February 2, 2008

NIBEM 2: Matchy-Matchy

Ahhh. Matching clothes. The golden age of buying matching clothes for all the children in the family coincided with my childhood. Lucky me. My grandmother (one of many Margarets in my family tree, and a woman who really should have known better) delighted in sending boxes of three matching dresses from Washington to California, and my mother delighted in dressing us up. It was probably a source of pride that she had a trio of daughters who could be transformed into fashion clones and paraded to church and out to dinner. Don't know how my brother managed to escape the trend.

I remember two outfits in particular. The most memorable collection had a patriotic inspiration with a slight nautical flair. Three white dresses sprinkled with navy or red tiny polka dots and topped off with a large sailor collar outlined with bands of color-coordinated trim. The full skirt was adorned with bands of trim near the hem and there was a narrow belt at the waist. The other dresses were densely floral. I can’t remember the exact style but they came in turquoise and pink. And the fabric had lots and lots of flowers.

This is the way matching dresses in my family worked. Three dresses, three different sizes, but only two different colors. The dresses of the oldest child and the youngest child were always exactly the same, and the middle child had the same style but in a different color. The lack of individual identity was probably difficult for all the sisters, but especially I think for me, the youngest child. In the great tradition of hand-me-downs (our pre-global warming brand of recycling), the youngest child eventually wore all three dresses. Unfortunately due to the age span of my mother’s daughters, it took about four to five years to work my way through all three of the dresses–a scarring fashion experience. It was like wearing a life uniform. I didn’t think I would ever out grow those damn sailor dresses.

Yesterday it dawned on me that I have once again embraced matching clothes. Not with my sisters, but with my co-workers, specifically the women in my Friday afternoon walking group. Last fall an enterprising PTA mom ordered Brandon Islanders t-shirts and sweatshirts to promote school spirit and support for our new school mascot…an island. An odd choice I know, but preferable to the former one, a vicious, tooth-barring bobcat.

The sweatshirts are not the most attractive color, khaki, or the most flattering style, but there is something wonderful about them. The material is soft, thick and incredibly warm, and despite it’s obvious fashion limitations this sweatshirt has quickly become my favorite. Most of my co-workers feel the same way, and that’s why we wear them every Friday. Jeans and the Brandon sweatshirt have become our end-of-the-week life uniform. Sweatshirt devotees silently acknowledge each other with a knowing smile as we move around campus. Can a secret handshake be far behind?

Within the context of the school environment the sweatshirts are great. The problem occurs in the outside world. As we march through local neighborhoods on our Friday adventures, a gang of boisterous khaki-clad women, I imagine mothers fearfully calling their children inside, locking their doors, and then peeking through the blinds to make sure we are leaving the area.

This Friday our walk ended at Rudy’s. We celebrated with chips, salsa and drinks. I sensed we were attracting a few questioning looks. Maybe we didn’t have a cool gang image after all. Did the other customers think we were members of a bowling team, or perhaps scruffy members of a new cult? Or maybe we just looked like a group of friends, flushed from an afternoon walk, laughing our way into the weekend–friends who match in spirit and fashion.

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