Clothes are opportunities to become someone else, to transform ourselves into a range of ‘selves’ from the ideal to the fantasy. When I saw this Patagonia turquoise jacket with its royal blue fleece lining and Treepeople badge, I imagined myself as a well dressed camper, equipped for anything the environment might throw my way. At one with the natural world. But it was all an unlived dream. Despite going camping as a kid, I now admit to having an aversion to anything ‘outdoors’ or involving a tent and all the various sensible, protective garments that go with it. Yet, most of my friends are really into camping so, occasionally, I’m persuaded that I might like it because they do. I felt this jacket would convince myself and my peers that not only would I enjoy the experience but I’d be really good at it too.
Instead, I immediately lent the jacket to a friend and so escaped having to actually camp in it. I loved seeing the jacket at my friend’s house, knowing where it was and having the perfect excuse not to use it for anything outdoors.
When I turned thirty-five, I was able to buy a flat. My first home of my own. I was completely engrossed by the experience of ‘doing the place up’. I wanted to do everything myself. I wanted to be dressed appropriately as well so I needed a painting outfit. The jacket was perfect. It was warm but light, and had pockets for tissues, a phone, keys – survival items when there was nothing in the flat. The jacket formed part of a sartorial triptych that became my ‘decorating the flat’ uniform. The other two pieces were a pair of black Levi 501s that were really too good for this ensemble and a bright yellow t-shirt from an exhibition at the V&A Museum that was given to me for Christmas. When all the ‘doing the place up’ was done, all three items seemed to disappear. The jacket, however, would reappear from time to time as I was still hopeful that I might become an amazing camper one day.
Last year, just before I became forty, I suffered a stroke and was very seriously ill. Once I was better, it seemed fitting to celebrate being alive. I decided to build myself a garden with a studio where I could once again ‘do the place up’. It was time for the jacket to make an appearance. Amazingly, I also found the black jeans and yellow t-shirt. The band was back together again.
Every weekend, while working on the studio, I wear the jacket with pride. It has acquired a massive grease stain on the front, which now accompanies the different coloured drops spotted across the shiny exterior fabric. I’ve started to wear the jacket to the supermarket or when visiting friends. Rather than present myself as an expert camper, I am now an expert painter and decorator, maybe even a professional artist.
On one of my weekend excursions, wearing the jacket, to a clothing shop, I noticed a young girl staring at me. She must have been about seven or eight years old. She was soley focused on the jacket, possibly even the grease badge. It was as if she had never seen a jacket like this before or a jacket like this in a clothing store. I saw her imagining new possibilities for what she might wear and when. The opportunities for clothes to create her many ‘selves’ had just begun. I smiled.
Emma is a professional university teacher and an amateur writer.