I Wear My Grandma’s Clothes by Bicky Lee

I Wear My Grandma’s Clothes by Bicky Lee

posted in: Blog, Uncategorized | 1

My Gran was an adventurous and bold fashionista. She loved to travel, she was strong willed, and had a wicked sense of humour. She loved to dress up and was very particular about what she wore right until the end. When Gran passed away a couple of months ago my dad shared many memories, photos and stories about who she was for him and who she was before I was born. It is not enough to say she was more than who I knew her as – a frail elderly woman dressed in bright colours and a hearing aid – she was flamboyant and sometimes wild.

Gran’s retirement was full of shopping trips and shopping bags. To my memory her house was always full of stuff, bits and bobs, and things. She loved buying clothes. She loved wearing clothes.

Her outfits always had a different energy to them, inspired by something in her mind and brought to life on her body. I have been told that she would put together an outfit as if putting together a character, a personality that she would be for that day.

Gran eventually had to move into a nursing home in order to receive the care that she really needed. To do this, a whole house full of thingy-ma-bobs had to be downsized into one small wardrobe. What could be kept, reused, or sold was all put into storage. Most of it stayed there for months, but, when she passed away, all of these items had to be processed: keep or not to keep. If not, deposit elsewhere: op shop or rubbish.

Mum and Dad did most of this sorting, and when I got to their house there was a pile of stuff set aside for me. I realised that many of her clothes were still in the shopping bags that she had purchased them in. Some still with tags, some still  wrapped in tissue paper. Gran was petite like me so nearly all of her clothing was in my size. Mum explained that I may as well have it since it was literally brand new and would fit me.

I cherish these clothes. Many of the items are from brands I can’t afford and from shops I have never set foot in. One item that fascinates me is a long black woollen skirt from Country Road. It has a slit that goes all the way up to the thigh. This skirt is something that someone my age would be expected to enjoy but Gran would have been over 75 when she purchased it. I think the skirt is a reminder that Gran was a young person even though her body aged. She refused to be old. Sometimes I think she bought clothes for who she felt she should be.

Among these keepings I also collected a charm bracelet full of charms from her travels. I don’t know any of the stories behind the bracelet or the charms on it but I just know in my gut that it is special.

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When Dad collected her remaining things from her room at the nursing home only a few suitcases remained. Gran had selected 6 hairbrushes for the nursing home out of the 20-something she owned prior. On her first day at the nursing home Mum brought her a jumper and took it to her only to find that Gran was almost disgusted by that jumper and refused to wear it. More clothing was purchased as an attempt to make her feel more at home.

These clothes ended up in the suitcases that came home when she did not. Mum and I went through these so they didn’t just sit there gathering dust. I went through her handbag, trying to push aside the feeling of invading her privacy, and found two lipsticks that she had actually used. I kept them because I liked the colours. Among her summer clothing I found some t-shirts that looked like they were made in the 80s and 90s and a pair of sandals that were exactly like ones I had wanted to buy for myself the other day. I kept a gold Elizabeth Arden make up bag that she had kept some of her many hairbrushes in. I kept two pairs of pants that I now wear to work regularly.

When I wear her clothing and her lipstick, sometimes I like imagining what she wanted to do in these clothes that she bought for herself. I wonder what time and place each item took her back to when she wore it.

There is so much I do not know, and may never know, about my Gran. Through wearing her clothes I feel like I am getting to know her in a new, and somehow more intimate way.

During one of our last conversations, Gran had been wearing a floral t-shirt that I had not seen before. I complimented her on it and her tired and vague expression lit up as she expressed how she liked it too. I did not keep that t-shirt because I did not feel I had the right. To me, this feeling was echoed in Dad when he was asked what clothes his mother would want to wear to be cremated to which his answer was “I have no idea.” Who knows what character she would have wanted to portray that day.

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Clothing is a deeply personal expression of one’s inner hopes and dreams. It is the external representation of the internal message. Buying nice things and then never wearing them shows me that for Gran, the thrill was in the chase. In a way, I feel that in giving new life and new adventures to the clothes she purchased but never wore, I am fulfilling the dream she had when she laid eyes on them in the shop. I once did a photoshoot as a rockstar in a white t-shirt that Gran had worn. I have no idea what she would think of that, but probably she would laugh.

Rest in Peace, Gran. You were fabulous and your clothes uphold your immortal legend.

Words and Images by: Bicky Lee

One Response

  1. Anthea augustson

    What a terrific tribute to your Gran. As a recent member of the family I never really knew Enid but in the short time I was lucky enough to make her acquaintance I recognised the many similarities we had. I too love clothes …mostly way out stuff and colourful, I love travel and new challenges. I will always regret not finding her sooner. What I know of her only really came from our many telephone calls. In an era when being ‘out there’ wasn’t acceptable she embraced being different and held her head high..she had courage and pride.
    I know she was very proud of you Becky, your story would have given her immense pleasure. I am sure of this because I too have a huge wardrobe, many bright colourful bags AND pencil skirts. I hope one day some of my grandchildren are just as delighted with my crazy fashion statements. Always stay an individual Becky.xx

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