Saturday, 8 July 2017

Nakedness and the subconscious mind

So, basically, these are my clothes.

The ones on the shelf

and the ones hanging on the door

and they are enough for everything I need.

I love my clothes. They are comfy and plain, unobtrusive and modest, soft and quiet. They aren’t scratchy and they don’t rustle. They aren’t tight or restricting. I can bend and stretch and walk and work in them. The colours (dark, muted) suit me. The shapes suit my body. They wash and wear. They are made of natural fibres. They are stretchy and accommodating. They layer to follow the seasons.

Yes. I do.

But I have noticed – only gradually because I am slow to catch on  a 3-Part Phenomenon.

When something is required of me, a thing happens.

By ‘something’, I mean
  • a party
  • a speaking engagement
  • a preaching appointment
  • a funeral to conduct
  • a seminar to lead at a conference
  • a quiet day to conduct 

~ suddenly my clothes seem not enough (that’s Part 1). In response (Part 2), I start buying new clothes.

My clothes look very ordinary – boring, even – but I assure you, finding just the right things is not easy. Successful additions are not readily acquired. So then we come to Part 3 – after the event I develop an aversion to the new acquisitions – can’t bear them – don’t even want to look at them – refuse to put them by in case they come in handy in the future  and get rid of them. Because my clothes – my regular clothes – are the ones I want. I have enough.

And I realize, this is like one of those dreams – you know? Where you are out in the street or somewhere in the public eye, and you find you have no clothes on. You are naked. Caught out.

Everyone knows in these dreams the problem is psychological, not sartorial. The issue is about a feeling of inadequacy, not about the contents of your wardrobe.

And I see, this is what happens to me when something is required of me. My Top Mind (Mrs Collins) knows I can do it, and is keen to pursue the project, especially if it earns money. But my Underneath Mind (Ember, glowing under the ashes) is terrified, feeling unsupported and out of her depth. So Ember decides to get some dressing-up clothes that will hopefully allow her to pass off as Mrs Collins, and it all goes fine until afterwards – because she really only wants to be herself, not Mrs Collins at all.

I think for the future I’m going to turn down opportunities where I cannot be comfortable in my own skin. Because frankly they have earned me a pittance and cost me a fortune.

I am Ember, and I have enough.


Anonymous said...

Hi Penelope,
I have noticed the same thing, buying clothes because I feel inadequate to a task I must attend to but don't really want to do. Like traveling. Which i really dislike. Or selling myself which is what I call it because that is what it feels like (networking which is what it's actually called) that I have to do for work. Exhausting. Humiliating. Lately, I have been concerned about my appearance because I have to to "sell" my image - on websites to promote my therapy practice so I can make a living. What Moms say when you are little is true, I guess. If you make "that face" it will stay that way! I was never a smiler, and now in my sixties my grumpy face precedes me into every encounter I have. Been trying to smile more now. Praying God will help lighten my countenance.

Chantal said...

It sounds as if we are in the same boat torn between to have and not have, because we have the choice. Many people in the world don't have the choice. Everything is too easy to get without much effort, just some money.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi DMW - yes, networking asks a lot of the human spirit! I like your prayer. xx

Hi Chantal - yes indeed - for so many people in the world simplicity or even absolute poverty and deprivation is their daily reality.

Deborah said...

Just wear the clothes you are comfortable wearing to the parties/speaking engagements etc...problem solved :-D That's all I would do. People can take me as they find me if that's a problem, it's their problem, not mine.

Suze said...

I have always hated the fuss that seems to go with clothes right from when I was very small. My knickers were scratchy and made from dad's old shirts. The kids at school used to tease me because this was rare in the early 70's. Mum made almost everything and it meant many fitting with pins. Pins that stab and hurt. As an adult I still avoid much to do with clothing. But my jeans are falling down and ill fitting. I far prefer to buy to fit but I even hate shopping. Meanwhile my mother is always after me to buy more. At present my clothing overwhelms me and hopefully, soon, I will be able to cull the wardrobe.

I am so pleased that you share your ideas and ways you cope and live within your plans.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah, yes, Debs - that sounds like common sense!

Hi Suze - there have been so many things in your life for you to process and come to terms with; other people's burdens to carry. Recently, I think when I was reading Greg McEowan's book 'Essentialism' (?), I came across the perspective that we should respect other people's property and not appropriate it as our own - and that includes their problems. Perhaps it is time for your mother to mind her own business. I hope you manage to find your way to a peaceful, comfortable, pleasing set of clothes that fits perfectly and makes you feel at home in what you wear. xx

kat said...

Oh yes! Just be you dear thing xxx

Jen Liminal Luminous said...

every time I cut my clothes down to this I find the problem of not being able to wash and dry them fast enough, I do need a clean top everyday in this weather, not least because at least twice a day I go out walking with the dog. One of those walks tend to be get changed into dog walking clothes, with a merino t-shirt so I can wear it several days without it smelling, but even so I do need a clean top each day. I'm a bit of a sweaty betty. When I used to run I would stay red for a couple of hours afterwards, and even after swimming I stay bright red for an hour of so.

but yes, if I get suddenly called to do something which doesn't fit with me, I feel like I need new clothes. But now I have a nice top and a nice pair of trousers for when I am called on for something nice. The rest of the time I am ok as I am, for the most part. But I do feel like this is an area riddled with issues...

Pen Wilcock said...

Kat ~
Today, we were by the ocean. I didn't take my swimmers, because the pebbles are sooo painful, and I thought, Oh I won't go in. And then all the others were swimming in the sea, and I very NEARLY thought, well who cares about these strangers on the shore nearby, I'm going to take off everything and just be me - me and the sea. But I didn't. I just thought it.

Jen ~ oh yes. More issues than Vogue.
Are you coming to my September quiet day? Just so you know, I think it will be the last one I do. And oddly I think my inner mind must have known this, since the subject I chose for the day is "Turning out the lights". xx

Suze said...

Pen I would love to visit you on a Quiet Day. It is just so far. The sad thing is that I have the last of may travel insurance for the year. I would dearly go to England for more than a few days. My daughter is expecting my first grandchild in late September. I went shopping for a pair of shoes today because I ruined mine over the weekend. I only bought pair. One in and one out.

I love the story of you day by the ocean. I hate my present swimmers and have just purchased medium length black leggings for when I walk in the pool. I hope you day was refreshing for you all. God bless.

Pen Wilcock said...

How exciting that your daughter's baby is coming in September, Suze! Blessings on that birth, peace and good health to mother and child. xx

Anonymous said...

I have a new job starting in September and I'm certainly in a panic about needing new clothes which are smart enough and "me" enough.

Julie B. said...

I am drawn to the colors of your clothing. I could live in navy, black and gray.

I would like to visit your Quiet Day.

God bless you and all of yours, dear Ember. xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

Anonymous ~ exactly ~ that thing. I hope all goes well and you enjoy your new role. x

Julie B ~ yes. And the deep wine red; and also a colour, hard to find, called "Indian teal" - a very deep shade of teal. When a dear friend was training as a colour consultant, she 'did' my colours for me, and I came out as a jewel autumn. Daring tones of brilliant strong blue-green and red-orange and gold/mustard suit me best of all. The trouble is, they don't suit my personality. I need the quiet ones. The vibration of the bright colours wears me out. I got a top on eBay recently, at an almost giveaway price from a private seller. In the photos it was that deep, quiet Indian teal. When it came, it was a strong, vibrant peacock blue. Looked brilliant on me, but went straight to the charity shop. I just have to be clothed in quietness, left in peace.
Oh - I wish you could come to our quiet day. It would be perfect to have you there, and you'd love the retreat centre. xx

Deborah said...

My favourite colours to wear are navy blue and white and I'm happiest in a blue skirt and white T-shirt but my T-shirts are also red, pink, emerald, bright blue, denim blue, lilac and burgundy. I do have a yellow T-shirt but I only usually wear it with my green skirt. A couple of mine aren't strictly 'winter' colours but they make me happy :-D

Pen Wilcock said...

Well, that makes sense to me - I have all plain dark bottoms - black skirt or black trousers, and any variation of colour on the top. Do you wear patterns, Deb, or just solid colour? My tops are *all* Evans long-sleeved basic t-shirts - they have crew necks, so are modest, but the kind of low crew that doesn't rise up and grab you round the throat (my profile icon photo shows what I mean). x

Deborah said...

Although predominately solid colours I used to be a bit of a patterned person but nice 80s pretty flowery patterns. I have yet to see patterned fabrics these days that look nice. Most of them are hideous (for clothes, not crafts) So many outfits I see people in I think, 'why on earth did the manufacturer think that was a good choice?!' So I'm totally plain, either Evans or Cotton Traders and I have 3 skirts, a blue cord skirt, a red skirt and that green cotton you sent me. I think I have about 14 T-shirts at the moment...4 of them are white :-D

Pen Wilcock said...

How peaceful. That sounds lovely. x

Rapunzel said...

"Because my clothes-my regular clothes-are the ones I want."

Yes--that is also my feeling exactly!
When I got the boss lady job I needed new clothes, because frankly my little collection of faded dresses I sewed in 2007 do not suit the role of boss lady. Then because I was the boss lady and moved up to working full days five days a week I hadn't time to shop for good fabrics and sew a new set of clothes.
To solve the dilemma I found good seamstresses and ordered some skirts and blouses and jumpers that I can mix and match, and on one level they've served the purpose well enough. They keep me covered decently. But in two years of wearing them they don't feel like me. You'd think I'd have gotten over that, but no.
Consequently I've found some good homespun cloth in quiet colors and begun sewing simple dresses from my old pattern of a decade ago. Two done so far, and I'm awfully happy with them already. When I've gotten the whole lot sewn then all the boughten skirts and blouses can go to the thrift store and be found by someone they suit!!!

I love, love, love to look at pictures of pretty clothes, all colors, all kinds. But my real clothes are the ones I want.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah ~ cotton homespun ~ the best fabric *ever*. I love it. Send me pics when you've made a dress (you still have my email address?) x

Rapunzel said... I don't have your email address. I have your house address ; )

Pen Wilcock said...

I think I have yours. Oh. No, I can no longer find it. I used to have it.


rebecca said...

Happened to me - again. Just like you described
I actually DO need a new (different) black skirt and gray skirt as the two I have are beginning to "bead" as I call it. SO difficult to find suitable length and washable fabric in a skirt these days. Not to MENTION realistic cost!

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh yes - I haunt eBay, waiting for garments in the brand, fabric, size, cut and colour I like (with long sleeves!) to come up second-hand at prices I am prepared to pay!

Anonymous said...

No more Quiet Days with Pen! Oh no! Sob! Ah, well, that's another good reason to attend your next (final?) one on Wednesday 18 October, at Penhurst. :)

Clothes: I am a big fan of the theory that people should wear the right colours for them. I'm a Spring, which means I can wear warm, bright (but not TOO bright) colours, e.g. soft greeny-blues, teal, aqua and turquoise (my favourite), primrose and yellow lemons, mossy and lime greens, peach and coral. I am allowed to wear yellow-reds (not pinky-reds) but whenever I wear red I feel very agitated, so I don't wear it. It's not the colour of fire and danger for nothing (!) The colours should not overwhelm you: you wear them, not the other way round. I am happiest in blues and greens - restful colours that complement my skin tone.

I like comfortable, soft clothing preferably made from natural fabrics - cotton, linen, silk. I can't bear frilliness and fuss, or stiff suits.

Colours are beautiful and I like to wear a splash of colour in winter, when EVERYONE is in black and grey. Which is why my favourite winter coat is coral.

- Philippa

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, wow! All those colours came before my mind's eye as I read - so pretty!
Stiff suits? Aaaaagh noooooo!
It will be lovely to see you in October.

rebecca said...

It's been awfully "quiet" over there at the "quiet way"....
Missing you and your thoughts. Praying all is well and will be well. ♥

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, Rebecca - I'm so grateful for your prayers for me. I've had some health and life issues, and some Bible studies to write for publication; but lots of thoughts too, which will doubtlessly find their way onto the page here before too long. I hope all is well with you. xx

rebecca said...

All is well where it counts :)
Looking forward to what thoughts find their way here.....
I lift your "issues" and responsibilities to the "throne" as I type. ♥

Pen Wilcock said...


Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Hi - I look forward to reading your posts. This one rings very true with me. I know I have enough clothes for my general needs but I check ebay for fleeces from Maine at Debenhams & M&S Zip cardigans & clarks ankle boots. These items are some of my staple clothing and are either too expensive in the shops or are now no longer available. This leads me to looking for other items which I think will be life transforming when I win the bid and they arrive in the post! Sometimes I get a bargain but quite often I wonder why I bought the item - some items I think have gone beyond being re- sold! I am like you and can't wait to be rid of the clothes which I thought would be wonderful! This confirms to me I really do have enough clothes - my advice to myself - stop looking on ebay!! A book I have just finished reading is Living with less: the upside of downsizing your life by Mark Tabb which is a good read. I have also read your book about simplifying your life which I enjoyed. Hope your quiet retreat went well. Thank you again for all you share with us.

Pen Wilcock said...

All too familiar territory!

I don't know Mark Tabb's book - will look it up - thanks for the recommendation and I'm glad you enjoyed my simplicity book. x

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! The anxiety and stress of needing to be dressed cannot be expressed or overstated. I read this yesterday and spent a few hours thinking of all the various layers of why dressing is hard. It's been years I have struggled with this. It is a daily struggle as I have to do it every day! Every day i need something to cover my body, I am yet to find a solution.
It led me to investigate plain dress... I just wanted to put down the burden of choosing clothes everyday. And led me to your blog so many years ago.
I realised plain dress would make me stand out even more, and still couldn't find anything that fits. Now the situation is worse. With fast fashion I can't even buy clothes that won't fall apart after a wash. Everything is so poorly manufactured. I have no single shirt I can button all the way, or that covers my breasts properly. I have tried learn to make my own, but can't find a pattern I can make that works for my shape. One day i will find something... and sew multiples of the same outfit. Over and over.
The anxiety I have developed has descended to an eating disorder that caught me unawares as I didn't realise you can have an eating disorder without wanting to be thin. It came more from a feeling of helplessness, anxiety and wanting control and wanting to be healthy. I am recovering but putting back on the weight I lost has meant I no longer fit in many clothes. Cue the stress again.... stress that loosing weight had exacerbated. buying more does not help. The shops have nothing in my size I can breast feed in. And saying you won't breastfeed forever is no help. I have been feeding and nourishing my children for the last 7 years. I have a right to have clothes while I do it. I really can't stand having to be nearly naked everytime I feed. I get so cold.
I am not that unusual in size, just different proportions.Unlucky to be a size that means if I put on 4 kgs nothing fits. I can't even find underwear in my size.... The deficit in my clothes is so severe. It started basically when I grew a womans shape and breasts so it feels like a sign of how being a woman can be disempowering. I feel so dejected something. How can I as a grown woman not even manage to dress myself..... It's an issue that seems petty and insignificant and shallow to others so I have no help at all. But everyday, I still need to find something to put on.
The deficit in my wardrobe is so severe... I don't think I have even one full outfit. It's too hot in Australia to layer and try and cover parts of my body with different bits of clothes. If a shirt fits the top of my body but my tummy hangs out.... well... oh I am not going to go into it. It takes up so much space in my head trying to figure out the perfect nexus of coverage, weather appropriateness, comfort, durability, breastfeeding... something that doesn't hurt or have holes in it.
*sigh* I so don't want to waste so much time on this.

Anekha said...

I actually have a suggestion for the issue of the odd fancy occasion. My mum has perfected the art of the scarf and passed the gem on....
She can literally wear a simple outfit, and just throw a scarf over for a dressy occasion. She is an artist so often just wears paint stained tshirts.... She somehow manages to dress it all up by throwing a pretty scarf over when the occasion calls for it.
A plain wardrobe looks fine with a simple gauzy, silky scarf over it. Thrift stores often have them for very few dollars, and they take up not much space.

Anonymous said...

i have learned to buy mens sweaters/jumpers they seem to be warmer, better quality wool and easier and more sturdy to wash. I learned that after borrowing my husbands jumper when we were newly weds and marvelling at how warm it was! All my 'womens' jumpers left me freezing.
Why is it all womens clothing are made of such delicate impractical fabrics? everything says handwash dry flat in the shade.... I don't have time for that! I want the ease of my husbands and sons wardrobe. A shirt and trousers.... the only decision to make is shorts or a jumper. everything generally matches everything else. You can't do that with womens clothes.... even if you just stick to shirt and trousers the cuts have to work or you end up with bits of body hanging out and over etc...

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello dears.

I cannot control the order in which comments are posted - they appear in strict chronological order. So I think Anekha posted her comments between the two comments from 'Anonymous', but those two comments appear to me to be from the same person, as they have the same flavour about them. It is helpful if when you post anonymously you add your name to the comment (even if it's not your real name, but be consistent obviously), as Philippa has above. If you cast your eye over the thread you'll see there are two or three anonymous comments, and it's helpful in responding to know if the same person is commenting more than once or if this is a new person. And nice to have some idea who you are or if you've been here before. But not a big deal - please don't feel stressed about it.

So - Anekha - hello, lovely to hear from you. Very savvy of your mother. Only this week I have bought a scarf for the exact purpose you describe! I'll see how I go with it. I find wearing scarves somewhat annoying, in the same way I don't like frills and strings and buckles on my clothes, but I have noticed looking at other women that it des add something dressy, and helps to disguise the tiny stains on the front of my clothes from frying (or dropping) food. I know. I should wear an apron!

And 'Anonymous' 1 - hello! Yes, I had that trouble with plain dress - being conspicuous. A pity, because I loved, loved, loved the clothes. But they made me stand out and I felt anxious about my husband not liking the appearance of them. I still hanker after those clothes, though. About weight loss and gain - I too take off and put on weight very easily, and I don't like clothes that constrict or expose. I like to wear modest clothes - high neck, long sleeves, dark colours, not figure-hugging.
My favourite tops are Evans basic tees from their 'essentials' range. Evans is a UK firm, but I buy most clothes are on eBay secondhand, and some will post overseas. Evans starts around a UK size 14 and goes up to over UK size 30. Their 'basic' tees are lightweight (good for summer) but not at all diaphanous, clingy or see-through; they wash and wear well.
My favourite trousers are Lands End (again a UK firm but ships anywhere, I imagine) Starfish straight-leg jersey knit trousers. They are a heavy-weight jersey with a wide waistband that doesn't roll or twist. I wear them in black, every day. They go from petite to plus sizes.
I only wear stretchy clothes in dark solid colours.
When I was breastfeeding (one child or another for a decade), I wore tees, sweaters or sweatshirts, not button-front shirts. To put the child to the breast I lifted up the front just enough to tuck the child in to feed. I found I could do this very discreetly so I could feed even in church without anyone noticing. I know they didn't notice and this was not just my wishful thinking, because if a rather traditional man came up to chat as I was sitting there with a baby, he'd be talking happily, and only after a while realise I was feeding a baby and be momentarily embarrassed. I don't mean the same man every time - any man.
Good luck with finding clothes you like that fit and cover you well!

Anonymous 2 - I think you may be the same person as Anonymous 1, but I'm not quite sure.
Yes, my winter sweaters are both men's. M&S North Coast bought secondhand on eBay. I mention the make because I find it best, if buying men's clothes to wear as a traditionally-built (!) woman, to go for the makes aimed at middle aged men. They have wider hips.

Nice to hear from you, dears. xx

Deborah said...

Anonymous 1...Pattern drafting is what you need to Google. If you can sew you can probably draft your own patterns and there are online blogs that teach you for free or websites like Craftsy that you can pay to do courses on (I did a beading course and it was excellent, I recommend them). For more hands on help, I bet your local college will have a pattern drafting course. You can start with a commercial pattern and adjust it or draw one from scratch. Once you have the pattern the way you like it you'll never have to wear stuff you don't like again :-D

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, cool! What good ideas! Also, if you still like the plain dress type clothes, The Kings Daughters sell patterns - the pinafore dresses are the most normal of their clothes, and they have patterns for those. The postage is an arm and a leg is the only thing, but the patterns themselves are affordable.

Anekha said...

Hello Lovelies...
You are like a super sleuth Pen! Yes, anonymous 1 and 2 are the same, and me... Anekha. It wasn't obtuseness on my part but absentmindedness. Sorry! I get a bit emotional with the whole clothes and dressing issue. A bit confusing and I'll try to make sure I have filled all the bits in properly before I post.
The other issue I had with plain dress is I am of asian descent.... and while they are perfect for the life I live. Practical, child friendly... I kinda look silly in that style of clothes. I found a loose fitting red dress in a soft fabric online, it is really comfy and I added zips to the side, but they don't quite work for breastfeeding access, and I look like I am wearing a nightdress. I have been trying to learn to sew, but I am not great at it, and I don't have much time to sew with little kids... if I knew what I was doing it would be fine, but I don't so I need to concentrate. Fabric is very costly in my country, nothing of natural fibre would be less than $30 a metre, so I can't afford to make mistakes. I learned to make a decent apron skirt, then realised they don't suit me, haha. If I could only make underwear, but lingerie is pretty hard to sew.
We were out yesterday and My husband took my boys to a different shop and said to me yesterday "go and find something you like, get some clothes.... " It was a lovely gesture, but so stressful, I couldn't find anything that fit. They shop attendants were no help at all. They told me I need to find a friend or girlfriend to help me, and leave the baby at home. She wasn't stopping me from finding clothes. She sat happily in the pram the whole time! I don't know any women who have the time or inclination to help me dress myself. They all have so much more important things to do.

Anekha said...

Good tip Pen, re mens clothes. I will check the middle aged mens section! My husband offers to share his clothes with me, but he is a rake!
I guess the crux of my real frustration is every time I shop the assistants I ask for help tell me the problem is that I am breastfeeding and have children, not that the stores don't have decent clothing options for women. Motherhood is considered a temporary affliction and I should hide away. I feel like I deserve nice practical comfortable clothing. And I would love to look beautiful performing what I feel is pretty special important role. I have a passion for textiles and fabric and want to be a textile artist, so I love seeing beautiful fabric. I don't want to look shabby. My family, my husband, my boys and even the look of love and joy on my baby girls face make me feel like a queen. They honour me for the role I play in their life. But the script from wider society is constant and is this process of tearing down and stripping at me. People in the street always throw their comments at me, like little thought bombs of patriarchy. They talk down to me, shout out their 'pity' at my 'situation'. Try to to share in some notion of my suffering as a mother, I don't suffer as a mother, I struggle as a woman. The facebook culture has stopped people having conversations with me where my thoughts and feelings are allowed to reciprocate theirs, they just comment at me and walk on.

Pen Wilcock said...


Boo! Unfair! What miserable shop assistants!

I like the clothes from Hampstead Bazaar - very, very expensive new, but they come up on eBay sometimes. They are in natural fabrics, and some are made in wrapped and layered styles so are feeding-compatible. I like abayas like they have in Morocco - and if you check out Lagenlook dresses on eBay there are often cotton and linen loose-fitting things. God bless your search - may you find a simple source of things you like, in which you feel really beautiful. xx