Crikey, how time flies when you have to do your own laundry. We’ve been here over a year already and among the many things (the tumble drier, my nerves, the bottle opener) that have started showing signs of wear and tear, are my clothes. They weren’t new when we moved here and life with two small children has done them no favours.
So, you say, bag them, donate them and go shopping.
Except … except … these are my South African clothes. Along with tomato sauce and red wine, these clothes are impregnated with meaning.
There’s my black V-necked jersey, worn like a uniform, washed every night and put back on every day while I was so busy raising two small children that I didn’t look in a mirror for months at a time.
And my running shoes, which have been with me for so many kilometres. They’ve been falling apart for a while but now that I’m running on actual forest roads instead of the treadmill, I find the holes in the toes let in too much mud.
And my pale pink tweed coat, which a stranger at a party said made me look like Nicole Kidman. I was carrying about ten kilos of new-baby fat at the time, and I hadn’t slept for two months. Not only can I not toss this wonderful coat out … I actually feel I owe it something.
But the things I’m struggling the most to get rid of are three A-line, floor length skirts. The heavy blue one I bought twelve years ago when I turned 30 and my then-boyfriend-now-husband pointed out that I was a grown up and had to stop wearing jeans to weddings. The light khaki green one has an abstract fabric outline of an impala’s head on the front, and it makes me think of the Kruger Park in winter. The third skirt is made of a satiny magenta patchwork-style fabric, which I thought was very classy until I saw a huge pile of cushions covered in exactly the same fabric at the China Mall in Main Reef Road. No matter. I can’t imagine many people around here would have been at the China Mall recently.
Anyway, the point is, I can’t get rid of these skirts because throwing them away is like throwing away a bit of my South African self. And I haven’t found anything Swiss yet to replace that.
I certainly haven’t seen any clothes as joyful here. The style in this part of Swissland is very understated: well made pieces in neutral colours; nothing either very short or very long; nothing with animal heads painted on the front*. If I want anything unusual I’m going to have to mobilise my import distribution channel (i.e. ask my mother) to send me some shweshwe fabric from the Plaza and then pay someone here to make it up for me. That solution has a nice fusion feel to it. It’s still my South African style but at Swiss prices. Winner!
And my old skirts? Maybe the solution is to turn them into museum pieces. A few years ago my mother gave me two of her evening dresses from the 70s. One is hot purple, skin tight, slit to the thigh and heavy with fake gold embellishments. The other is even tighter with black and white stripes.
I’m never going to wear either of these dresses but I keep them because they remind me that my mother had a life apart from me once, a self I had no idea about. Who on earth was this mother-creature who went out at night and showed off her legs in tight purple dresses? The mother I know thinks wearing open-toed sandals is daring.
And where did she go to, once she was all dressed up? Did she dance? Did she have a drink or two, laugh too loudly, embarrass my father? I’d like to think so.
So maybe I’ll hold onto my skirts and give them to my daughters one day. They can hang them in their wardrobes and wonder what my life was like all those years ago, back before I was ‘Mom’. Back when I was still young and living dangerously** in beautiful, insanely complicated South Africa. Back when I really thought I knew who I was, and who I was going to become.
* Of course I’m talking about chain stores. You can get anything you want at the boutiques in Geneva but I’d feel bad blowing our annual food budget on a skirt.
** I lived in the suburbs of Joburg. Ergo …