The Museum of My Fashion, Pt. 1

I have a confused and somewhat tortured relationship with fashion. If my life of style were memorialized in a museum exhibition, the catalog would read as follows:

The Early Years (1975-1984)

Born to poor and mentally unstable Bohemians, Zelda’s initial outfits consisted of hand-me-downs from her two older cousins, who were wealthy and preppy and dressed mainly for tennis and yachting.

This wardrobe was supplemented by one-offs purchased by Zelda’s mother on a manic upswing or the occasional “daughter” half of a mother-daughter matching outfit sewn by Zelda’s mother.

Key representative outfits are the yellow polyester bell-bottoms with orange and green butterflies on a grid pattern, and a Bavarian milkmaid costume worn with braids.

The Buster Brown shoes (first case, lower left) made Zelda feel as though she could run faster than she was capable of. Many skinned knees later, the shoes were taken away.

The Beginnings of Choice (1985-1989)

Although still clothed primarily in hand-me-downs and school uniforms, Zelda was now old enough to select what clothes she would wear from the black garbage bags full of cast-offs that arrived at their house every six or months or so.

Zelda also discovered her mother’s jewelry drawers, which were surprisingly stocked with a treasure trove of high-quality costume jewelry that her mother inexplicably never wore. This was also the era of early Madonna, and Zelda molded her style accordingly, based on the pictures that ran multiple times a week in the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News. Madonna’s poufy skirts and hair tied up with a pair of ripped tights became the de rigeur outfit for little girls living in metro Detroit whose primary goal in life was to get out of Detroit.

This was also the era of neon, which was helpful because neon of poor quality looked identical to neon clothes of good quality, so between hand-me-downs and occasional purchases Zelda could dress in a way that she believed conveyed her personality and ambition.

Outfits of note include, at left, a mid-calf-length white eyelet prairie skirt (hand-me-down) worn with a short-sleeved turquoise cotton polo shirt (hand-me-down), silver PVC flats (Payless), a turquoise nylon scarf tied up in her hair to look like pantyhose (swiped from her mother’s closet), and a pair of clip-on earrings with a circle of agate hanging on a silver chain from a fake pearl. This was her favorite outfit to wear both to church and any time it rained.

Next, we have a first-day-of-school favorite: black cotton stirrup pants (Fashion Bug; never leggings, as these were considered indecent by her mother), neon pink socks with black ink design (hand-me-downs) and an oversized white sweatshirt tunic with pictures of fat cartoon cats wearing headphones and dancing to music (birthday present; accompanied by matching purse than consisted of a sweatshirt material envelope with one cat on it, gripper closure, and thin white cord for slinging it around a shoulder). Boys at school dubbed this the “pregnant cat” outfit, because of the way the cats were oddly drawn as if they were about to deliver a litter, waddling along to the new Paula Abdul album.

During this period, Zelda began collecting old fashion magazines at garage sales. Her first haul was a stack of relatively recent Vogue magazines, weighing in at about 25 pounds. They were full of brocade, ornate, jeweled, and over-the-top clothes, and the perfume inserts were still intact. They informed her sartorial sense for the next decade, as can be seen by the black leather Capezio lace-up oxfords decorated with bronze rivets in an intricate circular pattern, which she wore as her school shoes for three years after determining that the school dress code did not, in fact, expressly prohibit them.

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