I wore an old-lady dress to my senior prom. I didn’t plan for it to happen that way but it’s the way my cookie crumbled. All of my friends flaunted airy, spring-colored floor length gowns and I wore a black cocktail dress that fell at an odd angle against my shins. It had perky, white sunflower-lined straps. I look back at those photos and remember all the pride I had to swallow in order to pretend to feel beautiful that night.
Tears were no stranger to my previous formal dress shopping experiences. My two preceding homecomings I wore ill-fitting black party dresses that hugged my rib cage to the point of hurting when I inhaled. For my junior year prom, I borrowed a red gown from a friend who was half a foot shorter than me. By the time my senior prom rolled around, I had decided it was time to take matters into my own hands.
I begged my mom to let me pick out a pattern from Joann Fabrics and have a seamstress sew me the dress of my dreams. Every time our earlier dress-shopping trips ended in tears, she would remind me that her mom made some of her clothes while she was growing up. My mom still talks about her fond memories of the paisley printed tent dress her mama made when Twiggy was all the rage. After two months of anticipation and prom right around the corner, I was a nervous wreck by the time we went to pick up the dress.
I slipped the garment over my arms and discovered I looked like a bell, a bright red chubba-dubba-ding-dong bell.
The dress hung off my body like a bag. I hadn’t been looking for a Twiggy tent dress and this was more like a potato sack with droopy holes. It wasn’t going to be fixable. Even if I requested to have the waist taken in or the hemline to hit my knees, the dress looked like something from Little House on the Prairie. The tailor’s suggestion of tying a sweet, thin ribbon around my waist only made me feel worse. I bit my tongue and held back my anxiety.
I was mortified at the thought of friends seeing me in a dress that was clearly homemade. She’s so big she can’t even find a prom dress. I kept my mouth shut while my mom paid the bill and then I proceeded to have a meltdown in the car.
We raced to the stores and spent the next 3 days trying to find a dress that would suit my 6ft. size and 14/16 frame. After endless hours of shopping and furious moments in the lonely dressing rooms, I put my tail between my legs. I bought the only dress I could find, a dress suited for the grandmother of the bride. I felt like an ugly duckling on a night that teeny-bopper movies had filled me up with impossible once-in-a-lifetime expectations.
I never grew up picking out clothes based on my wants. I picked them out based on what would fit my body. This is why I have such an attachment to my clothes. They’re hard for me to find and even more difficult for me to let go.
Shopping for clothes is rarely a fun activity for me. I have 2 stores that fit my tall, curvy body, Torrid and Ross. Sometimes I shop at Old Navy and Target but their plus-sized clothes are boxy and unflattering on my longer frame. I’ve tried ordering clothes online but the little images of garments are deceptive. I’ll open up packages with an order of pants in size “tall” and they wind up being a foot longer than I’ve anticipated, the hems crudely splaying against the ground.
My mother-in-law, Jane recently shared a story about her own mother, the woman my husband and I call Grandma Winnie. She’s a health nut, a keen card player and in her mid-to-late eighties. Two years ago her doctors actually told her she had to stop eating so much kale. When Jane grew up, her mother wore a pair of white jeans that fit her like a glove. I saw a photo of her in those pants and Jane was right, those jeans showed off Grandma Winnie’s slender waist and her legs looked like they went on for miles. In the picture, she’s poised with a confident smile splashed across her cheeks.
While helping Grandma Winnie clean out her closet, she agreed to donate worn-out shirts and old boots, but she overruled the decision to donate her white jeans. Those pants represented a certain time in her life where she felt like a Hollywood starlet. She tells us she was 78 years-old the last time she wore them and she remembers turning a few heads that day!
Jane explained this remembrance by saying, “Sometimes our clothes are souvenirs of our life and happy memories.” We grow attached to the memory of how we felt and how we looked in those outfits. It had been assumed that if the jeans no longer fit their mom’s frame than they should be thrown out. But those jeans didn’t hold the same memories for her children. The kids felt like those pants were yesterday’s news and to Grandma Winnie, those pants were part of her keepsakes.
I thought I had understood the lesson of Grandma Winnie not wanting to let go of her favorite jeans. That was until last week. I was shocked to discover how deep my own attachment to the clothes in my closest ran. I hang onto clothes for years because I’m attached to the excitement of having found something that actually fits me in the first place. I keep old outfits because some of these pieces embody the memories of my body from the past. It’s like watching a friend try to break up with a boyfriend when she’s too emotionally invested to call it quits for real. Holding onto old clothes keeps my memories alive of the honeymoon phase.
My cousin April, wasn’t always April. She used to be Ben. I didn’t know Ben very well and I didn’t make time to get to know Ben. I’m ten years older and we never seemed to have much in common. About 4 years ago Ben and I met up at The Rio because we had another cousin in town, Brennan. We shared margaritas but not much else. All three of us carried secrets in our hearts.
I remember noticing how much weight Ben had put on his 6ft. 1in. frame and knowing something must be going on inside of him to make him eat his feelings. We didn’t talk about it. I also realized that Brennan might be gay but I certainly wasn’t going to ask. I was raging inside with bulimia but I wasn’t about to broach the subject with family members. You don’t talk about that kind of stuff with family. The three of us had a nice night but I knew our experience could have been deeper if we had opened up our hearts.
A couple of years ago, Brennan stopped through Denver and he shared that he was gay while he was having lunch with my sister and me. It was healing to finally get to know him and to talk to him about the details in his life, not just the surface stuff. Later that night we met up with Ben at The Rio and she introduced herself as April.
April was feminine, confident and glowing from happiness. She had a million things to talk say about her transition and I could relate with her every step of the way. I knew I was going to open up to her about my bulimia recovery and I knew we would become dear friends. Meeting the Brennan and April on that trip felt like I was meeting them for the first time. Our visit took place around the same time I was coming out about my eating disorder to my sisters and a few close friends. For the three of us, a weight had been lifted from each of our lives.
Coming out to your family is the hardest part about coming out.
April recently asked me if I would take her shopping. She needed a dress for an upcoming wedding reception. I was honored to give her pointers and show her what it means to shop while having a bigger body than most women. It felt special to think all of my clothing-shopping woes could actually be of service to a sister from another mister (That’s you, Uncle Greg). My shopping suggestions could actually make an impact in someone’s fashion choices. All those dressing room tears now felt like they had always had a purpose.
In the Trans community, April calls herself a “tall girl.” I’m fascinated to hear how accepting and loving her tribe is toward her shape. I’ve cringed at the words “big girl” my entire life so I love knowing that she is fully supported by the Trans tribe regardless of her size. When she passes people on the street she gets a double take. I’ve witnessed it. I’ve let her know the same has happened to me my entire life too. It’s part of being different from the ideal.
I picked out a dozen dresses from my own closet, pieces that I’ve held onto for far too long. I was tickled with the possibility of us sharing clothes! I arrived at her basement apartment with my arms overflowing with dresses. I watched her try on each piece with delicate precision, enjoying the feeling of the soft materials slipping over her skin. She was playing dress-up with an army of fancy dresses for the first time since she had come out.
I let her borrow 6 of my dresses for the summer. I made a point to tell her how hard it was for me to find them but that I trusted her to take care of them. I drove home that day and thought about how many years had passed since I had worn those clothes. I thought about the polka-dotted cocktail dress that made me feel like party-girl princess when my then-boyfriend-now-husband had attended a Fort Collins wedding. I reflected on the shape my body had been in when I wore the black linen sundress at my sister’s wedding eight years ago in Aruba. Yep, those were good times. Then reality struck.
What the hell am I doing? Let them go. Let someone else enjoy them. April, you can have all of them. They are yours. Feel beautiful in them. Wear them with the same sparkle I saw in your eyes when you pranced in front of the mirror. Those dresses are meant to make you feel beautiful. Now is your time to shine, Sweet Pea.
Clothes are a journey we take by ourselves. Our closets are filled to the brim with our memories and sometimes it’s okay to let go and move on from those moments.