Are you who you were?

When I was a freshman in college, my first experience as a theater major was participating in creating a collaborative play created by my fellow theater classmates and an English class. The English students submitted stories from their parents, grandparents and other ancestors; we submitted our own life stories. Then the whole thing was turned into a script and performed by my theater class as a two-part play exploring the differences and similarities between generations entitled, "Are We Who They Were?"

This title has come up again for me recently, but more in the form of "Am I Who I Was?" It was triggered by watching Jessi Arrington's TED talk on "Wearing Nothing New." If you haven't seen it, you can (and should!) watch it below (it's short). I also wrote about it from the public speaking perspective here.

I was once like Jessi in my thrift shopping zeal and love of colorful outfits. I still am, in fact, but you'd never know it.

Back in high school I shopped in thrift stores because it was the cool thing to do and, as I was a kid, I had limited income. I could buy bag loads of stuff with very little outlay. I even worked at a thrift store one summer and came home with half my pay in clothes and shoes. My best friend and I would wear our outfits to death, then trade and wear each other's to death. I went to the prom in an elegant 50s embroidered satin ballgown with a full skirt and deep V-back, and a week later, to a classmate's debutante ball in my best friend's vintage black lace evening gown. Vintage was hot in those days, and I amassed a distinctive collection of outfits from the 40s to the 60s, including shoes, hats and accessories.

I took my cool clothes with me to college, where thrift shopping was less cool among the preppy rich kids I hung out with, but I still enjoyed expressing my creativity, style and kooky personality through my mostly-thrifted threads. For many years I didn't own a pair of shorts or sweats; I preferred my mini-skirts, pencil skirts and pleated plaid skirts, thank you very much.

Pre-prom, 1983 (I didn't have time to put on makeup!)
Once out of college, I found myself in the workforce. With a full time job came a sense of needing to fit in as well as a certain amount of disposable income, leading me to shop more frequently in regular retail stores. I don't even know how or when it happened, but things started to change. I still shopped in thrift stores, but those purchases became more and more about finding good brands and well-made pieces (the joy of finding a like-new high-end silk or linen blouse for just a couple of bucks!) that made me look like everyone else.

20+ years later, my thrift store wardrobe now makes up a tiny portion of my closet, and most of those items are no more interesting (and sometimes less interesting) than the ones I buy at Banana Republic or Calvin Klein (the outlets, of course. I still hate spending money on clothes.)

Watching Jessi's talk reminded me that there's nothing wrong with expressing myself through my clothing, even in a professional setting, even if the colors and patterns I choose are a little brighter or crazier than the average girl. But I don't know if I can ever get back the devil-may-care attitude I used to have about my clothes. After all, I'm 46 and I'm supposed to exhibit some decorum, right?

The red Hilo Hattie dress
Thanks to Jessi, I visited the thrift stores this past week with the express purpose of breaking out of my usual habit of safe shopping. I found a red Hilo Hattie Hawaiian dress to replace the one I've had for over a decade and that no longer fits (here I am in my new dress). I also found an apple green velvet jacket, a tangerine skirt, and a pink, orange and red multi-colored top that may or may not go with anything in my closet (or maybe with aforementioned skirt and jacket!). All good quality and, by the way, fun.

I also picked up a sensible pink-and-red-striped shirt for "business-y" meetings (never let 'em see you sweat) and a soft gray sweater that will go with anything, no matter how garish.

I'm on a new quest: To be who I was. Or at least a reasonable facsimile; after all, I don't need to look like I'm 22 years old, I just want to let myself be playful in ways I haven't allowed in many years.

How about you? *Are you who you were?*

Do you wish that you were still doing things you used to do? *What's stopping you?*


Jessi Arrington said...

Hi Lisa! I loved reading this post! I'm SOOO happy to have inspired you to get back to your colorful roots! I absolutely love the new Hawaiian dress, and you look radiant in it! I'm honored to have had some part in it!! Man, the Internet is MAGIC isn't it?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jessi! Magic is right -- there's inspiration everywhere. I keep passing along your video, hoping others get the message.