Copyright 2001 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Crank's Corner: Commentary by Linda Marcas
Perhaps my ambivalent attitude toward clothing is a result of my upbringing, which took place in
the days when little girls did not wear trousers to school. I used to hurry home so I could change out of my
"school clothes" and into my "play clothes," trading my black-on-black-velvet saddle oxfords for a pair of
red PF Flyer sneakers and my pleated skirts and blouses with Peter Pan collars for shorts and a T-shirt.
Things were even worse on Sunday mornings, when, after a day-and-a-half of freedom, I had to get
up again for church. Why, in an un-air-conditioned church in Southern California, did my parents insist on
my wearing my cardigan sweater buttoned all the way to the top? No wonder I fidgeted and felt ill!
Even back then, I knew that my parents had their own versions of school clothes and play clothes.
My mother was a secretary; she wore shirtwaist dresses or skirts with sweater sets to work. My stepfather
sold real estate; his work clothes included a suit, necktie, and wing-tip shoes. Both of them shed these
public duds as soon as they got home; mom for Capri pants and sweatshirts, step-dad for pajamas, usually.
We didn't have much money, so all of us had to take special care of our "good clothes," so we could keep
Every fall, shopping for school clothes became a nightmare ordeal for me. I knew I'd be stuck
wearing these clothes for most of the next year, so I always hoped we'd buy something I liked or that
wouldn't make me look like an absolute geek and let me in for the ridicule of my classmates. My parents,
however, had their own notions of proper school attire, notions which seldom jived with mine. If I was
lucky, I'd have two or three outfits that I didn't hate, and I'd wear those to death.
The cumulative effect of all that childhood sartorial trauma resulted in my aforementioned
ambivalent attitude toward clothes. I buy lots of clothes, and I like all the clothes I buy. Even if I buy them
at thrift stores, however, I'm always aware of whether they are "good clothes" or just "everyday clothes,"
those distinctions which I learned so well as a kid. I have enough clothing for six people, but I'm so afraid
of ruining my "good" clothes that I avoid wearing them, preferring to schlep about in faded, stretched-out
T-shirts, ravelling sweaters, holey trousers, and frayed trenchcoats.
Sometimes, I ask myself, "what am I saving my good clothes for?" It's not as though there aren't
more where those came from, and, if I don't wear them, I'll probably get too fat to fit into them in a year or
two, and they won't have done me any good at all. Am I subconsciously trying to avoid the guilt I'd feel if,
in the course of daily wear, I somehow "ruined" some of them? The perils are endless: grease from cooking
spatters, bleach from laundry or cleaning, paint, ink, glue, snags, metal filings, dye, rust, dust, or machine
oil from my various art projects......even an innocent piece of blueberry pie is fraught with danger. As a
result of my paranoia, my shelves, drawers, and closets (not to mention several trunks, boxes, and
are filled with clothes I never wear.
When I was a child, I associated wearing good clothes with some form of discomfort, physical,
emotional, or both. A too-warm church, social events where I was expected to "behave" in a manner
creditable to my parents, dressy shoes that hurt my feet, sweaters that itched, or merely the care I had to
not to get dirty or mussed, lest retribution be swift and certain.....I was always on my guard. Because of
this, I've avoided jobs where I'd be expected to "dress up" in anything other than uniforms or casual
clothing; in my years as a factory worker, I "dressed down" to suit the dirtiness of the job. While I was
working on my Popular Culture degree, folks would ask, "what are you going to do with that?", to which I'd
answer, "well, I don't want to wear pantyhose and I don't want to lie to people; what do you have left?" To
avoid the physical and emotional discomforts I associated with good clothes, I had no choice but to become
an artist and an oddball.
But why is it that now, when all my good clothes are fairly comfortable and I've managed to avoid
the emotional stresses of the white-collar world, I still avoid wearing my good clothes, even if I like them?
My theory on the matter is that I have an over-inflated notion of the intrinsic value of good clothes, no
matter what I paid for them, because of the emphasis that value had when I was a child. I haven't quite
overcome my indoctrination from that time; I can't quite bring myself to risk damaging my good clothes. I
leave them in the closet instead, "saving" them for some important event. At least that way, I can always
find something presentable to wear to a funeral.
Parents out there who read this, consider it as a cautionary tale. If you can't afford any "good"
clothes for your kids, don't worry about it too much; they will probably grow up to enjoy wearing those
things they never had when they were children, if for no other reason than to spite you. If you can afford an
unlimited supply of good clothes for your offspring, thereby not minding that they play football in their
new chinos and come home with grass stains on their knees, you needn't worry, either, because your kids
will wear their good clothes easily, replacing them as needed without undue anxiety. It's those of you who
fuss and worry and scold your children about the importance and care and expense of good clothing that
warning here, because, if your kids turn out anything like me, they will never feel truly comfortable in good
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