Today's two things sort of belong together.
I gave away on Freegle this very nice skirt.
It was a good length for me (30 inches), coming to about mid-calf, so at the time I got it I also found some natural colour tights to go with it.
My legs are a bit wrecked, not features of beauty, really, so when I wore tights they'd almost invariably be black. But in a bold and confident moment I got those natural colour ones to go with that skirt. As I never wore either of them, ever, they can both go.
I got them, like most of my clothes, second-hand on eBay. As not only my mind but also my body changes a lot, it's advisable to keep down the expense, besides which I like to think the money I do spend goes into the informal economy of people working casually and from home. I'd rather that than support factories with lines and lines of tired people working all day at machines. And it reduces waste if we have just one thing, and keep sending it down the line, looking after it carefully so it stays in nice condition, passing it from stranger to stranger through the arcane medium of internet marketplaces. That way a whole string of people get to make a modest living but mass production is slowed down which does the Earth a favour.
My goal (one of my goals, anyway) is to reach a place of contentment and self-acceptance in my mind and health in my body, such that I stop restlessly seeking something that will work, and am just happy with my clothes and feel comfortable in them. For now (I say this from bitter experience) I have reached that position. I'm much helped in this by two things; my mother, who never held back in commenting on my appearance, has gone to glory (may she rest in peace), so I no longer dress to try and please her, and I no longer have any role to play that involves people looking at me. For several decades I've done a lot of public speaking and preaching and officiating at funerals, but that's now come to an end. So these days, my appearance attracts neither expectation nor comment; I can wear what I like.
There's another thing, too. Clothing is a social signal, a badge of the tribe you belong to. I know that when I see a way of being in the world I find attractive, I feel drawn to align my appearance with it.
There's a kind of traditional Englishwoman, best exemplified by Miss Marple, that resonates with my soul. I've passed through phases of identifying with Miss Marple and aligning my wardrobe with hers.
I love the aesthetic of Amish life — the quietness and simplicity, the stillness and rustic plain. The Amish remind me of the paintings of Vermeer. Some years back I aligned my wardrobe with Plain dress, because I found it so peaceful and beautiful. I still do; I think it's lovely. But I get on better with stretchy clothes than woven cotton, I don't like ironing (nowadays I iron only handkerchiefs), and I am uneasy with the authoritarian aspect of Amish ideology — the shunning and the gender roles and so on. It's not me.
I love the aesthetic of India, in some respects. Gandhi in his ashram, ahimsa, Ravi Shankar playing ragas to the dawn, cows wandering in the streets, the Gayatri mantra, Vandana Shiva, the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the Sikhs of the Punjab. Hook line and sinker I fell in love with India, when I first read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha at the age of seventeen. For a while, before the Plain dress, I aligned my wardrobe with India, and wore saris every day.
The saris and the Plain dress drew endless stares and comment of course, and I didn't like that. But I was taken aback to discover how warmly actual Indian and Pakistani people responded to a Western woman wearing Indian dress. Very humbling, and sad in a way. I remember a man with tears in his eyes at a Northumbria community (I think it was them) gathering I went to, wanting to thank me because I was wearing a sari from Puna, where his family were rooted.
I did love the saris. I was surprised that they were warm enough with a shawl added, even in winter. They packed down small and neat so I only needed one underbed drawer to store all my clothes. I think, of all the things I've worn, the saris are the best.
I've had phases of aligning my appearance with the Brontës of Haworth. My family is (very) Yorkshire, and that's the place in the world that feels like home to me. I like the full skirts and the dark, small prints of Victorian workaday dress — in greys and browns and dark blue.
Sometimes — here's an example —
— I think I've been channeling troll or forest dweller or something.
And I've often wanted to align my clothing with monastic ways of dressing, so serviceable and humble and quiet and plain.
I've been a lot of things, in the explorations and rambling of my imagination. I don't, looking back, see it all as pointless or silly or wasteful. What we wear both expresses and deepens our ideology, and it's been part of my spiritual odyssey I think. It also came from the same place inside me as the part of myself that wrote stories and kept companionship with people who were dying.
But at this present stage of my life, my endeavour is to go down to a small, flexible kit of belongings that will transpose to any setting I might be in, and clothing that is as comfortable as possible and doesn't add a challenge of its own to my state of being.
From time to time I like to post again this beautiful chant that Hebe wrote fifteen years ago:
Seeing yourself – a chant on perception
When you see your face in the mirror,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see.
For your face is only one part of you.
There are parts of you that you cannot see.
There are parts of you that you will never know;
You cannot know how beautiful you are to others.
There is also a part of you
That others can never know;
The part of you that is only for you to see,
And it is beautiful in its mystery.
I believe there is a God,
And he knows all of you and me.
He knows the things that I cannot know –
The parts that only you can see.
But he also knows what I know,
And the parts you can never see,
God can see the whole of us –
Even that which is a mystery.
When you look at your face and your body,
Don’t be dissatisfied with what you see;
For beauty is not only in that which is visible,
But also in parts that are not seen.
And do not think that any part of you is ugly,
Even the inside part of you:
For part of the beauty that is you
Is when every part of you is together.
A body is far more beautiful alive than when it is dead;
But, when all is said and done,
We cannot know how beautiful we are
’Til we see what God sees.
And do not be afraid when you are changing –
Your face or the inside of you;
For that’s what it is to be alive.
If you ever feel misunderstood,
Ugly, or even invisible,
Know that, because I have seen you and known a part of you,
There is a part of you that is a part of me.
Can you see that we are a part of each other, then?
So what you see in the mirror is not all of you:
Don’t be trapped by feelings of inadequacy;
Let it be a mystery, and let it set you free.
So do not be unhappy with your body –
Love it, for it is part of your wholeness;
And if you cannot do that,
Love it because it is part of mine.
(Words of chant © Hebe Wilcock 2006)