Sunday, 7 October 2012

Wardrobe Stories


It's coat weather again and I have a trusty faithful. Bought during the days of my H&M allegiance, this coat is entering it's fourth winter with me and still going strong. I love its huge neck - the wide collar can be buttoned right up to the chin, acting like a kind of sea-wall windbreaker, with ample space for a scarf underneath. It's a size up (and is consequently able to accommodate all the knitwear I invariably wear) but the tapered sleeves and waist tie stop it from being shapeless.

It's a good coat, but I especially like wearing it since I replaced a lost button with this little gem of a brooch - it's become a garment that's evolved with me. The coat came into my life when I was in a particularly independent phase. I was living alone in Berlin for a month before embarking on an academic year at university in Germany. Leaving all kinds of loves behind to explore a new city, language and lifestyle on my own was both lonely and exhilarating. There was something supremely satisfying about spontaneously purchasing the first coat I'd ever bought for myself in that context: choosing my own style, breaking away from the hand-me-downs I'd inherited throughout my teens. Much like that whole stage of life, it was mostly all about me.

Fast forward: two years and one lost button later I was married, unemployed and feeling in many ways like my world had shrunk without my say-so. I'd like to think if someone had told me in advance about all the tedium and tension our relocation had in store for me I would have embraced it anyway, but truthfully not knowing was a blessing. I saw the brooch in a social enterprise boutique called SHOP as the realities of joblessness were slowly beginning to dawn on me, and I found it strangely comforting. 

The Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) was a World War II movement that allowed women to play an active part in the war effort, despite the more restrictive social conventions governing their lives at that time. Remembering the transformative influence these women had, from countless wartime support roles right through to shaping today's social care structures, was timely encouragement that being "just" a housewife could be a valuable occupation. Accurately or not, I imagine these women to be resilient, 'make do and mend' types. The brooch seemed to say: "yes, sometimes things aren't as you would want them to be but you can choose how you respond. Be brave. Be selfless. Be part of something bigger." Identifying with them by wearing their badge gave me added confidence that I could forge something worthwhile out of the seemingly costly choice I'd made in prioritising my new marriage over my job prospects. Housewifery was by no means the role I was looking for, but temporarily it was all that was available to me; and, so help me God, I would follow the example of the WVS and do a good job under the circumstances.

I'm somewhere on the other side of both those experiences now. I've had the privilege of being legitimately allowed to prioritise my own personal enrichment; I've been humbled in the struggle to let go of my "success" to fit in with someone else's. But it's not either/or. I realise now that real life needs a little of both. Seasons of personal progress and other-orientated sacrifice need to live side by side in a balanced life, and there's euphoria and boredom in both. That's life. 

When I forget, I only need to button up my coat.

'Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.

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