What do you see here?
If you’re thinking, “It’s just a pile of old clothes, right?”, you’d be correct.
But you’d also be wrong.
Last week, my friend James asked if I was still doing “that refashioning thing”, and if I’d like to take a look at a bunch of old clothes he had. His mother passed away several months ago, leaving closets full of her old dresses.
I of course, said yes and thanked him for thinking of me. I showed up at his house and we took on the somber task of sorting out his mother’s clothing. As we sorted, I couldn’t help thinking about how these weren’t just a bunch of old dresses. These pieces of clothing were a part of someone’s life.
It’s easy to get detached when you frequent thrift stores as much as I do. Dated prom dresses are just funny. But someone actively chose to bring each of these pieces into their lives. That prom dress isn’t just a dress, it represents the excitement and giddiness of the original wearer. Did she have a fun night? Did she have a date? Does she still even talk to him?
I think I reached a turning point that day. What you choose to wear is one of the most personal and expressive choices you make every day. Clothes aren’t just clothes. They’re an outlet for expression…a way to let the world know who we are and how we want to be seen.
I’m just happy to be a part of their journey – giving them new stories and adding to their history.
I just wish clothes could talk.
74 thoughts on “If Clothes Could Talk”
Very good post… intelligent thougths.
If you haven’t already refashioned them, it would be incredibly sweet to make a quilt out of them for him.
It’s funny you should have this post here so recently. My local community theatre (of which I’ve recently gotten back involved after a loooong hiatus) was going through storage and making room for new things. They had two HUGE piles of old costume pieces they were giving away for free. I grabbed a handful of item….with you in the back of my mind. One of the items is what appears to be a real fur jacket. I’d love to know if you are interested in it!
Wow! Lucky you! I would DEFINITELY be interested in the fur jacket (sorry PETA). Thanks for thinking of me! I can’t wait to see what you come up with from your new finds! 🙂
Well, I’ve been waiting to talk to my hubbie as he’s been out of town. He is a touring musician and plays quite frequently in Columbia at the WOB. I was hoping that he was going to be back up there soon and I could just plan to send the coat with him, or better yet, go with him and bring it myself!! Alas, it doesn’t look like he’s going to be up there any time soon. They are currently looking into some other venues in the area as they do have a pretty big following up there (the band is Roshambeaux) and I’ll keep you posted! If nothing happens soon, then I will happily ship it to you! I’ll also send a pic. I don’t know how to tell if it’s real or not….
You should take some of her old clothes and make a blanket for him, or a throw pillow. I bet he’d like it.
I often have similar thoughts when I go to estate sales. Yes, I love going through the stuff, but this was also someone’s life. The things that they treasured. One day it will be a lot of strangers going through my stuff and wondering about me.
I buy a lot of my wardrobe in thrift stores and I am constantly amazed at the amount of brand new or like new items I find. I often wonder why they are there. Did someone pass away? It didn’t fit and the purchaser was too lazy to return it? Huge weight loss? (yay for them and for me!) Great post!
Thank you for sharing this. I think about this often when I am thrifting, I guess it’s the costume historian in me. There is a lot more to clothing than people realize sometimes. Fashion isn’t just superficial it’s a confidence boost, it’s a form of self expression, sometimes it’s even art. Every piece of clothing has a story that it can’t share.
I love your outlook on fashion. My wardrobe is completely devoid of anything I would consider what I would like to be a reflection of me (two babies in two years left most of my cute clothes in the dust). As I’ve shed the baby weight and started thrifting (completely thanks to you!), I’ve begun to get excited about clothes again.
Thanks so much for starting me on this journey and opening my eyes a little! I mentioned you in my post “What I’m Digging This Week.” http://exploringdomesticity.blogspot.com/2013/09/what-i-diggin-this-week.html
My Mum passed away almost 2 years ago and she was a beautiful seamstress and had made a lot of her clothes. It was hard sorting through all those things that were so much a part of her. I’m glad you were there for your friend Jilly. It helps to have someone help with those things that have to be done.
” What you choose to wear is one of the most personal and expressive choices you make every day. Clothes aren’t just clothes. They’re an outlet for expression…a way to let the world know who we are and how we want to be seen.” I love this quote, Jillian! I’d like to use it with my Cadette Girl Scouts if that’s all right – of course I will credit you. They are ages 12, 13, & 14, a perfect time for them to be considering who they are & how they want the world to see them.
Absolutely! Thank you!
This was a beautiful post…I feel the same way about clothes, and old houses…oh the stories they could tell. I can especially relate to this post- I was a home health aid and companion for a sweet, spunky 98 year old women last year….I stayed with her for about 9 months before she died of pancreatic cancer. I dressed her, did her laundry, and helped her pick out a special outfit every week to wear when she got her hair fixed, so I became very familiar with her clothes. It was a few months after he passing when I started noticing articles of her closet turning up on the racks at our local thrift shop….it was a weird feeling. I would have never looked at them twice, but each time I came across something she used to wear, I felt a little twinge in my heart. I thought about buying pieces and refashioning them…but they almost felt….sacred?? I know that sounds odd, and they are just clothes, but they were *her* clothes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
What a touching story! I’m sure they found good homes with people who will love them as much as she did!
Enjoyed the post very much and many of the other commenters. I was a hair stylist for 25 years and know the power of hair making a person feel beautiful or embarassed and ugly. Makeup is also included to dictate how a woman feels along with the clothes. But even tho the outward things are fun, creative, boring, inspiring, trampy, etc to “make us who we are” it’s really what’s on the inside that matters the most. I’ve known many beautiful, wonderfully dressed and coifed women who were ugly by their actions and vice versa. Lovely read for a Sunday morning. Thanks all
Wonderful points! Thank you!
Whatever scraps you have from these you should make him a little scrappy blanket/quilt. I pretty much just tossed my dad’s stuff…seeing as they were mostly stained sweats…but it would still be nice to have some “memories”
If you have the chance, pick up a copy of “The Secret Lives of Dresses” by Erin McKean. Worth the read and follows the same lines as your post today – if clothes could talk.
I shall look this up! 🙂
phoenix from the ashes, we really want to see what the artist can bring to life from this material, like a sculptor or potter, x
That’s so true. After my mom passed, I went through her sewing room and gleaned fabrics that I could possibly use. Once I got home and unloaded all the boxes and bags I found that I had been drawn to and selected fabrics that I’d seen my whole life. I had 1 yard pieces that I remember unfolding and folding from when I was a child, these were flour sack cloth that had once belonged to my grandmother. I had 4 yards of a fabric that my mom had selected in the 60’s, used only a portion of it to fashion something for either me or my younger sister and stashed the rest. Then when I got it in the 90’s, I made myself a dress from this bold royal blue, turquoise and white print, getting tons of complements. Not too long ago I pulled out what was left of it to make an awesome yoga mat bag. When ever I pull my mat from the trunk of my car, I think of my mom and her awesome stash of fabrics.
Loved your post! Wish you lived here in Texas and we could go shopping together!
I wish all my thrifted Pyrex could talk too. I’d love to know who owned it and all the recipes that were made and served in it. I’m sure it could tell wonderful stories from around the dinner table!
My Mom helped a friend make a quilt from his Mom’s clothes, very touching
What a lovely observation- I know youm will do your friend’s mum’s memory proud.
Thank you! I’ll most certainly try!
This is beautiful. I always enjoy your posts, but this puts a fresh perspective on what we do. Thank you, Jillian!
The worse part of having talking clothes, would be there are the only witness to some of the best and dumbest things we have ever done may not want that cat out of the bag////
Oh my….I’d have to burn all my clothes from my early 20’s! 😉
Well put. Thank you for saying that you’ve had enough with wasteful consumerism Jillian!!!
It says a lot that your friend was comfortable giving you his mom’s clothing to refashion. Your approach is humorous but respectful as you “find” the new garment within the old one. Nice post.
You are awesome, simply awesome, that’s all there is to say.
My sister has always referred to her clothing as her “costume”.
Has she ever seen “Grey Gardens”? Little Edie says the same thing! 🙂
A co-worker’s father-in-law passed away a few months ago, and the family recently went through his clothes. My co-worker was really honored that his wife’s mom wanted him to have any of the clothes he wanted, and he wears them with pride and humility and affection. There were a couple of things that his wife just couldn’t see him wear, but he feels very touched to wear these things that belonged to a man he loved and respected.
I look forward to your posts and I read them all from top to bottom enjoying what you share, but I have never commented. This post was beautiful, touching. I teared up a bit. I love buying used and try to only buy new when I “have” to…and you perfectly put into words why it is so rewarding and wonderful to revive something someone at some point treasured.
Thank you! I think it’s funny how some people don’t like buying anything that’s been worn before, whereas I think it’s a plus! 🙂
Very insiteful, often the nuances of our daily lives go unobserved. We are constantly being assaulted by too many other things to always remember to observe or enjoy these subtleties in our world. A great children’s book that shares this same thought process – I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman. And as with any great children’s book, the illustrations are fabulous also.
Thank you! I’m going to look this book up! 🙂
I totally agree with your assessment that is why I held onto my mother’s clothes after her passing for more than 5 years, and my father’s clothes still hang in his closet.
Beautifull post – thought provoking….
Thank you so much! 🙂
For quite a while I’ve tried to verbalize to a friend why I like to dress “nice” every day. She says “no one notices” and she’s not going anywhere special, so why bother. As a result she wears outdated and washed out clothes she has had in her closet for 20+ years. And sneakers – dear me she never wears shoes, even though she can. After 6 years our friendship has ended for other reasons but I wish I had had your words to tell her – I know it wouldn’t have made any difference to the way she dressed but it would nicely state why I like to dress “nice” each day.
These words should be somewhere in your header –
“What you choose to wear is one of the most personal and expressive choices you make every day. Clothes aren’t just clothes. They’re an outlet for expression…a way to let the world know who we are and how we want to be seen.”
Thank-you for an excellent post.
One of the sweetest gifts is to make a simple quilt from the pieces of their clothing so that you always have a reminder of your loved one. On those tough days you can wrap yourself up in the quilt and feel the warmth of those loving memories.
What a nice idea! I really should learn to quilt. 🙂
I can’t quilt either but I learned to fake it really well with the instructions in this blog. It really is easy! I’m addicted now and see every scrap as potential for a rag quilt.
Seriously, if I can make this quilt, anyone can!
They are probably saying “Give me a facelift!!!”
I always wonder if someone is going to see me wearing my thrifted and or vintage clothes and say “Hey, I used to have that same thing.” I have had it said once, had lunch with my best friend from high school, hadn’t seen each other in years, she used to own a jacket exactly like I had on. Wonder if it was hers? The vintage mint green with black trimmed ruffles tuxedo shirt, I wonder if it went to prom with the hand made 70’s prom dress I had shortened and wear in the summer?
I live in a small town of 5000+ and years ago wouldn’t wear used clothing because I was afraid of hearing “Hmmm, that use to be mine!” Well there are so many beautiful, hardly worn clothes at our thrift store that I got over that. Although no one has ever claimed previous ownership yet , it’s bound to happen. If fact I wish it would so I can say, “This was yours? Oh, thank you so much for getting rid of it…I just love it!” I’d also like to say, You paid $75 for this? Wow, I paid five.”
I’m always kind of sad that this has never happened to me. You’d think SOMEONE would see me in something that used to be theirs. The law of averages and all that…:)
I always enjoy the humor of your blog, but you are also quite profound! I know that you will refashion these items with lots of love. Thanks for a lovely post.
What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it with us and inspiring us to look a little more deeply below the surface…
Thank you. 🙂
Jillian you just inspired me! I still have my prom dress. My daughter loves it but I was a skinny kid, and she has curves, so it won’t fit! I’ve been sad that she couldn’t use it, but reading this post, I suddenly knew how to fix it. If it works, I’ll send you pix. I so love reading your blog. It inspires more than refashioning clothing… we continually refashion our lives, and you inspire creativity and hope. Thank you! 🙂
Thank you! I can’t WAIT to see what you do to make it work. 🙂 I
oH YES my dear, if clothing just could talk…. I have the very same feeling when I walk with clients through vintage homes, creaking floors, and stair cases, moldings and old build ins oh yes how I wish too that these houses could talk, they must have stories to tell that could fill books.
Keep up the good work…
Ah! I LOVE older homes! They have so much character, and it’s nice to think of the families who have lived there. 🙂
That is a really beautiful and unique way to look at old clothes. Life. I wonder when I die what my clothes will say about me. 🙂
Oh dear! Maybe I should be glad they can’t talk….I’d have no secrets! 🙂
See–this is where my mind went immediately!
Then it reminded me of high school, when an overheard conversation about my favorite pair of underwear somehow led to a months (maybe years?) long rumor that a certain someone and I got up to some serious highjinks…on top of a refrigerator. When I finally heard about, I laughed out loud at the absurdity.
If my clothes are going to talk, I hope they’re telling the truth!
So insightful. Thanks for the thoughts!
Hi, the town of High River, Alberta was devastated by a flood in June, 2013. The flood happened around the time that grads usually occur and as a result, most of the graduating seniors lost their gowns and tuxes to the flood water. Graduations were postponed until August.
A group of very generous people put the word out asking former graduates to donate dresses and formal wear. Another generous person donated use of an unoccupied store. Others volunteered to act as fashion consultants.
Loads of beautiful gowns and men’s formal wear arrived, including shoes and accessories. When all was arranged, the “store” opened for business and grads were outfitted free of charge.
Through the generosity of former grads across the prairies, every grad who lost their beautiful clothing were outfitted free of charge.
What an inspiring story, Margaret – there is so much goodness out there!
This is beautiful, makes me happy to hear of such kindness x
What a beautiful and uplifting story! 🙂
This may sound crazy, but it is true – clothes make the woman! And the right clothes for me may not be the right clothes for you! Loved what you wrote!
Not crazy at all! There are sooooo many looks I WISH I could rock (such as pin-up style dresses), but it just isn’t always meant to be! Thanks!
I totally agree! 2nd hand clothes have history, mysterious as it is. I have some men’s pleated front summer tuxedo shirts that are around 50 years old, very good swiss cotton, I use them them as over shirts and always have in my mind when I choose one to wear, Oh, Mr. So and So’s shirt for his classy life. And, they are monogramed with his initials. Bought for .50 cents each at a church sale 30 years ago. The only re-fashion was to get rid of the cuff link cuffs which I cut off and sewed the seams so I can roll them up.
Oh wow! Mr. So and So must have been one cool guy! 🙂
I love what you wrote. My mom died this summer and I’m still in an emotional fog about it most days. I kept all her clothes that I remembered her favoring. I hope one day I can make their life and her memory live on by using them creatively. 🙂
I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s important to keep the things that remind you of the person you loved. You’re in my thoughts.
Clothes do talk! There’s that scary Wal-Mart people website, I think those clothes are dying of embarrassment. And you, Jillian, give clothes a voice and they get to keep on talking. “Whoo-hoo, look at me, they said I was done and now I have a new life with this fun person who takes me to the best places.” Keep up the good work, Lady!