When traveling off-island, my neighbour never bothers to change out of her Haida Gwaii bush wear for the sake of the masses. She unhooks her Leatherman from her belt loop to make it through customs, but that's her sole concession. When she visits her brother in L.A., donning worn out blue jeans, scuffed Blundstones, and windswept hair they tell her she's got the "distressed" look down. If only they could meet the rest of us out here.
I'm thinking of these things because lately I'm having difficulties dressing in anything but rubber boots, stretchy pants, and baggy sweaters. My hair is beyond windswept. I'm wondering what I'm going to wear in Milan when I go to visit my in-laws next month. I fear my mother-in-law may not be aware the distressed look is in on the streets of L.A. The last time I lived there, she often spot-checked my shoes with a scratch of her pinky nail to ensure they were real leather. She examined the slightest of frays and tears, demanding I remove any offending garment while she mended it. My mother-in-law is a fashion drop-out's worst nightmare. Not only is she Italian--born with the blood of Prada and Gucci coursing through her veins--she's a seamstress. Clothes are her business.
One could view my fashion worries as a form of vanity. I see them as an opportunity for a more pleasant visit with my in-laws. This morning, I examined my wardrobe hanging along a piece of driftwood. Most items have yet to be worn on Haida Gwaii. Blouses, skirts, a blazer or two--I started dusting them when I found a spider web forming on the collar of a linen dress. These are the items I've decided to keep because they seemed like good quality, like something my mother-in-law would approve of. Now, after scanning the Milano Fall 2010 fashions, I realize every single thing I own will simply emphasize the rubber-boot donning bush girl I've become.
I realize that one of the greatest joys of living here is to abandon any pretext of fashion. Eventually, you find your uniform--something comfortable and adaptable--an outfit you can wear while splitting wood, walking on the beach, collecting eggs in the chicken coop. A colour that hides stains well. A fabric that breathes. It helps that no one seems to notice what others are wearing around here (unless for some reason you put on something like a white blouse, which would elicit a "Hey, you're all dressed up!"). People around here tend to look into one another's eyes instead of looking you up and down.
When I go to the city--any city--cities I formerly thought of as dowdy--I get nervous. It's just like highschool all over again. I unpack my bag and sift through my wrinkly, wood-smoky clothes and panic. I can never find anything to wear. I long for my Haida Gwaii uniform. I long to look like my hip friends who dress as effortlessly as Italians. Whatever I manage to put together looks all wrong the moment I step on the street and stand in front of a full-length shop window filled with--guess what?--trendy rubber boots.
I know these worries are all in my mind. Someone once told me that self-confidence is one's biggest fashion statement. But could it be the other way around? Could the absence of fashion be the biggest statement of self-confidence? Could not looking in a mirror every day signal self-awareness rather than self-neglect? Will Milan embrace the fashion of non-fashion when I arrive next month? Not likely. But this time, I'm packing my uniform.