In her memoir, Elizabeth: Learning to Dress Myself from the Inside Out, Liz Moloney tells the story of her gradual coming into herself through the clothes she wore throughout her life, from a red strapless tea gown to a nun’s habit to a striped wool pullover. It’s a lovely way to imagine a life.
Much of Liz’s story also centers around her relationship with her mother, whose aesthetic tastes dominate for much of the story until the author begins to branch out and discover, then trust her own preferences. I loved the mother’s constant refrain when Liz wore something that did not jibe with her mother’s ideas: “Is that new?”
Aspects of the story were particularly poignant for me, since I recently lost my own mother, and the images of outfits made me think of closets full of Mom’s clothes we have yet to go through. I realized I have so many images of her in particular clothes: a fitted turtleneck and slacks one fall when she’d lost a bunch of weight, white shirts and gold jewelry in the summer that showed off an impressive tan, dresses borrowed from her older sister for special occasions, lengthy, because her sister was 5’8″ to Mom’s 5′.
I also remember tense shopping trips with my mother as a kid, trips I hated until I realized it wasn’t me, she hated shopping for clothes, a distaste I definitely inherited. It takes skill to know how to dress well, and that skill did not come naturally to Mom or to me.
To dress oneself well requires a certain comfort in body and spirit, a knowing of one’s own preferences, an ability to see the beauty in oneself, and a willingness to express that in the world. Reading Liz Moloney’s memoir, I think I will now consider shopping for clothes as an exercise in individuation, an opportunity to come home to myself a little more each day.