I'm a punk rock kid, much to my mother's chagrin.
"When I was little, did I ever let you dress me?" I asked my mother.
"Yeah," she replied. "When you were a little girl you loved it." I was shocked.
"When did that stop?"
"When you got your period," she answered immediately. Apparently overnight — and this is no exaggeration, she insists — I went from adorable and malleable to tough and rigid. I went from answering the phone with "I miss you, mommy. I love you. When are you coming home?" to "Yeah, what do you want?"
Since that fateful red day, most of my clothes turned black, my makeup turned heavy and dramatic, and I got myself piercings and tattoos. You will rarely see me wear something not related to some kind of hardcore band and my black knit cap with the word "UNUSUAL" in large, creepy letters stitched on it, which I believe perfectly sums up my soul.
This is why, for years, my mother and I have been locked in an endless and emotionally taxing game of fashion tug-of-war.
Every Christmas and birthday have been a dreaded ordeal because I knew she would always get me the one thing I begged her not to get me: clothes. After 10 or so years of dressing in the dark punk style I grew fond of, she still didn’t get it. She would shop for the daughter she wanted me to be, buying garments with (gasp!) colors and floral patterns, and not the daughter she actually had.
To me, fashion has always been more than just a frivolous issue. It's a physical representation of the kind of person that I am. I enjoyed (and still enjoy) dressing like a punk and a hardcore kid because it’s part of a lifestyle I grew up in and a culture that I love. It's representative of the works of art, the music, the history and the ethics of those movements.
My mother’s inability to come to terms with or understand my fashion choices, then, was really her inability to come to terms with and understand me.
It wasn’t until last year (I'm 23) that she finally began to get a clue about my style. She finally agreed to keep clothes off the table as gifts, but she started to get a knack for buying the right kind of shoes and boots.
Still, when I told her that she was going to have the chance to dress me for a week as an experiment, she didn’t let all those years of wasted clothes she'd bought and returned fade to memory. Instead, my mother gleefully saw this as an opportunity for "payback" — her words.
Here's what happened when I let my mom dress me for a week.
DAY ONE: Jeans without holes
She started off with a simple command. Her first order of business was to ensure that I put on a pair of jeans without holes. To give you an idea of how difficult that is, all of my jeans have holes and rips except for two pairs.
Part of the punk look is to appear decidedly not in tact, mind you. (Besides, I like my ripped jeans because they show off my leg tattoos.) But here on Day One of the challenge, my mom dressed me as “normal” as she could.
DAY TWO: Black turtleneck, black jeans, black heels, hair up, red lipstick
Initially, my mother wanted me to wear a dress to a coffee meeting I was to have with a work contact. I know I was supposed to let her have full control, but this was important so I said told her, "Absolutely not."
So, what she came up with instead was simple and NYC casual: Black and covered. The color (or lack of it) I didn’t have a problem with. However, the outfit was a little boring for my usual taste.
DAY THREE: Beige and black top with a HUGE necklace
I believe my facial expression says it all here. The top was one thing, but I sincerely believe that necklace could take over the world if left to its own devices. Maybe someone else could pull it off, but on me, it felt horribly wrong.
This was the definitive low point of the week. I felt like I was at a total disconnect with myself. I couldn't wait to take these things off.
DAY FOUR: Old Hollywood; long gown, slit skirt, plunging back
I’ve got to admit, Day Four was when I actually started having fun. Ironically, this was a dress my mom had tried to give me for Christmas one year that I had rejected. The reason? My boyfriend summed it up pretty well when he first saw it on the hanger as one long, amorphous, black blob: "Is that my Halloween costume?" he asked.
But when I tried it on, I was forced to swallow my pride. I actually kind of liked it. It made me feel classic. When it was time to take it off, my mom said, "OK, I’ll take it back." "That’s OK," I replied. "I can keep it." Now all that’s needed is for someone to invite me to walk down the red carpet...
DAY FIVE: Dark housewife
Now feeling a little more optimistic about this experiment, I entered Day Five feeling excited to keep playing dress up. It became kind of like a game of pretend, like mothers and daughters play during childhood.
This time I was given a dress that immediately made me feel like a fancy pin-up or a housewife. I instantly ran to the kitchen, poured myself a glass of wine and cried out, "DOES ANYONE NEED A POT ROAST?!" My mom rolled her eyes, but she laughed!
DAY SIX: Leopard print blouse and disco top
All I can say is now I know what it’s like to feel like a cast member of The Real Housewives of New Jersey and a disco ball all at the same time. If only I had 4-inch long acrylic nails to go with it.
DAY SEVEN: Maternity/Willy Wonka
For the last outfit, my mom wanted to put me back in something more comfortable. She also wanted to give a splash of color to the week. That’s how I ended up with this purple maternity-like shirt.
All I could think about while wearing it was that the shirt made me feel pregnant and also weirdly like I was the character Violet Beauregarde from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
When the long week of experimentation came to an end and I was finally able to slip on my own clothes again, it felt like a major relief.
Putting on a t-shirt with a sad Edgar Allan Poe face on it felt like cuddling up in bed after an extremely long day at work. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it at all. Even though most of it made me cringe, letting my mom pick out my outfits for the first time in years was a sweet little bonding experience. And as bonding experiences go, my mom and I don’t do a lot of those.
Even when I was growing up, play time between the two of us was scarce. She was a single mom working hard to keep us afloat. We didn’t interact much. So now, even as I get farther along in adulthood, I appreciate whatever play time we do get, even if it does mean I have to look ridiculous once in a while.