“Who are you wearing?”—clothes as message, value, consciousness



Flora: Mom? Can we go to that store again?

Jane: Which store?

Flora: You know. The one where we get all of our best stuff? Where I got my unicorn purse and cherry necklace?

And I laugh and laugh, and hug her, because she’s talking about Value Village, a thrift store chain.

The last time we went to Value Village, she and I, we spent an outrageous $80 and bought two pairs of winter boots, a faux fur coat for Flora’s Cousin It costume, a red leather 70s trench coat for me, three hats, a stuffed snake for Ender, and a new Christmas dress—clearly unworn by the donator—for Flora. Plus, a double-scythe for Cinder’s Halloween costume.


Ender: I need an orange shirt, orange pants, and orange socks.

Jane: I can do an orange shirt and orange socks. You don’t have any orange pants.

Ender: Can we buy some?

Jane: Maybe.

Ender: We have to. I only wear orange now.

We compromise on green with dinosaur designs. I promise to keep an eye out for orange pants next time Flora and I go to Value Village. Which is… about twice a year.


I dislike stores. Shopping. Both the actual act, and the metaphor. My children dress in the largess of clothing-hand-me-down chains—there are many, many benefits to living in a real community—and in the results of the retail therapy of their grandmothers. They are thoroughly and completely unfamiliar with designers, labels. At best, vaguely aware of the names of stores where one buys new clothes.

You snicker and tell me all this will change when they are teenagers. Perhaps. That’s fine. They are their own people, for all that they are my children. They will make their own choices. All I can do is lay a groundwork, a foundation—of habit. And, I suppose, although I hate to use such a value-laden word: of values.


But what values? I struggle to articulate them even to myself without accusing myself of hypocrisy. Because it’s not that I don’t care about clothes, how they look—how they make me feel. I care, very much. I may leave the house with a naked face, always and without reflection or compunction, but I never leave the house wearing a burlap sack.

Or yoga pants.

I think of clothes as both uniform-mask and canvas-expression. Sometimes, they are a barrier between me and the world: they protect me by the message they send. Sometimes, they are the opposite, their message is an enthusiastic, unhidden manifestation of everything I am or want to be. Every once in a while, the message is a secret, or an in-joke. I wear the scarf she gave me to carry her with me through the day; the purple pants I hate for you because you love them and I love you; I wrap myself in the coat my mother bought me to remind myself how much she loves me.

I don’t denigrate the power of clothes, what they communicate, what they mean.


Flora pulls out a soft, well-worn sweater out of the bag her friend’s eldest sister dropped off at our house. “Oh, I will love this one,” she says. “I will make so many good memories in it.”


I don’t denigrate the talent, skill and power of designers, either. I like—love—beautiful clothes. They don’t just happen: they need to be dreamed. Created. Marketed. Sold. Copied and made affordable—or donated, passed on down the line, until I can claim them at the thrift store, consignment boutique, or out of the back of a friend’s closet.

I don’t resent what other people spend on clothes. Why would I? While the jeans I’m wearing today cost $6 in a clearance pile at Superstore (but they make me look so fucking good) and my winter jacket is a $22 third-hand U-Turn purchase (but so mod, I love it), I’m also wearing a $200 bra. And my shoes, while 15 years old, were not bought on sale. We all have different priorities.

I don’t denigrate the mom who lives in her yoga pants, any more than I judge the exec in her Armani suit. (I notice her shoes; covet them.)


So, back to the question: what foundation, what values? I suppose it comes down to consciousness, conscious choice. Not blindly copying what’s worn on the runway, by the celebrity, by peers and friends. But thinking about—why? To what purpose? At what cost?

Who are you wearing? Why? To what purpose, message? At what cost?


The wardrobe: Third-hand cap from the Peacock Consignment Boutique, $12. Sunglasses from Value Village, $6. Coat from U-Turn, $22. Top (obscured by coat) from friend’s closet, free. Jeans, from clearance pile at Superstore, $6. The yellow Doc Martens that are my calling card when I wear sensible shoes… bought brand new.

This post was written as part of the “Who Are You Wearing?” Moms Vs. The Award Season project masterminded by I Am The Milk’s Katia Bishop, and originally inspired by the #365feministselfie initiative (She calls it “#365feministselfie meets red carpet” which is just brilliant, don’t you think?) If you’re going to play–the link’s below, and use  #WhoAreYouWearingMom when you share.) who-are-you-wearing-2

Here’s who THEY’re wearing:

Katia at I Am The Milk

Jen at My Skewed View

Jean at Mama Schmama

Sarah at Left Brain Buddha

Stephanie at Mommy, For Real

Deb at Urban Moo Cow

Sarah at The Sadder but Wiser Girl

Kristi at Finding Ninee

Rachel at Tao of Poop

Want to play? Do it here: Powered by Linky Tools Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

46 thoughts on ““Who are you wearing?”—clothes as message, value, consciousness

  1. Made me wonder how you put the message “Made you think? Made you laugh? Made you scream? Tell me,” where it is!!!!
    Yes, I shop at thrift stores whenever possible. Tons of stuff to go through and tons of deals. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Can I tell you how very much I loved this? Love all of these together? Clothes mean something to me too and nothing at all at the same time. I have orange pants at my house but I think they might be a little too small.

  3. I am a big thrift store fan for all of the reasons you mention. And, damn, my favorite store in Baltimore was called Value Village too! And, yes, clothes matter. For me, it’s a matter of proportion. I want other things to matter more. I can’t decide that for my daughter, though. I’m making my way through the linky, and I have to say for the sixth time now…I am really glad we decided to do this. I am finding it to be very powerful. Yay!

  4. This post is so delightfully you and I feel like I need to reread this tomorrow with a clearer (hopefully) less sleep deprived brain. I so love and look forward to discovering your unique take on things which so often resonates with me so much.

  5. I am a huge fan of thrift stores. I am so cheap that I will wait to buy stuff until it’s 75% off of the thrift store prices. Sad? Nah… more money to spend on tie-dye. And there’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt to find that one perfect thing. I’m sorry Wal-Mart, it’s just not the same.

    Your kids are too funny! I’m so glad they love the thrift store as much as you do! Keep doing what you’re doing-you’re raising magnificent little beings!

  6. You are so cool. I love your unique style. It’s hard to be an individual by just shopping in the chain stores. So often, I shop and never find anything I like. You’ve inspired me to check out the consignment shops in my area. 🙂

    • Don’t give up on the first stinky one you find. 🙂 Consignment store shopping (like friend closet shopping) is akin to Neolithic gathering: you need to find just the right place… and then just the right thing… when you’re in just the right mood…

  7. Well, I love love love shopping. and clothes. But I also don’t spend a lot of money on them. And oh, I love “I only wear orange now.” My daughter is just starting to become more brand conscious {it has to be Justice!}. And I LOVE your style in that top pic. Awesome. But I need to know more about this $200 bra. Does it have diamonds?

    • No, French lace. See, a good bra, like a good haircut makes you look and feel 10 years younger and 10 pounds *tighter.* Try it. Go to “one of those stores” and try on those $200 bras. You will spend the rest of the year saving for one…

  8. This line: “Oh, I will love this one,” she says. “I will make so many good memories in it.”
    LOVE. Seriously precious. My son loves orange as well but so far hasn’t told me that he will only wear orange. I don’t like shopping either, although I used to enjoy it a lot. Not sure what happened (grew up? became a mom?). And your yellow shoes absolutely rock, friend. Seriously!

  9. Those shoes are so kick ass!! I want a pair. My kids have done the whole “I need to wear dark magenta fuschia purple green” for something or other. Usually it’s five minutes before the bus is coming and it’s spirit day.

  10. You’re so right, everyone has their priorities! My “real” bras (as opposed to my “house” one) cost about $100 each, too. It takes some serious architecture to hold up my gals, you know what I’m sayin’? haha.
    And I don’t judge people with Coach bags or Armani suits, either. To each their own. I do have a problem with the cultural pressures we have……
    Love the direction you went with this, and diggin’ the shoes! Diggin’ you!

  11. Gah, as usual you knock the wind right out of me. Adore this message- yes, it is possible to value clothing, to not “denigrate the power of clothes, what they communicate, what they mean.” without being a vapid materialist who is consumed by insecurity. This was so unexpected, and so perfect! And also, “I only wear orange now.” Yes.

  12. Laugh this time. And are those John Lennon glasses you’re fabulously sporting? Remembering when the Now Grown Boy went off to a Hüsker Dü concert wearing my dad’s WWII USMC flight jacket, a red Chuck Taylor sneaker, a black Chuck Taylor sneaker, a string of safety pins through the small hole in one ear, thrift store baggy jeans held up by thrift-store suspenders, a vintage Marley-smoking-weed t-shirt (um…formerly mine) and a general “don’t mess with me as I walk down this tortured road to my subway stop” expression on his face. My husband and I held our breath until NGB was safely out of the house, then collapsed in giggles. NGB had been choosing his own armour since he was about three.The earring hole healed shut.The facial expression changed. Now he has a boy of his own, who will pay the moon (or ask the softy grandparents to do so) for basketball kicks, but would prefer to dumpster-dive for everything else. Or raid his dad’s closet.
    I have no style sense at all, thanks to formative years in parochial-school pleats and peter-pan collars. It’s so sad–my mother wore scarves and belts like a Parisian, I only realized much later that she wore them for years and years. But people who love me sometimes give me beautiful gifts, and I wear them in love and comfort even when I’m seen only in the computer monitor reflection. I will, however, spend mightily on good/pretty/pricey/fashionable/shoes and boots. Cole-Haan/Nike, made in Maine and NH, flood my closet floor.
    Am now going off in search of that bra. Because yes, haircut, shoes and the bra!
    *whispering* …and sometimes the yoga pants, but not the ones made by that jerky guy who would prefer that me and my legs and butt don’t appear in the ones HE makes…*

  13. What a fabulous post! I am a newbie to your blog, and I love this. I actually love shopping; I love new (to me) things. But I do a lot of consigning and a lot of thrifting to feed my habit without spending much. And I, too, attach a lot of sentimentality to the clothing I wear. For instance, my late aunt’s fleece pants I’ve been wearing all day. Some might think it odd, but I think of her every time I put them on.

  14. Oh Jane, you are so you and nobody else, which is the best lesson you could ever ever teach. Which you know, but I want to say it out loud. While I AM the sweat pant wearing mama, I too am a sucker for shoes. Yup. I might be wearing my sweats but I bought my shoes brand new because I loved them. Also jackets. Why?
    But.. I joke with the boy that we love to go Poppin Tags, because for sure the best purchases are at the thrift shop!
    P.S. we get orange pants at H&M Isaiah gets a new pair every year for 9.99. You could buy them online?

  15. I have a pair of thrifted striped velvet jeans that make me look like Robbie Rotten from Sporticus…I adore them and they cost me 20c. I thrift, therefore I am. I thrift from necessity but also from the pride that I am not clogging up the system with unnecessary consumption. My docs were bought at the markets for $5. A dead set BARGAIN but someone else didn’t want to spend the time or the pain to wear them in. Cherry red and gorgeous and all mine and probably MEANT to be mine…thrifting is like growing vegetables…like making your own sauerkraut and like underwater birthing…it is satisfying because it comes from someplace primal inside you where you just know it is doing you good somehow. The values you instill in your kids is what is going to drive their consumption. If you guide by your actions they are going to think before they consume. Excellent post and honest to boot…rare ma’am, truly rare :).

      • Damned RIGHT you swoon ma’am. I swooned too until I put them on my feet (after handing over my $5 note and running…literally running away with my prize so they wouldn’t realise how stupid they had been and demand my “preciouses” back!) and realised exactly why they were sitting looking cherry red and brand spanking new on a market stall (in my size!) for $5. But we need to be prepared to pay for our bargains in other ways…a year later and my docs are all mine…they conform to the blisters on my heels and I have callouses to die for. Thrifting is the bomb! 🙂

  16. “Uniform-mask and canvas-expression” – I so completely LOVE that line.

    And your bright, sunshine-yellow DMs.

    I’ll be back, I think I like it here 😀 Glad to have found you.

    • I just carefully re-read this (last night I just skimmed and commented in excitement) as I share some of the same sentiments (i.e. yoga pants/athletic wear in general = uGH! Though I mean, I do wear them. I would like to think ironically. haha. So I’m technically not “playing” since I didn’t actually write anything new, but the first 2 links in the above comment cover Spy Garden’s take on fashion.

  17. Pingback: Red Carpet Mom: Who Are You Wearing? « Fourtuitous

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  19. Pingback: I wear the skanky dress because I want to… | Nothing By The Book

  20. Hey there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after reading
    through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back often!

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