Remember when you were a kid and the “look” that would appear on your mum’s face when you swanned downstairs on your way to catch the school bus? Or later as a teenager on your way out with girlfriends on a Friday night? The look, and the comment that usually followed: “Are you wearing THAT?” Like the shot heard round the world which started World War I, that comment always began the latest battle in the ongoing clothing wars. My friends and I all fought a war to be able to wear what we wanted, no matter how silly or ridiculous we looked to the adults in our lives.

I don’t remember if my older sisters fought these same battles when they were teenagers. Probably they did. But my own contraband outfits are legendary, at least in my mind. After all, those battles helped me evolve my personal style, for what it’s worth. Short skirts, made even shorter in the girls’ washroom at school by rolling up the waistband. Shrunken sweaters that barely reached the top of my hipster jeans. Mum used to rage, “You’ll end up with a sun-kissed navel.” Ha. Long, long bell-bottom jeans, so long the hems dragged on the ground, eventually worn ragged by my walking on them with my platform shoes. In winter, I wore short, chubby bomber jackets that barely met the top of my jeans. And I’d scuttle out the door to school in the morning, Mum calling after me that I’d “surely catch my death.”

Mum and I have been reminiscing about our clothing wars ever since I found the shot below in the pictures folder on her computer. We laughed out loud at how, once my sisters and I were grown, the battles sometimes raged the other way. My sisters and I indignantly instructing Mum in how she should colour her hair, or wear this, and not that. In the picture, Mum is clearly decked out in her spring gardening clothes. Wearing her favourite sunhat, and an old jacket of my stepfather’s which she’d shrug on when it was chilly and she needed to be digging, or moving fertilizer, or doing something dirty in her extensive flower beds. And my sister, clearly shocked, is asking the familiar question: “Are you wearing THAT?”

My sister and Mum in the kitchen of the old farmhouse. Mum is her gardening hat and old jacket. Sister clearly disapproving.
Mum showing off the rips in her old gardening jacket.

My favourite clothing war… well, really just a battle, not a war… which involves my mum and sister occurred when my sister Carolyn was visiting the farm back in the eighties. Unlike the battles of our teenage years, I think this one was a draw. My sister was an avid runner back then and, as usual, donned her old, grey sweatsuit for her morning run. Mum gasped when Carolyn sat down in the kitchen to lace up her sneakers. “You’re NOT running up the main road in THAT? It looks like your step-father’s baggy, old long-underwear.” Carolyn just smiled and set off. When she returned, she told Mum that someone had driven up behind her and, mistaking her for my mum, had yelled from their car: “Good morning, Dorena.” And she’d just nodded and waved and kept on running. Ha. Mum didn’t buy the story for long, but long enough for us to fall over laughing.

I love that picture below from a few years ago. Mum in my step-father’s old shirt to keep the sun off, and a pink, peaked cap from my brothers’s well-drilling company. I have the same hat for fishing. That’s my niece’s son Mathieux in the flowered gardening gloves, and Mum’s big hat. He loved to help Great-Grammy in the garden. And clearly he shared her taste in hats.

Mum and her great grandson, gardening.
Multi-generational flower gardening. Someone shares Mum’s taste in hats.

So, yeah. This week we’ve been laughing a lot about clothes. Mum and I talking about the old days, as usual. It seems I remember our clothing wars a lot more clearly than she does. Probably because they figured more largely in my life than hers. I mean, after all, if I couldn’t wear those ragged jeans to the dance my life would cease to have meaning. For Mum I was the last of her three girls, and maybe she was a bit war weary. Sometimes I even won the odd battle, or maybe I just flew under the radar. Ha.

I’ve been seeing old friends this week, and we’ve been laughing about clothes too. I visited my friend Debbie and we drank tea and looked through her old photo albums. Chortling at pictures of us with bad hair, or big hair in my case, and shrunken boys’ tee shirts.

And the other day my high school friend Elizabeth picked me up to go for coffee. While I finished getting ready, she chatted with Mum. As she rose to leave, Mum looked at her distressed jeans, sighed as if we were both still sixteen, and said, “Oh, Elizabeth… are you that poverty stricken?” Elizabeth guffawed, flapped her gloves at Mum, and cried, “I KNEW you were going to say that!”

And, you know, it felt kind of good to have Mum in her nineties still objecting to our outfits. Even though we’re in our sixties, and not sixteen.

Almost as if the world still made sense.

How about you, my friends? Did you fight clothing wars when you were young? Maybe you’re still fighting them?

Linking up this week with: Visible Monday#IwillwearwhatIlikeThursday Favourite Things#ShareAllLinkup


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Italian Chic: One Canadian’s Perspective

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28 thoughts on “Oh, those clothing wars!”

  1. In Australia we have school uniforms but I don’t really remember any clothes battles as such. Mum certainly thought my cork platform shoes were ridiculous which of course they were! I do fondly remember the local dressmaker who could make just about anything we wanted. We lived in a regional town and for very little money she made whatever was fashionable on request. Oh how I wish I had a Mrs MAC now.

    1. A local dressmaker would have been wonderful. Although we tried to make stylish clothes ourselves.. somehow that never worked out as planned.

  2. Wendy from York

    My battles were a little earlier than yours . Mum couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be more feminine with clinched waists , swirly skirts & stilletoe heels . Why hide myself in those shapeless shifts & flat shoes – “ so short , don’t bend over , you’ll be giving everyone an eyeful & can you see where you are going with that fringe in your eyes ? “ ( bangs I think to you ) . Perhaps she realised all the experimentation was necessary to develop our style plus my dad could be quite eccentric . He often resorted to wearing an old plastic bag with armholes cut through & string round his waist in the worst of weather . Happy days ?
    I love that you have these little photo snapshots of family life , so natural & unpretentious – as is your writing . I bet your mum never thought she would be an international internet star !

    1. Mum still comments on people who can’t keep their hair out of their eyes! And she hasn’t seen that shot on the blog yet. Good thing I’m back in Ottawa now!

  3. Oops, just about to head out for some heavy duty gardening in some rather odd clothes. Baggy cord trousers which (hurrah !) are now 2 sizes too big; my husband’s discarded sweatshirt, ski socks to keep my feet warm, and a slightly torn showerproof mac as there are showers forecast. I have instructed my husband to answer the front door while I am out the back. I have started to dress up a little more in the evening at home as I’m usually in jeans and fleece during the day. There’s a local dress shop that stocks simple light wool or heavy cotton 30s style dresses with either a cowl or boatneck style. They don’t crease, are well cut at the midriff so a little forgiving , thank heaven, and with a nice pair of 60 denier tights and ballet pumps, I feel quite swish in the evenings but still very comfortable when curling up on the sofa with my beloved.
    When you became a teacher did you have the same teacher/pupil dress code fights as you and your mum had ?

    1. You must look cosy and chic in the evenings. More so than me in my sweats and heavy socks! I never usually fought with students about dress codes. I may have made the odd suggestion about low-cut tops, quietly and only in private. I remember too clearly being humiliated by a teacher who criticized my style in public.

  4. There weren’t too many arguments with my mother about what I wore as a teenager, probably because I wasn’t that adventurous, but also because my mother made most of my clothes. Keep in mind, it was a time when girls were not allowed to wear trousers to high school, so my wardrobe was mostly made up of dresses, skirts and blouses (though I did have bell bottoms for the weekends). Luckily for me, my mother was a wonderful seamstress and adventurous–she loved working with Vogue Designer patterns and making things that were uniquely stylish. We went to the fabric store together and perused patterns and material to find just the right combination for each outfit. I had a pretty terrific wardrobe as a result. Wish I still had some of those pieces as a good number of them would still be classically stylish today. Wish I could still fit into them, too.

    You remind me. My British mother did have one term for waist-length winter jackets–she called them “bum-freezers”.

    1. My friend’s mother made her clothes after she took a beginner sewing class. My friend used to groan every time her Mum made something new. She wasn’t adventurous like your mum.

  5. Hi Sue,
    Clothing wars, oh yes! My poor father and my skirt lengths. Ha! Such memories would come back to haunt me with my children. Same skirts lengths and tight tops with my daughter. With my sons, jeans hung so low, falling off their narrow hips and huge tee shirts. Oh well!
    Was it stylish fashion or fashion faux pas? It must of been stylish fashion? ?

    1. The falling off jeans are something I remember so clearly from my teaching days. I wish I had pictures of those pants to show boys when they grew up!

  6. My friend Terry still has a lime green leather mini-skirt (keeping as souvenir) from the 60s that’s about a foot wide and a foot long. It once had a matching jacket. I think she should frame it and put it on the wall. Her old German father was horrified when she went out in that outfit with long boots.

  7. Well, my mother wore more outrageous outfits than most teenagers. I remember vividly in my first year at grammar school being acutely embarassed when my mother accompanied me to the Parents’ Evening wearing a very short mini skirt with a bright green suede three-quarter length coat with white faux fur trim and white knee length boots. The other mums were wearing very conventional, middle-class skirts and twinsets. It was the talk of the classroom for several days afterwards.

  8. It is fun shopping with my mother who is now ninety-two and still so stylish. 🙂 I will be turning seventy in a few weeks (which SHE does not like admitting).
    Here’s an example of our conversation as we peruse a sales rack…
    Mom: Char! Here’s a size four!
    Me: (to woman standing near me) I haven’t worn a size four since High School.
    All Together: Loud Laughter!
    Loved reading your memories with your mother. Thank you!
    Charlene H

  9. No, I never had an argument with my mum over my wardrobe… ‘Guess I never wore anything that would cause her hackles to rise 🙂

  10. Oh yes! This one resonates with me. . . One particular incident, I’d made it partway down the street with my skirt rolled at the waist to achieve mini length (can only imagine, now, how goofy that must have looked at the waist, but I was far from the only one who did that with our school uniform) only to hear Mom calling me back from our front door. . . Uh-oh. . .

    1. Those rolled up skirts… looked so odd, didn’t they? We’d wait until we arrived at school to do that. Our antics must have caused lots of chuckles in the teacher staff room at lunch.

  11. I thought I was the only one. I remember going out in a peasant patterned skirt and a gingham blouse. Well, you would have thought I’d committed quite the sin, mixing pattern and checks. I never did that again until I painted and did what ever I wanted to.
    Love your photos and stories. nothing changes and we’re all so alike.

    1. Your artistic sensibilities were coming out in your clothes, I guess. We are all alike in so many ways, aren’t we? Hope your fully recovered from your surgery, Sandra.

  12. You write the most delightful blog, and I look so forward to reading it each Sunday. You are very talented and have the ability to make me smile and reminisce and also feel encouraged about life. Thank you for your efforts and sharing your life with your readers.

  13. Lovely photos of your mother (both my mother and me looked similar when we were in former wineyard/orchard )and Mathieux and a hilarious story of your Mum and sister
    I don’t remember any clothes war-my Mum didn’t have any restrictions and has left me to wear-after saying her opinion-a lot of (stylish) things that didn’t suit me at all (like long pencil skirts on very Twiggy me). But,I’ve learned my lessons through mistakes
    My late father was a very elegant suit-white shirt-tie person all his life and was genuinely unhappy with my jeans and ankle lenght trousers during the last decade and never missed to compliment everything else (classical) I might wear

    1. I look back on certain outfits and cringe, and others tell me exactly when I started wearing the kinds of things I still like today. My mum didn’t exactly have restrictions… just comments. Ha.

  14. I don’t recall any battles with my mother, but some raised eyebrows, definitely. Mostly at my footwear and my inability to wear bright colours, choosing to slouch in mud shades and very, very baggy overlong jeans that I tripped over. Oddly, the only dispute (v minor) was over my absolute refusal to have pink flowers in any form at my wedding – certainly not those I was carrying and I was adamant they would not be in the church or at the reception either. In the end it was my father who said: For God’s sake, Gwen, let her have what she wants. Thanks, Dad. After that, the grey and silver wedding dress was a cinch. As a mother of a daughter myself, I can see that prolonged disputes over clothing are a battle you could never win but they certainly wind up the parent. Perhaps that is the point.

    1. Love that comment from your father. Raised eyebrows were common in our house. And that special “look.” I always wanted to wear what I wanted because I wanted… if you see my point. I’m still kind of like that.

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