When I was in high school I would walk to a friend’s house and change quickly before we headed to school. My mother never cared much about what I was wearing, but she cared very much about her favorite pair of Calvins. They had survived her 20s in Austin and she was mighty proud to still fit into them. Unfortunately for her, they fit me too.
I grew up with mom’s sewing machine typically out. She was always working on some sort of project or ensemble. When they took diving trips to the Caribbean, she would whip up high-waisted shorts and printed pants with matching crop tops. During my short pageant phase, she created a dreamy gown that put all the other store-bought frocks to shame.
My mother did not grow up with much, but my grandmother taught her how to use her Singer. So when there wasn’t enough money to buy the latest, my momma made it for herself.
Fashion was something that we bonded over growing up. Shopping trips before the school year were an adventure. In the eighties she helped me find skorts and silk color block tops just like hers. I literally wore a jacket with shoulder pads to second grade. We got perms together and matching (terrible-looking) bangs cuts. In middle school she bought me a subscription to Seventeen and my first Coach purse. For the 8th grade dinner dance we found the most amazing black suede platforms and blew our budget on the shoes, picking up a simple shift dress to wear them with.
Mom taught me to be original. I watched as she scoured department store sales and thrift stores alike, combining old and new and high and low. She planted the seed in me to search for special pieces—things that no one else had.
In high school I became obsessed with the sixties and seventies, especially the music and fashion. Mom explained the difference between bell-bottoms and wide legs, and the importance of a good pair of wooden clogs. She knew how to make me halter-tops without a pattern and took me to the street markets to dig for vintage Levis. Fashion became a shared interest that bonded us together and helped us survive the tough teenage years.
Sadly, I broke that old Singer machine belling all my blue jeans and sewing on patches. Worse than that, I left a piece of Dentyne in the pocket of those Calvins one day accidentally and washed them. Luckily, mom forgave me. Years later, she gifted me my own sewing machine. I have clumsily made little dresses for my girls and their dolls. I imagine now the tradition will continue. My five-year-old stockpiles my magazines in her bedroom and puts on a fashion show for daddy anytime we shop for her clothes. Sometimes I cringe when I see the weird outfits she puts together, but I would never tell her that. I just smile and tell her how fantastic she looks… just like my momma did for me.
p.s. Remember how mom always used to tell you to stand up straight? There's a shirt for that.