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14 December 2017

Notes On Getting Dressed



Get up, get dressed.

These simple words are, for me, a saving grace. Get dressed. It’s a process we take for granted every day, seen often as a necessity and not a gift. It’s a ritual repeated and repeated by billions of people every morning, unquestioningly and quietly. It’s often the first, second or maybe third thing we do in a day and it marks the beginning of something. We place our old worn out clothes in the laundry basket, we put on something fresh and we leave our homes. It’s nothing new, and by god it’s not revolutionary, but it’s quietly nurturing.

I've always loved clothes. There is something nice about looking at well dressed people; a sense of skill that we rarely appreciate openly in everyday life but that always brings a kind of calm, a feeling that I can only describe as akin to when certain shapes fit perfectly in other shapes. Perhaps that doesn’t make much sense, but there is a whole Tumblr devoted to that very feeling. I spent hours of my childhood on those websites where you could dress up cartoons of famous women, decking them in clothes I so badly wanted to have myself. I started this fashion blog when I had just turned thirteen, trawling Vogue and Elle for designer collections and sharing my progressively less embarrassing outfits to the world wide web, and eventually my opinions too.

Much like physics, what goes up must come back down again and like most young people, my interests changed. I went to university and quietly retired from fashion blogging for the majority of my university career. I stopped spending devoted time getting dressed because when I wasn’t hung-over, I was late. I slipped easily into a uniform of dungarees, oversized denim jackets and beaten up Nike’s– far from the sharp minimalism I’d been drawn towards the year before. I needed things to be practical, and I enjoyed blending into the university scene; looking slightly beaten up and less sharp felt natural. The free time I’d had before university was now spent on my degree, friends and napping in equal parts. I was by all standards a philosophy student cliché, but a happy one. I still liked clothes (my bank account can attest to that fact), but I didn't enjoy the process of getting ready like I used to. It was just another thing to do in the day.

In the December of my final year, my mother was admitted to hospital and put into an induced coma. The strange flu she’d had for the last two days turned out to be a severe case of bacterial meningitis, which wouldn’t be diagnosed until she’d survived a 10-day coma, and a subsequent week of testing. My mother made it through, but the cost was profound deafness, the inability to move below her neck and all of the emotional tolls you could expect to follow that. 

I can’t comprehend what it feels like to be left parentless, but I resonate with something closer than I’d like to be able to. It reduced the smart, rational twenty-year-old woman I thought I was to a mess of indecision, incoherency and emptiness. Questions over her survival soon turned to questions of communication. No one in my family was deaf; sign language can take up to two years to become sufficient in and until then exchanges with my mother would be via a whiteboard, slick with old half erased messages cataloguing a mix of doctor’s notes. My brothers and I telling her it would be okay when in reality, we had no idea. We were children, despite all being in our twenties. 

The temptation to exist on hospital wards as my half self was overwhelming; sweatpants, trainers, my body exhausted and crooked from sleeping on waiting room chairs. Waiting for some news, any news – good or bad, but most often just medical words that felt like a foreign language, in whatever item had been picked up off the floor that morning.

But slowly, something started to change – not in the first week, or ten days, but sometime shortly after she was pulled back to consciousness. Sweatpants and leggings were tucked away, back into the wardrobe. I’d spend my mornings before heading into hospital picking out pieces that had been shoved to the back of a closet from before university. In the end, it never mattered what I wore, but the mere act of getting dressed was, for a long time, the thing that got me out of bed. The mindless routine of matching things, pulling them on, throwing them off again. It was a world of it’s own, immune to outside threat; no matter what went wrong that day, no matter how hard it was, I’d gotten up and I was dressed. For a brief moment, nothing had changed. 

More than just routine, it slowly became something I enjoyed again – clung to as what would inevitably be the easiest part of the day. I revelled in it, knowing it was the thirty minutes in the morning that were mine, mine alone and uninterrupted by the noise of life. It was an act unto itself, a space to feel normal again and the only thing that made me feel human on occasion. To feel well dressed became the feeling of keeping it together.

Slowly, day by day, my mother healed. The fear of the unknown was replaced by treatments, after-care and physio. Her natural hearing will never come back, but a year on she hears almost as well as you and I because of cochlear implants. She can walk again, hear and we can all breathe again. Some days are hard – some days I look in and see her holding up two jumpers, side by side, knowing that for the next twenty minutes she can just get dressed. It is her time, to escape and be just another woman putting on her armour for the day. And for her it is armour, because some days are a fight - but putting that chainmail on is the first step in winning that fight.

And for me, putting myself together in the morning isn't just survival anymore, nor is it just a necessity. It is a routine that starts a day, and just like when I was a little girl, it's my favourite part of the day again. Falling back in love with getting dressed in the way that I did reminded me of the importance of revelling in the everyday. I never felt silly for relying on it, counting on it's importance to get me through those months - taking control where I could, and finding a saving grace in the simplest of things. My entire family has learned to savour the little victories, and the process of it all. Your day might be full of greatness, or sadness, or just the mundane but you wouldn't be able to face any of it without putting your pants on first. 

And when the days are hard, which they sometimes still are, and it feels like the very best I can do is just get up and get dressed, I do it. It makes a world of difference. 

MONKI coat, H&M jumper, TOPSHOP jeans, TOPSHOP boots, DKNY bag, H&M hat, KINA AND TAM earrings.





5 comments:

  1. Wow, this is a great piece. I am so glad your mother is well, too. Getting dressed for me is a measurement of whether my low moods have taken ahold again or not and something to celebrate when I start to enjoy picking out my clothes again after a low. X

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  2. Wow! A touching story but also incredibly written <3

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  3. First of all, best wishes to your mom for a continued speedy recovery.

    I really resonate with the idea of dressing as self care. I think that space when you get dressed, when you are by yourself for 20 or 30 or 40 minutes choosing, concocting, dreaming up an outfit and a new shape and color palette for your physical being... that's a space of intense creativity and introspection. Personal style stems from a sort of deep self knowledge and willingness to transform, and that kind of distinctive personal vision is powerful!

    :~) alexandra | http://www.glowygirl.blogspot.com

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  4. Such a beautiful post!!! I can totally relate. My Dad went through bladder cancer and my blog and youtube channel became such an amazing outlet for me.... similar to picking out clothes for the day!!

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  5. I am so sorry to hear you have been through this Camilla and I am extremely glad to know that your mum is a fighter and is doing so great! Keep dressing up and do whatever makes you happy, you do it brilliantly :) xx

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