The Zombies Ate My Brains

Rescuing what might remain of the grey matter.

Dressing Down

Mom was handy with the sewing machine. She made a lot of our clothing or altered the neighbour’s hand-me-downs. She was forever lamenting how quickly we grew. Either she purchased, sewed, or mended our clothing and that meant additional expense, time, and effort to keep us outfitted.

She was a “frequent flyer” at the nearby textile shop. Even though she browsed the bolts of fabric displayed on the “new this season” table, she eventually wound up buying whatever was on sale or in the remnant bin.

She even cut the toes out of our sneakers so we could get through a summer without the need for replacements.

I was a difficult child to fit, according to mom’s complaints. I was tall for my age. When I was twelve or thirteen, I shot up four inches to 5’8” and finished growing two inches later. Even if money were no object, I was too tall for most of the “misses” fashions of the day.

So. (Or do I mean, “sew”?) This is my heritage. Clothing is considered a pain in the tuckus. Make do. It’s a frill, a luxury. It is also something to be considered with disdain. Certainly this was the message when Dad spoke with condescension about the “clothes horse” women with whom I’d be working when I was hired on at Bell.

Is that why I don’t care that my “at home” clothes are stretched and tired and stained? I finally discarded a nightgown this year. It was at least 15 years old and almost sheer from wear. Not sheer in a good way, either.

Is that why I buy most of my clothes at the terrific little consignment shop downtown? Is that why I didn’t go to a hair salon until I was in my early 20’s? That inaugural visit marks one of THE most excruciating social experiences of my life. Up until that point, Mom trimmed my bangs at the kitchen table. I had my eyebrows waxed for the first time in 2012.

My blogging friend Helen Meikle wrote about her hesitation to buy herself a new pair of p.j.’s and wondered about

…the line we draw between what we allow ourselves and what we don’t; between what we accept and encourage in other people, but not in ourselves. I’m ten times harder on myself than I’d dream of being on other people, and if I lapse from my self-imposed rigour, the guilt all but destroys the pleasure.

She asked, “Does this ring a bell?”

I replied, “You bet, but more along the lines of a reverse vanity, for me.”

She wrote back, “Is it reverse vanity, though, or is it a form of hiding?”

I was at a loss to answer that! I thought that by composing this post, I might find some clarity.

I dress down. I am aware of the appeal of flamboyant clothing. But there’s nothing eccentric about my wardrobe. Unless you count a man’s short-sleeved dress shirt adorned with flamingo pink embroidery as eccentric. That and the size 2 XX-large engineer overalls for when I’m out rock collecting. And the hat. The iconic floppy white hat.

You don’t see recent pictures of me here or elsewhere on social media. I’m “out there” in the sense that I’ve got nothing to hide in the written word. In the image department, however…

Then there is the other meaning of the term “dressing down.


Dressing down


I told Helen, “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.” I think I have my answer.







Categories: Personal Growth


51 replies

  1. how about ‘casual inelegance’?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OOOOH. Well I’ve got one child who is 11 and nearly my size, so I can relate to your mother’s woes. I call her my giantesse. At nine months she grew into her 18month clothes and has never stopped! She loves clothes. Picky, picky, picky. Her closet is about 1/4 full, and that’s all seasons. Anything I purchase for her is lucky to fit for a few months, so I don’t buy a lot. I do tend to buy her better items, knowing I still have another child who will wear them after her, but still $$$ and I don’t know that Moo will ever wear the shoes…Moo is petite, like her mother.

    At home, I’m 90% pajamas and 10% jeans and tees. I dress well when I go out. “Better to be overdressed than overlooked,” my mama says. People treat you differently when you look put together. It sucks, but it’s true. I do not like to fuss over clothes. Basics. Always basics for me. I’m a fan of buying one or two classic pieces a season, period. My clothes have to feel good on me. They’re hard to find, but like I said, just a few pieces a season.
    Don’t dress yourself down, it keeps people from seeing who you are. Especially when you’re wearing a men’s pink flamingo shirt…

    BUT! I will say, one of my Instagram daily challenges was “I wore this” and I rolled my eyes and decided to skip it. I’m not girly enough for that. Who cares what I wore when?!?


  3. I think we had the same mom!! Except for the shoes, but then we lived in flip flops all summer. It was hot in Idaho.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 😀 That’s good to know that you can relate, Iris. Flips-flops reminds me… Mom would REFUSE to buy us the flip-flops with the thong between the toes. I distinctly recall her expression of disgust, as if there was something nasty and low-class about that style. Huh. Go figure.


  4. I love clothes and always have. For me retirement has been a struggle to not buy clothes because I don’t need them and I wear jeans and tops almost all the time. I do like comfort but like joeyfullystated, I like a few good outfits I can use when the occasion presents itself. I don’t like my picture taken but I do take it and display it. I feel ok about how I look so why not.


    • Hey Kate. I envy, a little bit, your comfort. It’s something I am working on.

      Whenever we go on our hikes or trips, hubby takes lots of pictures. And always, he wants me to pose. For scale, he says. Ugh. I have yet to take a picture that I am truly happy with. And I let’s not even talk about the passport or driver’s licence photos! Scary!


  5. I toss my clothes when they fall off me, replace them at the Senior Center. Actually, I’m well dressed considering how it used to be. Yep, learned to sew if I wanted anything new. Remnants were a part of my life. BTW, I no longer like to sew.


  6. My Mom is/was a seamstress…unbelievably, she could come up with ideas as to how to revitalize an old piece/recycle piece of clothing. I lived in re-sewn/recyclable items until I graduated from high school.

    Thank goodness, my undergarments were not re-purposed… I remember a grade 4 trip to the shoe store. I was with my dad…(rare occasion), and oh and behold if my shoe size hadn’t jumped from size of 5 to 6…(Canadian size in those days) my, my, my what drama …I had grown…UNBELIEVABLE

    Now get a hold of this, my mom sewed her own undergarments too…brassieres et al…Why do you ask…to save TO SAVE money for groceries to maintain status quo with my dad.

    I hate sewing and I do only the necessary mending tasks as long as it holds my outer trousers!!! And honestly I am pleased with this achievement.

    Admitting to this, I have thrown out two items this year: a t-shirt belonging to my husband dating 1978, (a t-shirt he used as an undergarment when fighting forest fire with the Ministry of Natural Resources) no kidding, it had become a see-through with a large tear at the front & back. What devastation! The other, a pair of cotton shorts, the real cotton stuff that is; it was badly frayed up to you know where! None of these items were good enough to be recycled. Imagine…NOT RE USABLE in my lexicon…

    And yes, I do dress down…not that I was always there! The only gala I go to is from the house to the barn when the cows are calving!! And Maggie…YOU know what I mean!!


    • Thank you SO much Missy, for your terrific comment. ❤ As a matter of fact, your story, the story of the previous galas in your life was in the back of my mind as I wrote this. I know you can relate.

      I have to laugh at your shoe store story – though I suppose at the time for you there was nothing funny about it, knowing the players as I do.

      Now, this, the fact that your mom sewed is something I have forgotten! Even her BRAS!? Did that really save money? It must have, or otherwise why do through the hassle of that little endeavour?

      Thanks again, Missy.


  7. It makes me wonder who told us we had to dress up. I recall my formative years were spent watching my dazzling big sister make a conscious decision about dressing. Being a child of the sixties, her inclination was to throw off the yolk of the plastic “mid century modern” aesthetic for the much more appealing hippie ethic of letting it all hang out. I, of course followed suit. Mom could dress like Jackie O, but us, never! She was the bra burning generation. I was delighted. In any case, for me, at a certain point being comfortable in your clothes means being comfortable in your own skin. I could wear 4-inch leopard heels, but I’d feel like a fool and a fraud. I get dressed up when I have to. The rest of the time fagedabodit. No T-shirt is too big, no elastic waist too forgiving. Life is too short to give into the fascisties of fashion. Btw, my mom made my clothes, too. I was always so thrilled when she brought home another chubby McCalls pattern for a sweet “A-line” dress ala Omar the Tent a Maker. Sigh.


    • “It makes me wonder who told us we had to dress up” – my answer? Disney and Hollywood and Hallmark. The ad industry. Red Book and Chatelaine and Family Circle. This requirement to dress up was such a strong message in my household that I, a child of the 60’s, perceived the “hanging out” ethic of the day as frightening and offensive. Not that I felt that way myself, but I picked up on the sentiment that my parents expressed.

      Hm. Makes me wonder, if I were older or had an older sister like you, would that have made the difference? Perhaps, eh?

      I know EXACTLY what you mean about the 4″ heels and leopard print fraud. The few times that I did dress in current fashion I felt like I was dressed for the circus. Oh! This reminds me of a make-up party I went to. I volunteered to be the model for the lady selling the cosmetics. She did her thing, painting and powdering. After I posed for the rest of the ladies, I looked in a mirror and was horrified! I looked like Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Squared.


  8. Clothes horse over here! However, I just spent a guilt-free $24 on a “new” ensemble at my local consignment store. It was 60% off so I’m a frugal clotheshorse. That’s a bit of any oxymoron in’t?


  9. I hate dressing up. I always have. I hate being in “someone else’s clothes.” The fancy clothes I LIKE, however, I really like though just now I don’t have any (because I don’t like my body at the moment and I know in these days I’m supposed to be all like, “Every body is beautiful” and “Accept yourself” and “I’ve been brow-beaten into thinking Barbie is beautiful” but I’m actually NOT like that. As with clothes, I like things that fit and function and my body isn’t doing those two things right now very well — how could it? It’s arthritic and my recent life of driving 2 hours/day to get to school and teaching between 6 – 10 hours/day and grading papers after hasn’t really contributed to an active lifestyle… So, we’ll see. There have been times when I have liked my body (looks and function) and liked the clothes I had. It could happen again. BTW, I used to sew most of my clothes. I started sewing as a little girl, 6 years old when I first had a needle in my hand, stitching a pot-holder. Then I did a sampler. Then I used a sewing machine. 🙂 Basically I wear LL Bean canvas shorts, flip-flops and a punk-rock t-shirt. I’m happy to follow that trend for the rest of my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Martha – yes, the function part. That’s another factor. Sorry to learn about the arthritis. I know how much you enjoy hiking your mountains.

      Yes, the acceptance part is somewhere in the distance for me. Until I banish the bathroom scales or until I can look into a mirror without a critical eye…


  10. I thought this was a post about a dressing-gown …
    Oh. It almost is ! [grin]


  11. This is why I’m happy to have boys and boys who don’t care what they wear. I loathe clothes shopping. Except if I’m buying dresses to put the wind up people I know. 😉


  12. My mum used to sew my clothes, till I started objecting as a teenager. Really don’t need to dress up these days, casually dressed suits our life style.
    Enjoyed your post.


  13. I sewed my own clothes once I began high school. I haven’t bothered sewing for a few decades but decided to make myself something to wear to a wedding last year. In my younger years I would not leave the house without full make-up and dressed decent. But then, when I just wanted to pop into town and grab one thing I’d pop on a bit of mascara and lippy and GUMBOOTS – the just popping in from the farm look!

    Getting dressed up is peer pressure thing. Since being with Mr R I rarely even wear make-up and people hardly recognise me in the supermarket if I venture in without Mr and my work clothes. Actually, I’ve gone a bit feral! 😀


  14. I can relate to dressing down; my house clothes and pj’s get worn to disintegration. But I do like to dress nice and wear make-up when I go out. I didn’t use to; I was married for 28 years to someone who didn’t like that. He liked overalls and natural beauty….. YOUNG natural beauty.
    I found myself out on my own at 55 and very depressed. I started watching “What Not to Wear” and found that I was still dressing for HIM. It helped point out that I would look at clothes at the store and think “I love this but I would never wear it.” Or “That’s an old lady store” At 60 years old I’m still saying “… old ladies store….” How old do you have to be? So I “stepped out of my comfort zone” and it’s great! I would love to buy more shoes!
    I’m still hoping to attract someone; the right kind of someone so I try and look my best when I go out. Even when I’m in a hurry and just running out to the store, I have to put on some eyebrows as I have just a few hairs. I have perfected natural looking fake eyebrows.
    I just feel better when I look better and when you battle depression this is a MUST DO. But if you feel like a fraud and phony….. you’re wearing the wrong thing!


    • Hello! Thanks for reading and I do appreciate your wonderful comment. So sorry to hear about the “YOUNG natural beauty”. A devastating time for you.

      You make a very good point about taking care to dress in a way that makes you feel good, whether it’s for looks or for comfort. I feel better in comfy clothing. I feel better in clean clothing. If it is old or out of style, it does not matter to me. But it might to someone else. As you say, if you feel like a fraud or are in anyway uncomfortable, listen to that voice and take care of your need.


  15. Lovely funny post, which rings many bells for me, too! Bless you, Maggie, I love your writing. xx 🙂


  16. I would consider writing or replying with an in depth answer to your wonderful post, Maggie, but my head just doesn’t want to think today.

    Truth be told — you already know the answers you seek – for all the reasons you choose to “dress” yourself —- like so many others, we go through phases where we play “hide and seek” — mostly with ourselves.

    It’s all a process. And when you’re ready, you’ll allow yourself some sunshine — and yeah, even force yourself to love yourself a little more enough to “spoil” yourself with some new small clothing adventure.

    You’re great Maggie — just as you are 🙂


  17. Thank you so much for the mention, Maggie! And for your interest. I was also 5’10” (I’ve shrunk a bit since) and they didn’t even stock school shoes my size at the local store. So no miss’s fashions for me either, and a great desire to be as unobtrusive as it’s possible to be when you’re taller than everyone else, and feel like a freak. Being overlooked was far better than being overdressed!.
    When I do dress up, I shock the socks off everyone, but the occasions on which I want to make an impression are few and far between. Quiall’s ‘casual inelegance’ sounds perfect, to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This reminded me that there used to be such a thing as Quaker pride. Quakers believe in plain and simple. But it used to be that the wealthier a Quaker was the plainer and simpler their clothes became. It was the poorest Quakers that wore the frilly stuff. ‘Course it was thrift shop frilly stuff that was hand-me-downs. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?


  19. I suspect that the richer ones inner life is, the more one values ideas over things, the more one finds the concept of fashion utter shallow and lacking in substantive value. They say clothes make the person, but… books and covers. When I think of nappy suit-wearing men, the first types that spring to mind are shyster lawyers, crooked politicians and used-car salesmen.

    Clothes are just something I put on my body to protect my skin (and other people’s delicate sensibilities). To me there is only one criteria: Comfort. Mine. XD

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must chuckle ironically [chuck-chuck-chuckle] since I spent the weekend dressed mostly in old grubby clothes, up to my elbows is dirt, digging for crystals. Makes my blog post seem a bit “otherworldly”.

      I wish I could adopt your approach with the same 100% conviction. I like comfort. I like my comfort. But I still keep one eye on the observer for any hint of disdain or mirth. Enh. Such small potatoes, but my potatoes all the same.


  20. I guess we are the last generation that had most of our clothes made by our mothers. I wasn’t really happy wearing homemade clothes … I think a lot of it had to do with having a sister only 18 months younger than me. My mother made us identical clothes – mine always blue, and my sister’s were pink or red. Most people thought we were twins. To this day I rarely wear blue and my sister NEVER wears pink.
    I’ve always liked to dress up and wear pretty clothes. I still do 🙂
    Admittedly, however, since I’ve retired I’m usually in jeans and some kind of t-shirt. Dress ups now are few and far between.



  1. Clothes Horse | The Zombies Ate My Brains

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