Sunday, June 23, 2013

A new wardrobe

Almost three years ago I came here with two suitcases and started this Italian life. A year later I visited home and came back with another suitcase of clothes. So essentially I've lived in Italy but dressed for the most part like an American. Not just an American, but a Midwesterner. Casual, middle of the road, planned to offend no one and to provide optimum comfort. Jeans, t-shirts, shorts and few dresses/skirts for (really) special occasions.  Naturally I brought running shoes, durable (read so ugly and super comfortable) sandals and hiking boots.

Because Florence is a tourist town this worked for me on some level. In the center I blended with the other ten thousand tourists walking around town and in our own neighborhood I was probably just some lost tourist. Nothing to excite comment unless I ran into our immediate neighbors who like me but often look at me strangely. Perhaps wondering if we own a mirror.

A few weeks ago we had company staying with us overnight and as I was getting the bed ready for them I noticed that there was a tear in the bottom sheet. Then as I was stuffing the pillow into the pillowcase my hand went through the material. Since we'd gotten those sheets as part of the "furnished" agreement on our apartment I wasn't surprised necessarily. They were pretty used when we moved in and we demoted them to guest use as soon as we could get new linens for our bed. (Note to our guests: We love having you stay with us, but sensible resource allocation means we get the good sheets. Yours may be used but are guaranteed clean when you use them.) It took a little scrambling on my part to take the linens we had and make them appear to be a carefully thought out bedroom suite but we managed. I think this was the universe warning me that this was the beginning of the end for my wardrobe.

I've been very gentle with my clothes since coming here. Many were used when I bought them and most of them were purchased years before I moved to Florence. So even though it was inevitable, I was still surprised one day when I put my hand in the pocket of my favorite capris and felt the material tear. A split seam I can fix. Easy. A tear in material that's become as thin as tissue paper is pretty much the end of those pants. I sighed and put them back in the closet. I can still wear them at home.

This is where my upbringing shows. Clothes are only thrown away when they no longer hang on the body. A few cosmetic problems or unsightly stains simply means you have work clothes. I can't be the only person who grew up with church clothes which eventually became school clothes which eventually became play/work clothes which then became rags or part of a quilt. A garment was only thrown away once it ceased to be identifiable as clothing. I still clean my flute with one sleeve from my dad's worn out flannel jammies.

Most of my t-shirts are close to transparent and so misshapen that I look strange in them. Like I'm wearing someone else's clothes. My jeans are much the same. I'm actually afraid to wear one pair at all. I keep them a the bottom of the pile as a back up, although things would have to go horribly awry, like the rest of my clothes being abducted by aliens or being eaten by moths, for me to wear them in public. My camisole straps have lost their elasticity and quite frankly look like something my grandmother would wear under her work clothes.

Those clothes that are still strong in their fabric fit strangely now. My body has changed shape here. I have no idea if I've lost weight because I don't weigh myself, but clothes that used to fit nicely hang different now. Clothes that were just a little big threaten to slide lower than they should or gap in embarrassing places. Then the final straw...I was putting on my very favorite all-purpose denim shirt when my finger went through the sleeve. I was distraught. It was no longer the beginning of the end anymore. It was the end.

This week I decided I needed to shop for clothes. Italian clothes.

That's right. I'm gonna go native and embrace my inner Italian (FYI I'm not in the least Italian). It was a tough decision. I mean, it shouldn't have been. I live here, not in Minnesota. I should dress like they do here, not like they do in Minnesota. If I wanted to stay with what I know and once was comfortable with I could just find more jeans (but in Sweden because I'm built like a Swede, not like an Italian) and scour the vintage stores and markets for "American" clothes. Levis, American Eagle Outfitters, heck I've even found Target clothes on occasion. So it's doable for me to maintain my American persona while living here, but is that really what I should do?

I plan to live here for a long time. I don't think I can be a visitor forever. I think along with learning the language learning to express myself through my clothes is a good way to start becoming Italian. It was inevitable, really. I've been watching the women here. The concept of appropriate clothing is completely different. It's not unusual to see a woman in a mini skirt, patterned hose and stilletos from the back and be impressed. It's even more impressive (to me anyway) when you then see her from the front and realize she's not a twenty or thirty something woman but someone in her sixties. They're confident and composed women at every age, it seems. I want to have just a little bit of that confidence and just a smidgen more of that inappropriateness.

So I went shopping this week. I bought things I would never, ever buy or wear in Minnesota but am looking forward to wearing here. And, because it's me, they were mostly on sale or used from the outdoor market. I like to get the most bang for my euro-type buck. It was hard to put aside the criteria I've used for shopping my entire life. Most of my criteria I'll admit revolved around what I thought other people would think when seeing me, which is ridiculous. At fifty something years old I really should let go of the peer pressure thing and wear things that make me feel as confident as those Italian women look.

I bought silky flowy things and things that make me feel pretty. I bought lots of white. I bought things that fit closely and things that are short. I'm reorganizing my closet (come on, you don't really think I could throw all those almost still pretty much mostly good clothes away, did you?) so all the stuff I've just bought and the stuff I've been afraid to wear are at the front. No saving them for church or special occasions. Or perhaps I just need to start considering each day as the special occasion that it is.

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