By Beverley Walsh, 74. Balwyn North, VIC
I open the door of the wardrobe where I keep the clothes I no longer wear but can’t bear to be separated from. I wonder why this is so. Why do I cling to them?
I separate the coat hangers to see more clearly each individual garment. Here I have the short, black swing coat which I bought on sale from an expensive shop in Carlton many years ago. As I’d tried it on in the shop I’d twisted my body this way and that to catch the swing in the mirror. Yes, I’d loved its movement, the flare of the base as it swung out and concertinaed from one side to another. Sadly, though, I wore it far less often than I’d expected I would; it was a bit short. The thrill of the swing and the satisfaction of the reduced price had seduced me and I was left with a beautiful coat which didn’t keep my bottom warm.
Sitting beside the swing coat is a leather jacket I’d bought in Morocco in 2006. It was of a style I hadn’t seen before in leather, very unstructured. I’d hummed and harred at the time. I’d thought it lovely and the leather so smooth and rich, but would I get enough wear out of it? In the end, regretfully, I fell for the irresistibly flattering comments from my companions when I modelled it for them. I wore it several times but what I hadn’t taken into account was the sheer weight of the jacket and the difficulty of putting it on. So unstructured is it that it was almost impossible to find the right way up, especially in a darkened theatre or cinema.
There is one more outer garment in the wardrobe — a brown coat which I also purchased in the plush shop in Carlton. This, too, was on sale but I wasn’t so foolish in my decision-making. It is made of a beautiful, heavyweight, woollen fabric and through several years of wear it kept me snug and warm in the sometimes icy winds of Melbourne. Now it sits forlornly in the wardrobe, wondering why it’s been forsaken. I can only tell it that it’s because its style is no longer ‘in’. Perhaps in time, it will come back into fashion and it will keep me warm once more.
My fingers move along the coat hangers and come to two dresses thrust together in a zipped plastic cover. The oldest one is my ‘little black dress’ which I bought when I first started to go out with my husband in the mid-seventies. I remember how excited I was whenever I put it on. It seemed to me to be the epitome of style and I always felt good in it. Now, more than forty-five years later, I still like the dress and remember the pleasure I felt in wearing it.
Its companion is the dress I wore for my wedding. It isn’t a traditional wedding dress; far from it. And the colour isn’t what my mother would have chosen nor anyone else at our wedding, for that matter. It’s a rich shade of tan, called Windsor Tan and, despite the general ill will for the colour, all agreed on the elegance of the style. I didn’t care about the opinions of others. I loved it.
Further into the wardrobe I find an outfit that I made for a niece’s wedding about twelve years ago. It comprises a slim skirt made in an embroidered satin fabric which is beautiful to look at and to feel. The background is black and the embroidery is made up of tiny red and yellow flowers with green leaves, evenly scattered. The top is black silk voile lined with red satin which hangs softly over the skirt. I wore it several times but, unfortunately, not as often as I’d have liked to.
Beside this ensemble is another silk skirt I made for another niece’s wedding. It’s the same style but a very different fabric, not nearly as smooth to the touch. The colour, a deep moss green with threads of black silk woven through it. With it is the purchased, long-sleeved, black beaded top which I never wore again. I have far more affection for the skirt than the top, but keep both.
I’ve resolved, while I’ve been reuniting with these garments, what it is that compels me to hold onto them. I keep the coats because of their quality; the fabric in each is strong, thick, and rich and the styles are appealing. The leather jacket? Well, it reminds me of the trip to southern Spain and Morocco, the fun I had with the other travellers and the wonderful places we visited. It’s also an ever-present warning of the dangers in succumbing to flattery. The dresses? Both of them have strong emotional attachments and take me back to happy times. As for the others, I hold onto them because I made them. I sought out the fabric, cut it holding my breath, and pieced it together not knowing if the end result would justify the time and effort put into it.
Each of these garments represents my love of good quality as well as tangible connections to places, people and events of the past. It’s impossible to cast them out.