One of the things I like best about clothing is its expressive potential: expressive both of one’s own personality and moods and expressive in itself. I was reminded of this yesterday as I exited my office building on a warm fall day. As I moved away from the building and stepped out into the sun the slight wind caught my skirt so that it billowed, then swept to one side. The skirt’s faint movement made me suddenly aware of the sensual world: the warmth of sunshine on my arms, the sound of fall leaves being moved with quiet, small scratches on the asphalt, the brush of the skirt’s fabric as it moved toward and away from my skin, teasing it. The skirt’s movement away from orderly hanging to its soft billow and sweep was a moment of freedom, a breaking away from the norm. It anticipated my liberty: stepping away from work to free time, from the ordered, florescent world of the office to the delightful disorder of drifting leaves and brilliant sun.
The skirt’s movement also made me look at the skirt more closely and consider it beyond simply a utilitarian garment. It’s navy blue with a white pattern of winding flowers moving over the blue, and it forms a gentle bell around the body. It’s not that special really, and yet it is. It belongs to my mother, though she was kind enough to give it to me. It’s not really old, and yet it has history: it records a time when my mother visited her own mother in the UK, leaving our home in Alaska briefly behind and with it the Alaskan uniform of jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and parkas, replaced by skirts, heels, and tailored jackets.
Along with that personal history there is more general history. The skirt was made in England at a time when England (and the US) produced the majority of the clothing worn by their respective citizens, and it was purchased on-site in the country of its making, marking a moment long before the days of regular international shipping and vast retailers such as Amazon. Its length speaks to a period of compromises as far as skirt lengths go, for it is neither long nor short. Similar compromises comprise its other attributes: it’s certainly not showy, but it is beautiful in it own rather simple way; it is lightweight, yet not cheaply made; it floats slightly around the body, but a series of sewn-in pleats provide it a slight shape and structure.
And, as I was reminded as I exited the building, a piece of clothing, even a simple skirt, can move, literally and figuratively, beyond the merely pedestrian and the utilitarian, engaging flashes of memory, insights into economic and cultural change, reminders of the balance of true style, and, in a moment seized from the hustle and bustle of an ordinary day, a chance for a moment philosophical and poetical, a moment in the sensual world.