The Things I Wore

there are mini stories hidden here.

 i. the autumn i turned eighteen we threw a party. it was outside, in the cool of the shortening evening, and the dusk brought friends and flapper skirts and gloves. i’d dreamed about my dress long before i found it. in my imagination it was filmy and soft, but the dresses of reality were all too tight, too short, too heavy. and then, i found it. and it was simple. we spilled punch on our shoes and danced until our hemlines frayed, but this night was perfect. every layer of me felt light, as if little stars had welled up inside me and were slowly leaking out. you only turn eighteen once, so you might as well do it in chiffon.

ii. one winter i got lonely. i was eight hundred miles away from the person i missed the most. so i booked a flight to chicago and crossed clouds and lakes and states to see him. our first night in the city was cold. the kind of cold that reaches up your nose and stings you. my ears were covered by a thick wool hat and i’d stuck my hands in mittens so my raw white fingers could snuggle. i even wore a coat i kept pulled up to my chin, with colors that announced my presence from a mile away and mismatched buttons down the front. it was a warm coat, in scratchy bright wool and pockets big enough to fit his hand in mine. one day a stranger pulled over his car in the middle of the street and rolled down his window to tell me he loved it. chicago was kind to me like that. i never really got to see much of the city, looking back on it. we drove up one night for a play but arrived fifteen minutes late, missing the show entirely and losing twenty five bucks on parking. but we walked up the street and stood close together in the lamplight, the ground slick with snow beneath us. it was an uneventful night but it was the best night and we ate pizza as large as our heads and laughed. and i felt very non-lonely and non-cold in that big white city.

iii. i knew it would be one of the best concerts of my lifetime. fleetwood mac in washington d.c. on halloween night. two hours before we left, i still didn’t have a costume figured out. so i borrowed my mom’s black dress and caked my eyelids in shimmering black powder. i wasn’t sure if i was a pirate or a gypsy or just a crazy teenager with a scarf wrapped around her head, but i felt amazing. i danced in my seat from two hundred feet above the stage and cried until watery black streaks formed on my cheeks and felt completely caught up in the beauty of those moments. songs i’d loved from birth being performed by a fringe-haired blonde in a dusty gold cape and scuffed up boots. a whole stadium of singing and crying people, brought together by this music and this experience.

iv. i don’t remember much from my actual first ever date. maybe because it happened years ago, maybe because that boy made a crack about my outfit. maybe because we don’t speak anymore. and, to be honest, i don’t remember everything from my first real date with tim. maybe because i was jet-lagged and and exhausted from thirty-six hours in an airplane, flying across the north pole. maybe because it was early in the morning and i’d been up all night nursing the butterflies let loose in my stomach. maybe because all the actual memories were just replaced with happiness and all the words were wiped away with feelings. like the feeling of side by side on empty bleachers, shoulders almost-but-not-quite touching and smiles hidden in our cheeks. or the feeling of one hand finding another on the bench outside the movies. not a first first date, but the only first date that counts.

v. do you remember your first vintage dress? mine was from the seventies with the colors of a crayola box. i wore it to my grandpa’s seventieth birthday party, where everyone dressed up like hippies and disco queens and danced the night away. i baked him a cake with seven rainbow layers and wore strappy platform shoes. this was the first piece i owned that had a story before me, and that night it was given a new story of its own.

vi. when in thailand, i made a friend. her name was sera and she had peanut butter skin and curly hair. one night we hopped on a songtaew and rode to the sunday walking bazaar. we ate pork wrapped in sticky rice and japanese sausage and banana nut waffles on a stick. and bugs. we definitely ate bugs, fried to a crisp in boiling oil and sold for ten baht each at a tiny market stall. when the night was over, we bought matching shirts from a lady in a cramped booth. each was a little different, with stripes of ribbon and color and pom-poms, handmade in some village less than a day’s trip away. i cried when she left, a few days later, and her head disappeared past a line of customs in a thai airport. i wore the shirt a few months later, on my last night with another group of friends and cried all over again as i hugged the parents and wrestled with the boys and ate a last supper of fried vegetables and cashew chicken. to me, this shirt represents an open-hearted life. you let people in and you watch people leave, but that doesn’t lessen the way you love them.

vii. this red coat belonged to my great aunt mary, who passed away when i was in high school. my aunt invited us over one night a few winters over to comb through the items left in her wardrobe. there were polyester dresses from the seventies, a black patent handbag from the fifties, and two wool coats from the sixties. i have more vintage items than most women could probably use in a lifetime, but these pieces are more than just clothes in my closet. they hold stories from people who played a part in who i am today. an aunt and uncle who buttoned their coats every friday and made the long drive from baltimore to richmond to pick up their nieces and nephews. dresses worn at christmas parties. handbags carried on vacations. coats donned for funerals. today, two generations later, they’re still being worn to parties and shopping trips and funerals. there’s something beautiful about that.

viii. i bought this gown on my first trip to portland two summers ago. it was hanging on the back rack of a vintage shop and all i saw was a streak of bright red brocade peeking out from behind a white plastic bag. it was unlike anything i’d ever seen—long, straight, stiff, oriental. it was bought on a day when i was happy, warm, belly-laughing, young, and it will always make me smile.

ix. on a steamy day in thailand, i ventured out with friends to a large and overspilling outside marketplace. the dirt beneath us was so hot our ankles sweat. we stopped for smoothies more than once, and cupped our hands over our eyes to protect our browlines from the sun. at a small booth full of beads of every color, i fell in love with a pair of necklaces. one was yellow, with smooth oblong beads and a wooden clasp. the other was made of painted wooden balls in every color of purple and pink. i wanted them both, but i couldn’t waste the cash. so i stood with both in my hand and asked the seller for his prices. he quoted me the yellow necklace but then clasped the hand that held the purple. “for you?” he asked, in broken english. “i give free.” i went home with both.

 *

why do i share these stories now? because i believe the pieces of our life are just as important as the whole. the food we eat is something more than tomatoes and pasta and cheese. the car we drive is something other than just a mode of transportation. and the clothes we put on our body are made of something stronger than fiber and thread. to truly appreciate this life, i believe we have to notice it. notice the buttons and laces and threadbare ball caps and learn to truly love them. love the places they’ve been with you. love the stories they tell.

your life is made up of events and days and moments. and there are things that have lived them with you. our life doesn’t revolve around things. we don’t rely on clothes and leather sofas and hardcover books to make us happy. but there is still something to be said about choosing to find joy in the fact that we do have those things. even when we rip our hemlines and stain our shirts, we’ll still have the memories of these clothes and the lives we led in them.

and that’s something i want to cup in my hands and cherish.

-Rachel

[this post was part of a collaboration with jenny of @jennydiekaiserin. she illustrated all these outfits based on photographs i sent her from different events in my life. if you love vintage clothing or art, you should check her out and maybe commision her for a piece! she's a true gem of a woman with the sweetest spirit and i loved the chance to work with her]