One of my first memories of shopping for clothing that didn’t involve Brownie uniforms is the summer I turned 11. I had spent most of the summer in a swimming suit but when it came time to put on real clothes for school, it was pretty obvious that I was never going to get that Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret moment of my first training bra. Instead I transitioned from commando to a 34B Playtex Cross-Your-Heart overnight. Three hooks, that sucker had. How do you migrate from nothing to strapping on something with three fucking hooks overnight? There’s no learning curve there. It’s just a wall. Therefore, you employ the hook and spin maneuver and hold on tight. I still do it that way (destroying the elastic way before its time).
That summer was momentous for reasons other than the new titties. You see, I was moving to another school, exchanging my sheltered little parochial life (paid for by my grandparents who were very influential in their church and I have always suspected that my tuition was all part of a much more grand political scheme by my great grandfather in some kind of Midwestern Lutheran quasi soap opera) for the very frightening concept of a public school, which I only had seen depicted on ABC After School Specials. I was terrified that I would be involved in fights every single day in the school yard, as that is what happened in the Adam Baldwin classic My Bodyguard (Chris Makepeace, Schmakepeace).
When the first day of school came, I was terrified. I figured that everyone would be dressing nicer, so I picked a pair of cords (also verboten in my private school) and a button-down shirt I thought was pretty casual. It was plaid and had a silver thread running through the material.
What I didn’t know is that one didn’t wear button-down anything to public school. You wore a T-shirt or if you were preppy, a polo. There hadn’t been polo shirts at Shopko on sale (which is the only thing I could buy), and in my house, T-shirts were what you changed into after school so you didn’t get marker on the cuff of your blouse. What is more, people were wearing jeans. The idea of wearing such casual garb to school was strange and exotic! Jeans! My babysitters wore them every day and they were older, wiser and could turn their hair into feathered creations that I admired greatly. I spent the rest of the day certain that I would get into a fight over wearing cords, or that someone would want to steal my plaid shirt with the Christmas tinsel in it. They did not.
My grandmother took me to Shopko, under agreement that we would buy jeans and decent T-shirts that would be actually worn to school, no kidding, but in Women’s World, there was nothing that looked like the stuff the sixth graders were wearing. The T-shirts in the Stout Shops all had sayings on them that were clearly intended for grown up ladies, not kids. I remember one said, “Behind every good doctor is a great nurse.” I was not a nurse! I had no opinions about nurses, nor the whole emotional judgment that those glory-hogging doctors were stealing all of the medical spotlight.
Did it have to be so hard to find a pair of fat girl jeans back then? The only women who were my size apparently had lives which required them to wear stretchy polyester pants 24/7. My aunt took me to the place where she bought jeans for her boxy frame. It was the men’s department. I put on cobalt blue Levi’s that had numbers plastered on the back tab and I looked down to see the crotch had enough room to house an actual penis. This is the moment that kicked my complete and utter adolescent shame into overdrive. Thank goodness I did not have access to an evil genie who would grant my wishes, because I might actually have died as an 11-year-old, standing behind a curtain at Casual Corner, wearing a shirt reminding the world to thank nurses.
As I got taller and boobier and curvier and even more boobier, the constant need for clothing chapped my ass all the time. I never had enough jeans. I would blow out a pair climbing a tree, riding a horse or in one rather cataclysmic moment, sliding down a sharply pitched roof and wearing through the seat of my pants on the asphalt shingles. Jeans were never abundant in my drawers, because my parents were broke and a single pair of plus-size jeans cost about as much as three pairs of on sale normal-size jeans. During the pin-striped jeans craze of 1983, I had but two pairs, both of which had very distinct markings, so I had to swap them out every day and plot which shirts I could wear on which day (the plaids didn’t go with stripes, oh god, the ’80s were a tough time for fashion) and plus, I couldn’t wear any of the button down shirts on gym day because it slowed down my lightning fast changing act, lest the rest of the locker room get to gawk at my industrial strength bra, because gawk, they would. Hooo boy, they would. And woe would befall if something should happen to offset the rotation of those precious pants.
One of the most traumatic days of 9th grade was when I got dressed one morning for school and the zipper on my jeans broke. The only other pair was soaking wet in the washing machine, and my hippy parents only connected the dryer when the temperature got below freezing outside, figuring that nature could handle all of our laundry drying needs. I had nothing else to wear and stayed home sick that day, horrified that anyone would find out and think that I was so fat that I broke out of my pants, when in reality, I was so fat that my pants were like diamonds, difficult to find and involved a lot of pain and anguish from a child. And they did find out. Of course they did.
Now I still have problems with finding adequate anything (although quite frankly, my standards have improved along with my aesthetic) but I find myself hoarding clothes. I will buy two or three of the same shirt in different colors. I own seven pairs of the exact same size and brand of flat front black trouser. Seven pairs. That’s more than a week’s worth of the exact same look! We will not even begin to discuss the number of plain solid-colored T-shirts folded on my closet shelf (Okay, after doing my seasonal wardrobe transition a few weeks ago and culling out the stained or tattered stuff, I counted. There’s 67 short-sleeved T-shirts in either crew or V-neck. I must really love you to tell you that.) Y’all, I have a problem, is what I’m saying.
Esteban made a bet with me a few weeks ago. He bet me that I could not go until the end of the year without buying any clothes, shoes or purses. Harumph, I’ll take that bet, mister. Except that when I have a spare moment during a conference call, I’ll find myself surfing through Zappos and Lane Bryant’s websites. When I blew through Target over the weekend to buy laundry detergent (understandably, the bulk of the laundry in our house is monumental, but on the plus side, I can wait a very long time before I run out of, well, anything), I found myself automatically drifting over to their truly dismal little plus size section stuffed behind the Liz Lange maternity wear (Note to Target: pregnant women need maternity clothes for, what, six months, tops? But win over that plus-size market and you’re going to have a lot of lifelong customers. Simple math, people). What is going on here?
Maybe Esteban is right? Or maybe I was scarred too early by dressing like a 40-year-old woman named Arlene. Shortly after the bet, three of my jeans got either ripped, snagged or destroyed by a possessed washing machine. My parochial background is such that I still never really automatically throw on a pair of jeans because they don’t really feel all that natural to me, and truthfully, when I get home from work, I ditch the work garb and get comfy in yoga pants, not denim. The bet, however, couldn’t have happened at a worse time, as I am down to two pairs of jeans that fit me right now (I told you about the shameful T-shirt count, so I will not tell you how many pairs of smaller sized jeans are sitting in storage) and one pair are Mom Jeans that didn’t look as Mom-ish when I bought them online.
Esteban gave me a temporary dispensation to replace existing stock, but I am going to tough it out, but damn it, January 1st can’t come soon enough.