I was nine, wearing baggy jeans that sat low on my hips, the bottoms frayed, and I could see the scuff mark around the toes of my clear jelly buckle sandals. We were walking down a sloping hill toward an inn in Maine. My aunt on my left, in a plum dress, and my mom newly married, on my right, were all smiles and giggles as we made our way toward her post wedding brunch. And I felt like crap.
In Maine, jeans are a staple. We wear them everywhere and proudly. Concerts, galleries, dinner parties, jeans never seem to be the wrong choice. Often too, the jeans don’t change, and we simply alter the top to fit the various occasions. Whether it’s a nice sweater or a casual sweatshirt, nothing pairs better than a good pair of jeans.
At nine, however, I was thin and gangly and had always struggled to find a pair that fit properly. And like most nine-year olds, I tended to gravitate toward functional wear that I could easily ride my horse in and muck out stalls. That morning I put on my daily uniform like I would on any other. But, seeing the casualness of my clothing, in contrast to my family’s dressier attire, I began to feel embarrassed and unequal. That was the moment when I realized — hey! I need a better pair of jeans!
From then on, my attention shifted from equestrian catalogs to fashion magazines.
I began to shop often, traveling to larger cities, such as Boston and New York, to source featured labels, as they were not yet available in Maine.
Once, in college, my mom came for a visit and we drove in search of a specific mall outside of Worcester, Massachusetts. Our printed MapQuest directions sent us almost into a pond at the end of a dead end road! I should have seen that as a sign. Rather than buy my way toward a better self, perhaps I should take a walk around a body of water with my mom instead.
Throughout my life, I have used designer clothes to make me feel more confident, self-assured and poised. Jeans were no exception and the options were endless. The more I bought, the more I wanted, and nothing ever satisfied. My shopping left me in a constant state of unease and inadequacy. Rather than face the real reason for my lack of self-confidence, I continued to fill the void with a new pair of designer jeans.
Yet, clothing could never deliver on its promise for a deeper sense of happiness, purpose and beauty. While I may not be cured of a rising heartbeat when I see a nice straight leg denim, I see clearly that rips, tears, holes and dirt actively earned are the signs of a truly beautiful woman, a woman who is engaged with the world.
My thought today is to let go of that desire for a moment. To wrap around a scarf and run freely and exuberantly through a muddy path or slide around on a frozen pond.
To feel the adventure and spirit that life in Maine offers. It is the clothes worn during these moments of wonder and connection that provide more self-respect than any coveted designer jeans ever could.
Reach Gabrielle Attra at email@example.com.