Out of Our Parents’ Closets

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We have a lot of feelings about parents and a lot of feelings about clothes. Both are intimately connected to our sense of who we are and who we want to become, and both can be a struggle, especially when we’re negotiating queer identities. It can be particularly significant, then, to wear the clothes our parents wore — to see who we become. Does it bring us closer? Is it an act of silent rebellion? Whether we’re trying to send a fuck you to a homophobic dad or an I love you to a mom who can’t hear the words any more, it means something to share threads with a person who spawned you. Inspired by Mom Genes, today we’re talking about our t-shirts, sweaters, jackets, earrings that our parents wore first, and we want to hear about yours, too.


Rachel_jacket

Rachel, Senior Editor

My dad has a long history of giving me things I haven’t asked for. His denim jacket from the 80’s was one of them, and at first I didn’t want it. He’s 6’2″, and I was pretty sure no amount of trying to shrink it would ever make it wearable. This is still mostly true — it fits me sort of like a superhero cape — but I wear it a lot now. My dad and I don’t get along well, and I’m not even out to him; he’s not a big fan of queer people. Somehow wearing his jacket and feeling strong and brave and dykey in it makes me feel closer to him, even if it’s not something I’d ever be able to tell him.


ali_shirt

Ali, Geekery Editor

I have two of my mother’s old concert tee shirts from when she was my age or a little bit younger. My mother is very short and very tiny, so it’s a wonderful thing I can fit in them at all. One is from a Police tour, another is David Bowie. The Police is the one I chose to take a picture of, because the David Bowie one may as well be a crop top/boobie showcaser (it’s so damn tight). Yet it’s still there, sitting in my drawer because I can’t get rid of it. I don’t want to.

The truth is, I don’t really have any feelings about The Police — the only Police song I truly love is Roxanne. And my only feelings about David Bowie come from a childhood obsession with The Labyrinth. I’m sure I could make up something about gender and Bowie, but the truth is I have so few feelings about my slightly creative gender identity. Like legit, almost none at all — that’s why I don’t really write about it that often. I also don’t even particularly like either of the shirts — they both look TERRIBLE on me. But I do friggin’ love my mother. My mother is awesome. I won the goddamn parent lottery. So it’s not really about the shirts? Or the bands. It’s just about surrounding myself with something of my mother’s, even if in reality it’s just a swath of worn fabric and some screen printing.


momearring

Audrey, Contributing Editor

It is because of my mother that I consider the Gap to be the height of class and sophistication. She’s also the source of my affinity for brightly colored wooden jewelry, like these kickass earrings from before I was born. I borrowed them once for a party, and well, we all know how it goes with borrowing things. I wear them when I want to channel our shared inner mod diva.


Yvonne_shirt

Yvonne, Associate Editor

My mom bought this shirt in Indiana while she was a migrant farm worker in 1976, the year she graduated from high school. She said this was her favorite shirt as a teenager and has photos of her wearing it while posing in front of a Corvette and her childhood best friend’s motorcycle. My dad, her high school sweetheart at the time, had one to match. She passed it on to me when I was in jr. high and I loved it so much, I wore it all the time during that awkward phase in my life. I wore it a few times in high school but once I moved away for college I left it behind because I thought it was too precious to take with me — I didn’t want to ruin it in the wash or loose it. Time has passed on and the shirt is still in my bedroom closet back home. I think it’s time for it to be part of my wardrobe again.


riese_dad_shirt_collage

Riese, Editor-In-Chief

When my Dad died in 1995, my Mom filled a downstairs closet with boxes of his clothing, retrieved from the condo he shared with his then-girlfriend, and I started tearing into it fairly regularly. I guess wearing his clothing made me feel closer to him when I couldn’t be, and I wore his beat-up Levis every day for what felt like a year.

In middle school I’d regularly borrowed his button-up shirts, which were enormous on me but it didn’t matter because grunge. Styles had changed by the time we inherited all the boxes, but I was pleased to discover that, because tight t-shirts were cool for hippie dudes in the ’70s and ’80s (this trend has returned in the hipster-era, but in the ’90s only gay guys wore tight tees), his shirts from college fit me perfectly.

Mom told me they had a t-shirt printing place in Champaign, where my parents met and went to school, and so they did a lot of custom shirts, like the Illinois shirts with “ASSET” on the back. My gay best friend borrowed that one from me in 2000 and never gave it back. I’m pretty sure the “my system is down” shirt is an actual drawing of my Dad sitting in front of a computer but even if it isn’t, I like to think it is. It was my “hangover shirt” for years that I only wore at home ’cause of the holes in the armpits and overall decomposition of the fabric, but last year I cut the sleeves off and wear it in public ’cause I’m old now with less fucks to give.

The Ohio State shirt I still wear to bed when I’m traveling and have to wear a shirt to bed. There’s a big hole in the armpit now. I’ll wear it until it crumbles in my palms.
riese_dad_shirt


Maddie_sweater

Maddie, Contributing Editor

Sometime in the 70’s, my mom found a big scratchy L.L. Bean sweater, left behind in a dorm at the boarding school where my grandfather taught and my mom grew up. The name, “Bif Lalone,” was sewn into the label.

When I was little, I lived for the stories my mom would tell about growing up, running around rural Pennsylvania with the other faculty kids. It sounded romantic and uncomplicated compared to whatever real or imagined turmoil was going on in my own young life. The story of the Sweater is and was family legend, and it even earned my mom a nickname: Bif.

When my mom died when I was sixteen, I didn’t keep many of her clothes, but I demanded to hang on to the Bif Sweater. I didn’t even wear it for several years. It was too big and too scratchy, but its presence in my closet comforted me. But when I went to college, it became cool to wear big old salvaged sweaters, and I started a new chapter of my own grief. Since then, the Bif Sweater has become my go-to in the cold months, wrapping around me for cozy evenings with friends or long days in the library. It feels as though we’re sharing new stories — ones she never told me, and ones she’ll never get to hear.


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36 Comments

  1. Funny this should be posted today, as something related totally happened yesterday. It’s not about clothing, but worthy of mention! I don’t have a super great relationship with my dad. He doesn’t like the whole homo thing, so I ain’t out to him. He’s an alcoholic. He’s 70. He had kids at age 40. We talk little. I know he does somehow love us. Just not the right way, and oftentimes he hurts us in the process.

    Yesterday while I was fishing, a man standing near us started talking to me. He asked me about the reel attatched to my pole.
    – Wow, this is some serious reel you got there.
    – This is my dad’s fishing pole that he’s always had, as far as I can remember, and now I’m using it. I am not surprised my dad had great fishing gear. He liked the best stuff.
    – This IS the best stuff. Even today. The brand isn’t sold anymore, it has become a collector’s item. I owned two of those at some point, and a collector asked to buy them. I got a good buck for them!
    – Well this is interesting. It’s probably 15, 20 years old I guess?
    – It’s at least over 30 years old.
    – Really?

    I looked at the reel, which is holding onto the pole with tape now, as it is so old. I smiled because my dad’s cellphone is covered in tape, too. My dad never gets rid of anything that still works, no matter how scrap it looks.

    Knowing my father, he probably bought this reel because it was both the highest quality available, and also on sale for a very good price. He only ever buys things when he feels they are a deal.

    For a minute, I was able to appreciate the generationnal gap between this old man of a father I have, and his great taste that he’s always had when it comes down to simple things.

  2. @Michelle, that gave me feels and I’m going to do some crying, maybe talking to my stuffed cat Scar, both?

    Then: I guess when it comes to my parents and clothes my favorite moment is when I came out to them my mom said,

    “You can’t be gay, you wear dresses.”

    I gave away all my dresses and noticed that my mother began to police the clothing I would wear. I had to justify every vest, tie, and loafer and pointed to a “super-straight” celebrity to show I’m not “dressing gay” because everyone does it. My father never really cared but my mom went on the internet* and tried to decode “lesbian fashion” and to her it was:

    -Hats (I had all the hats, fedoras, porkpies, bowler, etc)
    -Ties (I had three)
    -Men’s shoes (she didn’t bother much because she has big feet and wears men shoes sometimes)
    -Blazers (I had all the blazers)

    If I wore a blazer casually fine, but if I wore all those items at once (which by the way I look dapper and fine as hell in) all hell breaks loose. This happened when I lived with them but when I moved out I found myself exploring other ways to express my fashion choices and realized living with them made me try to “be out” through clothing instead of dating and sweet lady kisses.

    Now: I pretty much dress like everyone’s favorite Aussie lesbian, Ruby Rose, no regrets.

    *She is on the internet all day, googling whatever and only sweet lesbian baby Jesus knows.

    • Daw, a stuffed cat how sweet is that. I love stuffed animals. I own a toy store and if I could I’d buy all the stuffies! Wait, I already do that.

      What you said is over 9000 relevant to me. I came out to my mom kinda “late” (aged 22) in weird-ass circumstances, and even though she was kinda comforting, and even though her reaction then and there was quite alright, she began noticing me changing some of my clothing choices shortly after, and that didn’t sit too well with her. I was so happy to be (mostly, kinda) out, that I was like HELLZ YEAH EVERYONE WHO DARES LAY THEIR EYES ON ME IS GONNA SEE A RAGING HOMO!

      I’d always liked the snapbacks but was afraid to wear them, you know, in case people would GUESS.

      My mom was probably startled when I started wearing only that. It’s not that she didn’t like the bowties or snapbacks, in fact she told me on a few occasions that it looked nice. She is just afraid that some people with “see” the gay now, because I make it more obvious. And since I work with kids, I guess she is mostly afraid that people will think I’m a crazy pedolesbian out to get their tweens to pose naked with the My Little Pony I try to sell’em? What’s sad is that some people out there are probably capable of such thoughts.

      Whatever. Now every time I wear something other than a snapback on my head (my hair loose, a beanie, a sombrero, a dog turd) my mom will tell me how pretty I look. u…U

      Oh well, there is worse!

      You made me laugh x

  3. Half of my t shirts are from my parents. I’ve used the biggest and grungiest as pajama shirts for 10 or so years now. I have one purplish flannel from my mom. It is way too small, but my mom wore it all the time when I was little, back when she gave me lots of hugs. So I wear it when I need a mom hug. Even though she is sometimes the reason I need a hug, it is so comforting.

  4. I love this so much, I wish it was longer. I wouldn’t describes my relationship with my parents as close but they mean “home” to me. They’re also both together and very much in love so. I have one of my mom’s rings that I wear constantly. I wore a pair of my dad’s boxers for many years (this is probably weird… They were clean).

    Also, siblings! My both runs cross cross country which means he gets endless free t-shirts so I regularly steal them. I just feel closer to home and him whenever I wear them.

  5. Love this article! My dad died 3 years ago, and I have one of his old plaid flannel shirts that I only wear when I go home to visit my hometown. It’s probably my favorite item of clothing.

  6. When I came out to my parents six years ago my mom and I started sewing together. I’d like to say this is some metaphor for mending a relationship, it’s not. I now have some skirts and vests and a new skill. They make me think of her and remind me of why I love my parents.

    They also gave me my bike, originally a gift from my dad to my mom on their honeymoon. And since I ride it everyday it totally counts as a fashion accessory, right?

  7. I wasn’t sure how my dad felt about my coming out, as he never really said much about the subject… But after I had been out for about a year, he gave me some of his old skinny ties for my birthday. I took it as a sign of acceptance and understanding, and now I wear one whenever I want to feel a little extra dapper.

  8. Most of my ties are from my dad. They’re really cool too! One has dinosaurs and is kind of the best tie ever. Wearing them reminds me that I’m really lucky, because not everyone has parents who are supportive of their queerness, or supportive in general even, and my dad is and he gives me dinosaur ties and I’m really, really grateful for that.

  9. My mom is a big shopper and has great taste in clothes – basically half my wardrobe belonged to her at some point, until I stole it, or she got bored of it and gave it to me. But I think the only thing of hers that I now have from before I was born is a worn out old pair of cowboy boots she wore in high school in the 70’s. I borrowed them for a Halloween costume about 9 years ago, and just never gave them back. I most recently wore them last summer when my friends and I decided to get high and dress up for the Pretty Little Liars hoedown episode.

  10. I kinda wish my parents gave me something to wear..

    My mom does this thing where she tells me to put on her earrings because I have 5 piercings in my ears then she has me put on these old rings that are (fake) gold and my dad’s really heavy chain necklace. She said I look like a gangsta and my name is Choo Chainz.

  11. Your stories are all amazing. I was reading this thinking what do I have from my parents. Nothing that I wear regularly, mainly because my mother is petite and my dad is quite small and was very slim when he was young and I’m a tiny tank…so their clothes stopped fitting me when I was 18 and beefed up playing rugby. But then I realised I have things they gave me that I refuse to throw out. Like my dads (now knackered) Starsky and Hutch Cardigan that I must beg someone to fix. His bike jacket from the 70s that I wore in high school as a big rebel dyke, eff you, middle fingers in the air to authority and his sheep skin bomber jacket that makes me feel like a fighter pilot from WW2 and I can’t wear it because it’s gigantic. I have snaffled these items over the years so they didn’t get given to charity shops.
    My dad and I used to drive all over in his little 2 seater green convertible, him in the sheepskin and me in my batman varsity jacket…wish I still had that, he’d put the sheepskin over me if I fell asleep. He’s not a PDA kinda guy so that’s special to me. So is the ring he gave me for my 18th birthday, with the words “you better have this”. It’s the first ring my Mum bought him. It’s silver with a half inch onyx oval and scroll work down the sides 70s amazingness. When they got married she bought him a gold one almost the same and he stopped wearing the silver. I love it so much but no longer wear it because I stopped wearing all rings at the start of my Art degree, clay and finger stripping in wood/metal shop and damaging them were too many fears.
    When I came out I was so scared of his reaction, he was always the strict parent, the disciplinarian and he was the one who didn’t react. It made no difference to him. I was the same person as ever.
    I also have a leather blazer (I guess that’s the shape) of my mother’s I wouldn’t let my Mum throw out, it’s super worn in with scuffs and a few tears, the pockets are totally destroyed inside from her keys and she stretched it over so many years so it fits me…it’s tight but it fits. She was away a lot working when I was a kid and she bought it when she was in Mexico I think. Or maybe Spain. It’s like wearing a hug from along time ago and far away.

  12. Hat,

    Poetry.

    “I also have a leather blazer (I guess that’s the shape) of my mother’s I wouldn’t let my Mum throw out,

    “It’s like wearing a hug from along time ago and far away”.

    Thanks for sharing that.

  13. this was a beautiful article. thanks for sharing, and thank you for all your stories. It’s a wonderful read.

    I have small things from my parents that I wear from time to time, but the hand-me-down that matters most to me is my grandfathers wristwatch. It’s a very classic beautiful men’s golden watch, and he wore it for the last years prior to his death. He was a very important person in my life, so when he died I did lots of talking to get the watch (that went to my fathers as only son, obviously). Now it’s mine, and I hope I will never have to part with it again. Wearing it feels like having a gift from him, and also a little bit like he is holding my hand once more to guide me on our long daily walks in the woods.

  14. I had a shirt with a tiger on it that my dad bought in China when he visited in the late 1970s or early 1980s. He went to work in Saudi Arabia for a year (which is another great story) and after, he traveled the world. He got this shirt, and wore it, and years later my mother took it (again, one of those men-don’t-wear-tight-t-shirts-anymore situations) and then when my sister was in middle and high school I guess she borrowed it and then kept it. So by the time I got it it was some 30 years old, and the shoulder seams were full of holes, and so was the binding at the neck, and there were pit stains, and the whole thing was tissue-thin and very, very soft. Finally after years of mending it and having it just generate new holes, I cut it into a back patch for my jacket, but I haven’t attached it yet. When I told my dad I’d cut it he acted offended, but I think it was that or the trash. Literally more holes than shirt. I miss it though, it went with everything and was so comfy and light.

  15. I have this one t-shirt from a family reunion for my dad’s family years and years ago. The shirt isn’t anything special, but it has tree with my dad, aunts and uncles, his parents, and his father’s parents on it. It doesn’t fit anymore, and I haven’t worn it since it was the cool thing to do in small town Iowa to wear obscure screen print tees (read early 00s), but I can’t seem to let it go. Maybe I should have the tree part framed and hang it in my apartment.

  16. I’ve almost always had a special love for big shirts, thick and fluffy ones as well as just regular t-shirts, so when I was big enough I started taking my dads shirts that I thought he didn’t use enough. He’s a couple sizes bigger than me; around L or XL I think, and sometimes I found real gems while raiding his closet.
    A couple special shirts are a huge grey one (I think I ‘borrowed’ it when I was 14) and today, at 21, it’s still big enough that you can’t see my fingers if I don’t roll up the sleeves. There are also the flannel shirts that I took from him when he bought a bunch of them, they are wonderful but also a bit big for me.
    Sometimes I also found a pair of pants that magically kinda fit me, except in the waist. That one pair of camouflage pants with pockets that can fit almost anything are a dream come true (no really I think I managed to put 3 0.5L bottles of soda in one of the pockets once, as well as 5 small pieces of bread and a newspaper in the other pocket.)

  17. When I got married last fall, I wore 3 long, thin, pearl & gold necklaces – one was my grandmother’s, one was my mom’s, and one was mine. I also wore a bracelet that my mom gave me the day before the wedding, which my grandfather had given to my grandmother at their wedding. It has a gold disc with each of their names engraved on one side, along with the date (1946). Both of my grandparents died within the last 5 years and we were extremely close, but I’m not sure that they would have attended my (queer) wedding if they were alive, so it was really amazing to feel like I had them there with me.

    On a more everyday note, I used to sleep in my mom’s old sorority t-shirt all the time. No idea why, as neither she nor I cared much about the sorority, but I still have it. This post makes me want to dig up more of my parents’ clothes from their college days…

  18. That was beautiful, both the words and pictures.

    I am pretty close with my parents, and I have special clothes items that remind me of each of them. From my mom, I have a scarf she made me that is a replica of the Fourth Doctor’s scarf. It’s special for it’s look, of course, but more so because she knitted especially for me. From my dad, I have an old Detroit Tigers cap that he used to wear when he was younger (teenager and 20-something adult). Those two items always make me think of my parents when I wear them.

  19. I wear some of my mums boots still, I stopped fitting into her old clothes not long after she died, because she was tiny and I am not.

    The best thing is my Dad’s old red plaid flannel shirt and leather motor bike jacket. The jacket I have to keep for best now because it’s coming to bits after 40 years of hard wear, but the shirt is in regular circulation. It makes me feel grungy and cool and dykey and safe because it’s so big and soft.

  20. I wear this beat up mens red leather jacket (so old it just says “made in Korea” before there was a north or south) my dad bought back in the late 70s. I wear it like a security blanket (if I’ve got to look like a dude I might as well look fly am I right?) when I had to butch it up when I was working as a substitute teacher. That jacket for w/e reason makes me androgynous enough to both fool these kids into thinking I’m a dude while at the same time causing me to get more correct gendering from pretty much everyone else in public than when I actually go full fem. I know my dad will never understand my need to transition but its good that he can help me along even if he doesn’t know it

  21. When my dad passed away, my brother got most of his suits and ties. Recently, I found one of his floral ties straight out of the 80s? 90s? I’m not too sure, but I’m going to keep it forever and I can only hope that he’s looking down with a smile on his face when I put it on.

  22. I often steal my dads old stuff, mainly because I personally believe that he had very good taste before he married my mother. :D I wear his old track letterman jacket whenever it’s cold enough outside, and I steal his hats constantly. Really, I still haven’t decided whether I wear them because I’m super gay and they’re awesome, or just because the piss my mom off. (Also, I was wearing one of the hats backwards this morning, and she told me I looked like a dyke in it. I’m not out to anyone really, but I was kinda proud of myself that even my majorly homophobic mother saw that. :D )

  23. A couple of years ago my auntie gave some hand-me-downs to my mum for my brother. My mum let me have first dibs. I just remember it was so validating that my mum stepped in to make sure I could have the choice (which my auntie wouldn;t have thought of at all). I find it especially nice because my twin is super girly, and I’ve always felt like a let down in comparison to her style choices, which are just more socially expected.

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