I was paying for some new work clothes the other day, in a fancy boutique where I don’t usually shop or plunk down the kind of money needed to shop there. But I like the saleswomen, and the fact that they hover over me and try to help me find the perfect outfit to fit my imperfect body. And while it is in a swanky part of town, where most of the women are skinny and toned to perfection, they still carry clothing that works for those of us whose bodies reflect the scars of aging.
So all of this is to say that I was chatting with the saleswoman as she rang me up. I looked down at my pretty purchases, and noted with pleasure that they were all in the beige/grey/khaki family, my colors of choice for the warmer weather (and when I’m feeling skinny enough to eschew black at least once a week.) And they were all solids. When the saleswoman had earlier brought me a jacket that had pinstripes, I nearly fell over and shouted, with a not a little touch of neurosis, “I don’t do patterns!”
The woman checking out next to me (one of the skinny ladies from the neighborhood) had a panoply of both color and patterns in her purchases. Orange t-shirt! White and salmon striped jacket! And she was already wearing something that was robin’s egg blue.
I mused out loud to my saleswoman about how we make these choices about our taste in clothing, and wondered what DNA separated me from the woman next to me. The saleswoman tried to convince me that it had to do with our color comfort zone. And while I don’t disagree, because every time I announce to the world that I’m going to attempt to wear color, I buy one muted piece and it promptly winds up in my non-wearable pile, I think the origins of these comfort zones go much deeper.
In my history, the obvious thing would be to link it to my mother. My mother, who sported wild purple and pink outfits, who never met a pattern she didn’t like, and who, when asked to buy a dress for my wedding, was stumped by how to dress like a “mother of the bride” (and when she did, was bitterly disappointed with her choice and chose something much more inappropriate and ultimately, satisfying, for my sister’s wedding.) My mother, who always marched to the tune of her own drummer in her sartorial choices, and thought that she looked cute when in fact, she started to look a little crazy in her older years.
She called me her Peck & Peck girl, which wasn’t really an appropriate appellation, because I only went through my preppie period for a very short time, and quickly morphed into boho and post-boho chic. But she was accurate in that all my colors were of the Peck & Peck variety, at least initially – grey, brown, beige, olive. And as I became more urban in my clothing choices, donning nothing but black and black (and black), I would only add a little white tossed in for contrast. The added benefit of all black, of course, is its well-noted ability to turn a belly into a sleek (or at least less paunchy) silhouette.
These color choices always came from deep within me – I did not make a conscious choice about what to wear. It’s what I gravitated to from the very first time I shopped for my own clothes. And while I think I may have been rebelling just a bit from my mother’s wilder choices, there is more to it than that.
As I parsed my choices in the fancy shop, I realized that what I really think, deep down, is that these muted, solid colors represent someone who is deep and serious at her core. Whether or not that is true is a different discussion, but my gravitation to this kind of dressing is aspirational – I have always wanted to be someone who was taken seriously, someone whose reputation reflected that she was smart and intellectual and a deep thinker. Perhaps a little artistic. A writer. Someone who was also pretty and sexy and alluring, but in a below-the-surface kind of way, all wrapped under a veneer of Sylvia Plath-like clothing armor (not that I know what Sylvia Plath wore.)
In my younger days, I wanted to be the girl who never kissed and told, who was willing but not obvious, who was to be taken seriously and never, ever taken advantage of. I wanted at least appear to be in total control – of my body, of my mind, and of my life.
Of course, despite my neutral palette (and the invisible clove cigarettes that should have accompanied it,) I was none of these things, and I went through the same heartbreak and angst and ridiculous relationship machinations that any teen or young 20-something does. Perhaps with even more pain than necessary, because I held myself to such a high standard.
I now watch my newly-minted teen daughter start to shop for herself, and am amazed that she remains as true to her color self as I do. From the time she was a little girl, she was my mother’s grandchild. Striped green capris paired with a blue polka-dotted top. Mix and match, colors and patterns, in everything she wore. Today, she is caught up in the young teen desire to wear what everyone else is wearing to some degree, but there is always a bit of flair to her outfits that reminds me that underneath it all, she ultimately doesn’t veer far from the inner voice that guides her choices.
In my color and clothing analysis, my daughter’s choices would brand her as the farthest thing from being serious. And at this moment, that is true. She is so much more comfortable in her skin than I ever was, and she likes being silly and funny and sweet. As she gets older, my guess is that her comfort zone will continue to be in this realm. No dark, existential veneer for her.
And that’s ok. Because we all make our own choices. We all live in our color comfort zones. So far, in my experience, they seem to follow us from our days as young children, to callow teenagers, to young adults, through to our parenting years. My kids know that if they want to find me, they just have to look out for the serious-looking adult in the mostly black outfit. And while it may not make me stand out in a crowd, I am comfortable enough in my skin at this age to know that I am unique, and hopefully cool, and a little different.
In many ways, though, I am still that young girl at heart with aspirations to be someone who is taken seriously. Just don’t ever, ever, make me wear a pinstripe.
Photo by unleashingmephotography via Flickr