I was a late starter in fashion. In fact I didn’t discover it until my second year of university. I have always loved shopping, but being brutally honest, what I used to buy was just horrendous. I don’t remember what exactly happened to make me throw away my childish tees, but I do remember the only surviving pieces from the war on my wardrobe were my dresses. Somehow, the young completely unfashionable me had managed to get it spot on with those. What was left in my now practically bare wardrobe though, was not only beautiful, figure enhancing, confidence boosting articles of clothing, but emotive memories. I may not be able to recall the sudden emergence of my fashion obsession but one look into that wardrobe and I am transported back with dazzling intensity to a particular event or feeling.
The first proper evening dress I ever bought was for a friend’s Bat Mitzvah. I was 13years young and my mum was incredibly excited about taking me shopping for my first ever formal dress. It wasn’t expensive; my mother to this day cannot for the life of her understand where I get my compulsive luxury spending from. I can. It was that inexpensive dress, not because it didn’t cost much, but because it opened my eyes to the possibilities that a dress can hold. It gave me something to aspire to. The sudden realisation that this is what grown up girls wear, and that made me feel special. My mum doesn’t remember the dress or her gushing over my transformation into womanhood, despite my skinny childlike frame not filling the dress how it should. She remembers it as the first time I got drunk and publicly embarrassed myself. A theme that has seemed set to continue with all of my dresses.
Then there’s the dress I wore for my Year 11 graduation – a pretty little monochrome dress with an a-line skirt and an oversized bow. It wasn’t that remarkable really and I’d probably rather die than be forced to wear it again but it still sits in my wardrobe. It was another aspiration dress. I remember dancing the night away in that dress knowing that secondary school was finally, thankfully, over. Life had so much promise that night and I could start again with a blank slate rather like that blank dress.
The dress I wore to my father’s wedding is a complete write off. It truly is the most beautiful dress I own and it cost a small fortune at Daddy Dearest’s expense. The nastier side of me takes enjoyment out of that. The rest of me cannot bear to wear it. The memories associated are too achingly sad. The true end of a marriage, the loss of a father, the imposition of a hostile stepmother. Sometimes I take it out of the wardrobe to look at it. The jewelled neckline, the fading of midnight blue to a satin pink body, back to midnight blue again in the floaty hemline is honestly wonderful. Then I remember the hurt that dress inflicted and it makes me feel sick with remorse.
My dresses acquired over my time at university are all well-loved, well-worn and resonate with happy memories. Nights filled with laughter, dancing and far too much to drink, a whirlwind three years of working hard and playing even harder. The dress I wore the night the police had to take me home, the dress for the winter formal, the dress for getting over a boy, the dress for my best friend’s epic 21st celebrations, the dress left behind (thankfully recovered by a more sensible friend) on the field as we did a circuit of the university in nothing but our underwear, the dress that was ruined the night we all decided to jump fully clothed into the campus lake. Even if there is not a specific memory they at least remind me of the fluttering of excitement as I get ready for a night out. They remind me in my moments of self-doubt that there have been times when I have felt confident, maybe even beautiful – a memory certainly worth holding onto.
Looking forwards rather than backwards there are going to be so many occasions in my life where new memories are going to be created and there is of course going to be a dress to go with them. I will soon be graduating. I will (hopefully!) have a first day at work. Maybe one day I will be choosing a wedding dress. I now have two wardrobes in my room, one for my normal clothes, which changes constantly, and one for my dresses. This one never loses an item, only ever gains them: a memory never lost, only memories to be added.