The shirts and the vests

December 8th, 2018

Our childhood was heavily influenced by our parents and they picked our clothing for us up to a certain age. With this background of having things decided for us and with a subjective theory about what is good and bad for us, how do we find our style? Do we carry with us our parents’ legacy in our wardrobe forever?

Two people spoke to me about their family history and how they traced their style through time.


Clothes were never a subject of conversation in Mihai’s family, but he fondly remembers the monochrome family photos together with his mother’s scarfs.

“I’ve kept a gray silk scarf that my mother had made out of parts of her wedding dress. Some photos from her youth make me think she knew more about clothes and their meaning than I used to think when I was younger. I think she had good taste in choosing textures, colors, designs, regardless of her body’s transitions. However, my mom and my dad have always had a formal style and they were pretty somber.”

Mihai remembers that most of the time his mother was dressed in suits and skirts, with shoes or small-heeled boots. Since she was working in an office, the formal outfits were mandatory for her job. His father usually dressed in a gray, navy blue or a brown costume. Even around the house, he often wore some suit trousers and some short-sleeved shirts that gave him a serious but silly appearance at the same time.

Throughout his childhood and around his house, Mihai has never heard talks about style or dressing tips, nor does he remember having many clothes. This isn’t to say that clothes haven’t caused him a lot of grief over time. His first displeasure was about the purely functional role of his garments – keeping him warm or to keeping him cool. Second – the revelation that excessive attention for expensive clothes can stem from feelings of self-doubt.

The first signs of dissatisfaction with clothes surfaced during primary school and were closely related to the school uniform. “It was ugly as hell! Wearing a jacket and black pants for five or six hours a day was a nightmare for me. The fabric gripped my shoulders when raising my hand in class, plus it made me feel cold in the winter and sweaty in the summer. “

After giving up uniforms in middle school, Mihai was able to dress in more comfortable and tasteful clothes for class. However, only specific colors – black, gray or navy blue were allowed by the rules of his country (Romania). “I wanted to wear red, green, yellow, but I was not allowed.”

The shirts and the vests seem to have been the leitmotif of his entire childhood, and what’s  more, his identity.

“The shirts and the vests were mandatory when visiting family friends and for events or birthdays. I remember a classmate’s anniversary – while everyone else came dressed very casually, I was the only one there dressed in a shirt and vest. I felt sort of rigid back then, just because my parents insisted for me to adopt a formal style on all occasions.”

In high school, Mihai was short and skinny. “All my colleagues started to buy their clothes according to their taste and size. As for me, being short and thin, I would never find S or XS sizes in stores, so the things I bought were usually M. I felt uncomfortable and my sense of inferiority lingered on. I remember that I once bought a baggy denim jumpsuit and pair of immense shoes with a thick sole, just to show myself that I had a sense of fashion. Once, I bought a pair of shoes so tight that they were actually hurting me. In my mind, I looked good in smaller clothes or shoes. Then followed a frantic search for clothes that would help me move from uncomfortable, rigid and imposed items to functional, comfortable ones that I could pick for myself .”

Finally, during the college years, Mihai began exploring the aesthetic side of his clothes when he went abroad on a scholarship in Italy. “Over there, people wore minimalist clothing, with subtle prints, warm blue, beige, and cream tones. Not to mention the textures and the quality of the fabrics. Since I didn’t know what clothes to wear and how to wear them, I felt embarrassed with my style. With a fairly large effort, I walked in the BOX, a tiny Paduan boutique but cool, and I grabbed my first simple navy-colored t-shirt without any flashy details, and a pair of striped shorts. Plus, my first Converse sneakers. When I had finished my shopping I was feeling like a winner. What a bunch of nonsense! Ask me, though, if I have learned anything out of this.”

Upon his return to Romania, with some money left over from his scholarship, Mihai bought his first pair of Levi’s jeans and a Gsus Industrie jacket, almost to confirm that he had been fooling himself this whole time. “Returning from Italy meant the end of my first serious relationship. I had this stupid urge to buy expensive brands and, because I still didn’t understand that the need for high-priced clothes was strongly linked to emotional poverty, I embraced this superficial process as a healing one. In fact, I subconsciously refused to deal with myself emotionally so I treated myself with shopping therapy. “

The balance in his relationship with clothing came around the age of 30. Another unsuccessful relationship made Mihai realize that he could not carry with him everything he had accumulated:

“The feeling of emotional luggage was the most painful revelation, especially as I specifically associated it with all the stuff that crowded my wardrobe, which I could not, and did not want to carry with me. So I gathered all my clothes in large bags and donated them. I only kept some jeans, a few sweaters and some shirts, all black, gray and navy. I think that this parting with the unworn things has relieved me of the cycle of frustrations.”

Today, Mihai wears clothes in neutral shades, but some spots of color can be noticed in his wardrobe too. “I started to diversify colors because I can play with my emotions again. There is more flexibility there, in my wardrobe. It’s the same with shirts: they have a sense of sobriety and, although in my 20s I had stubbornly refused to wear them, now I can enthusiastically rediscover  them, especially since it is a conscious choice, not a circumstance forced by my parents. Anyway, I’m now at a point where I can buy few clothes at decent prices, so when my wardrobe is full again, I can easily donate part of it without feeling impoverished. Emotionally as well.”