardboard boxes full of cold weather clothes and nostalgic favorites that I could visit when I came home for Christmas.
What was left was an array of about 20 shirts and tank tops, three skirts, two pairs of pants and two pairs of leggings, five dresses, overalls, one sweater, one buttoned blouse, and one pair of pajama pants. Those that were spared from the boxes and donation bins where functional pieces that could be mixed together. Bold items that required layers, accessories, or were too unique to mix well with much didn’t make the cut.
In the beginning, I was proud of my choices and often boasted, “Everything I own fits in one suitcase!” Two months into my adventure abroad, I realized that perhaps I had made me wrong choices. Though all that I packed was comfortable and perfect for my new tropical home, I realized that not many of the items were made me feel like me. I miss the bold, big, colorful and comfortable clothes from my northern life.
Before moving to the Caribbean, jeans or leggings and a funky sweater were my staples. I had grown comfortable in them out of choice and necessity brought on by the colder climate. Layers were a part of who I was. Here, my arms and legs and almost always bare, showing the freckles, scars and knobbly joints that my body consists of. In the mirror, I don’t look like the woman I had known for years. This move has forced to look at my own bare skin.
Learning to be confident in this all-natural organ casing, without the support of the people, makeup, and pieces of fabric I left behind, is harder than I thought it would be. I admire the people who are able to do it without the tears that I have shed. Clothes are an outward representation of who we are. The showcase our interests, personality and preferences. Without them, how do you show the world who you are? And how do you regain the confidence lost when you shed the layers that protected and showcased you?
I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, and when I pose them to my partner or male coworkers, they are of no help, but when I look at my reflection and it doesn’t look how I imagine it should, I am quick to remind myself: Though clothes are a big part of who you are, they are not all that you are.
While I am here, feeling naked and out of place without my items of comfort, my clothes rest in the dressers of friends, shelves of second hand stores and in cardboard boxes. Without me, they are just shirts, and pants, and dresses, and shoes. It is me that makes them me.