Downsizing your own wardrobe is never a very fun activity, but have you ever tried downsizing someone else’s? Recently I helped my mother go through some of her old clothes to donate to clean out some space. I was amazed and delighted at some of the garments she had kept for such a long time. Not just by the fashions but by the stories she could tell with each item, transported me back to another time. The simple chore of cleaning out her closet soon became a game of dress-ups and allowed Mum to reminisce about the past.
The first piece that caught my eye was ‘the backup wedding dress’. My Mum and Dad got married in 1986, the height of ’80s’ fashion. Mum bought the wedding dress for the special day because at the time, it was the only one she liked and she could get her hands on. With limited options in Canberra back then she found it in a shop in Civic that doesn’t exist anymore. She ended up finding another one she liked better on a trip to Sydney. This wedding dress had all the 80s clichés: big sleeves, sailor style top, and of course, shoulder pads!
The next item, pulled from the very back of the wardrobe, was a pant suit in baby blue. To me this looked like a 70s safari suit and I couldn’t even imagine where it would be worn. The pants of the suit were extremely long, huge bellbottoms with a very slim flitting high waist. Mum told me that her mother bought it for her from a shop in Orange in 1975 before moving to Canberra to start her graduate job in the public service. What grabbed me is that this scenario still resonates over 40 years later, I did the same before I started work only a few years ago!
One of my favourite pieces was a cropped white shirt from Country Road. Judging by the collar size I would have guessed it was from the 80s. I was immediately shocked when mum told me she used to wear it to work. Having my own struggles with how to wear cropped tops appropriately to work I had to know more. Mum elaborated by saying she used to wear it with shorts (long culottes) and it was back when a little ‘mid-drift’ was acceptable. I was baffled, I can’t even imagine wearing shorts to work let alone pulling mid-drift off.
Lastly there was a surprising amount of clothes mum said she made herself. When she moved to Canberra after starting her job she took up a night class in sewing. Through this class she made several dresses and skirts. I was really impressed by the quality of everything she made and the time and effort that would have gone into their production. In my generation I don’t know many people that can sew, it’s really only those pursuing a career in design. To me this seems a little sad and wasteful, we will more readily throw things out than mend them.
It’s amazing what you can find going through someone else’s wardrobe. I was always fascinated by mum’s clothes growing up and as I got older it became my own personal op shop. However, what made this experience special was sharing it with my mum and hearing the stories behind so many items in her closet. I recommend it to anyone out there if they get the chance to do it with their mothers or grandmothers, you never know what you might find!