It started at Jones New York Country in Minneapolis.
It started at Jones New York Country, not for the fancy or the “in” or the style, but for the need: I needed a uniform. I needed a uniform and Jones New York Country, right up the road and not in a mall, it seemed then, had exactly what would fix me.
I’ve never been a shopper or even much interested in clothes or the latest fashion. I wear jeans almost exclusively. I am not familiar with an iron or ironing board. I’m one of those girls whose girlfriends go shopping without her and have her meet them later. For lunch. For a cocktail. For a party. But shopping? No. Never.
And yet in the Winter of 1996, I’d barely turned 31 and all I could think about were clothes: pleated, shapeless khakis and baggy sweaters and square jackets and silky scarves and big handbags that could carry ‘stuff’, and flat, sensible, blocky shoes. Brown shoes. I’d just gotten married and become a new mom, a full-time stepmother, to a 9 yr old boy and 15 yr old girl. I saw myself in the skinny jeans I’d worn one night for a date with my soon-to-be husband — torn and frayed at one knee and torn even more in the back, right below my butt, and whoa. Whoa hey! Those jeans, dear lord, those jeans had to go; I could not dare to be seen in them in the carpool lane. At (gasp!) a teacher conference. At a sleepover drop-off. Those jeans, my favorite old standbys, belonged to another life, another woman; those jeans had to go.
How often we try to dress ourselves for who we are not, for who we are expected to be.
When I remember my life in my 20s in corporate America, I think of ecru and off-black pantyhose and creamy silk blouses and fitted, knee-length skirts. Of houndstooth and brass buttons. Of how I felt like I belonged in that uniform — no matter how I sweated out my pits or sent runners up the hose — and how my uniform made me one of them, made me belong. Made me sigh with, jesusHchrist, relief.
I see now what a hard time I had the year I became a wife and mother with — as ridiculous as it sounds — my clothes. I look at photos of myself from that first year or two and think, who is that woman?
But I also remember how desperately I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be the mom, the real mom, taking pictures of my new daughter and her friends for her Homecoming Dance without comment from the other mothers. I wanted to sit in the line of metal chairs and have a normal conference with my new son’s teacher (Mr. Moynihan, I recall) and have him like me, respect me, even though my son hated him. I wanted to belong there, and for no one to notice. I see now, of course, how unrealistic this was. It was like being the new girl in school: “who is she and what is she doing here?” How desperately I craved this belonging, this blending in.
Thankfully, my kids helped and a few (very very few) of the parents helped, and I eased up. When Spring came, I tossed my torn, skinny jeans into the Goodwill pile, but I didn’t need a total makeover or Jones New York Country, and it’s a good thing because the next time I showed up there, the store had closed. Lack of business, lack of need. The windows papered over. Gone. Waiting for the next big thing, the next big deal, the next fashion, the next not-me.
Jones New York Country no longer exists. And neither does that version of me.