As I was switching out the summer clothes in my closet for the winter ones under my bed I found myself creating a rather large pile to donate. This didn’t really surprise me considering my relationship with clothing hasn’t always been, shall we say, a good fit.
For the first half of my life, unless they were way too small, I didn’t really notice how my clothes fit. I just wanted to look cool and wear the labels the popular kids wore. I’ll spare you the brutal history of my poor fashion choices throughout high school and into college. I will just say I had no idea what I was doing but I was trying real hard, something you could say about most aspects of my life.
The first time I bought a shirt that actually fit me I was 20 years old. I was in Madrid. And I had bed bugs.
Standing shirtless in the changing room of a Spanish Zara with my arms and legs covered in bug bites, I looked like a person who should not be out in public. Despite my diseased appearance as soon as I put on that slim fit purple shirt with green stripes, I felt like a new man.
Is this why European men were so well dressed? Had they figured out the secret of shirts? The secret of that particular shirt, as I would find out later, was something called “Darting,” basically vertical seams in the back of the shirt that removed the excess fabric and gave it a slimmer profile. I didn’t even know shirts could be slimmer. It changed my perception of what being well dressed meant.
I bought the shirt.
By the time I graduated college and I had to buy a wardrobe for work I became absolutely obsessed with finding slim fit shirts. I needed clothing appropriate for the wildly interesting and high powered life I was about to have as a sales assistant in Manhattan. I read all the men’s magazines. Went into the expensive stores on 5th avenue on my lunch break. Hunted online for deals.
The more I thought about it the more I wanted to change my entire wardrobe. Every shirt I owned now felt like a mumu.
I browsed the stores regularly, knowing I didn’t have the money for the fancy shirts I wanted to wear but trying to appear confident enough to convince the salespeople I belonged.
I spent more time looking than actually purchasing. Slim fit shirts became the holy grail, the shirt from Spain became my Rosebud. If I could only feel every day the way I looked in my Zara shirt everything would fall into place.
The problem, however, was two-fold and not at all related to cash flow. I was putting my stock of future happiness in finding “perfect clothing,” and I had absolutely NO idea how to buy clothing.
I bought slim fit shirts a size too big because they were on sale. I bought ugly shirts because they fit me perfectly. I got distracted by this concept of a well dressed me that would allow me to live my life as I truly wanted. The person I wanted to be was hanging on a rack in a store somewhere. I merely had to find it and try it on.
The whole time I was thinking clothes make the man. But really… they just reflect him.
It has been one of the great fallacies of my life; Everything would be so much better if I could only just afford this thing, get that job, have this skill, etc. The ability to feel comfortable in my own skin was never really dependent on anything outside of who I ever was, and it was certainly never for sale. I remained convinced though. And it consumed my focus.
Every so often I would go online and check the prices of custom suits, shirts, and pants I couldn’t afford in the first place. I would perseverate over those things until a distraction led me to obsess over something else in my life. But every so often, perhaps in times of low self-esteem, or after arriving home from a night spent with a particularly well-heeled crowd, I would return to my dream of a custom wardrobe.
I thought my dream would finally come true when my fiance and I went to Thailand last year. There, in the land of cheap everything, I would find the best tailor and have clothes made to the highest standard at a fraction of what it would cost in the states. But the timing was not to be. We were in Bangkok over the holidays and all of the reputable tailors were closed. My utopian wardrobe stayed again out of reach.
I realize now I have been working from the outside in, idealizing an exterior that would enhance how I was perceived, and thus how I felt about myself. A kind of arrival. A finally. Success. Each its own albatross of my own creation.
I spoke with some stylish friends of mine recently who are fortunate enough to afford custom clothing. I told them I couldn’t wait until the day I too could join the ranks. Finally, everything would fit just right. And what they said caught me off guard.
Yea that’s what you think and then you just become more obsessed with smaller and smaller details and you are never satisfied.
I know they are right.
I still dream of custom clothing, though I am no longer trying to look or feel like somebody else. Instead, I just want to feel like myself, comfortable in what I wear, and convey to the world the way I feel inside. But it’s always just a want. A sensation that beyond the way I do feel is the way I can feel, the way I ought to. Another albatross of my own creation.
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