My mother had a pair of black velvet shoes that she would wear on special occasions. I loved that they had straps that crossed over and over. I loved that the heel was insanely high. I liked trying to walk in them. In the mornings, in the evenings, whenever she was getting ready to go out I would tell her that she should wear them. Sometimes she did. They were beautiful shoes, but I think I loved them more than she did. Maybe that’s because my mother was a woman of the 80s and embraced colour and pattern – a zebra print jumpsuit, a full-length denim skirt, and power shoulders on every coat.
At some point in the 90s things changed and I started to resent her sartorial choices, or maybe I just started to resent her. I think I wanted her to be some kind of blonde American mom who smiled and wore thick white turtlenecks and chinos. I think I wanted to live that dream, live without the confusion of her race and our financial reality. I think I believed too much of what I saw on TV. The thing is, she would wear those clothes but she never looked like that kind of woman, she just looked like her normal no-nonsense self, but then she was never about imitating someone else.
It’s a strange moment when you realise that in spite of the promises you scrawled again and again in your teenage diary that you have become your mother, and it’s a stranger moment still when you realise that you want to be her. Maybe there’s a perspective that comes with outgrowing your teenage self that softens you, and lets you see people as people, and not just a function in relation to you. Once I started to feel the scope of her world, that’s when I wanted to be her. She’s fearless and kind and self-reliant, and I see that in her power pant suits and pillowy jumpers. All these things I steal from her.
I could not call these appropriated pieces ‘vintage’ – I know all of their stories and they are far too real for that, and as I sweat through the polyester I feel their protective power. It’s the reassurance that I felt in pre-primary, as she dropped me off at the gate with a hug and kiss – it’s a constant love that shines through. Her clothes have become my armour against life. In her clothes I can be that strong boss woman who doesn’t fuck around, and it’s easy to be like that, because she’s always like that, and now that attitude seems to fit.
Words by Ruth Thomas, Art by Ruby Mae McKenna
This article first appeared in volume 88 edition 2 STOP