by Dina Lobo
A bi-weekly column where I explore and reinvent clothes I stole from my mom’s closet. I’ve been incorporating pieces from my mom’s closet into my own wardrobe for years and only now am I unpacking the stories and meanings attached to these pieces.
This white blazer that I found in my mom’s closet a few months ago still had the tags on it. When I asked my mom why she hadn’t worn it, she said she never got the chance to because her father died not too long after she bought it. Although I started this column to explore and redefine pieces of clothing that my mom had already worn and lived in, I felt this piece said a lot about how grief can have a huge impact on how we choose to dress and represent ourselves.
When my grandfather passed away in 2004, my mom’s spirit and wardrobe changed drastically. I was 11 years old the moment my mom had heard the news. I remember her running up and down the hallway of our apartment, wailing and crying before she collapsed on the floor in disbelief. As teenagers, we tend to miss the complexity of our parent’s emotions, especially when they hide them. I didn’t understand what I couldn’t see and the only major change I observed was in her wardrobe. It was a harsh contrast to the mother who once introduced me to fashion with so much positivity and excitement. That thrill and enthusiasm about clothing died for years and I felt like a big part of who I grew up with was gone.
“The first thing that immediately changed after his death was the colour. After my dad died, I wore black for almost five years. Between black, grey and sometimes white. It was simple, no more colour. No more designs. No more patterns on my clothing. I also stopped wearing makeup. It affected my closet badly. If you opened my closet, all you’d see is 90 per cent black and 10 per cent white.”
Under the guise of comfort, my mom began talking about her relationship with her dad. I was about to leap into more questions, when I noticed a sudden change in her tone and tears rolling down her eyes. Her shoulders lost tension and began drooping. Her gaze now directed at the table her elbows were resting on. It was an emotional relief from the strength she initially had. Unashamed and in the midst of crying, she insisted I continue the interview and said, “oh how much I miss him. I just wish I could hold him again.”
My mom had a special relationship with her father, especially after her mother passed away when she was younger. I asked if she expected her father’s death to have such an impact on her wardrobe.
“Oh yes. I knew it would affect me and I expected it would affect me to the extent it did, I really did.”
I told my mom there was no way she expected to wear black for five years straight, but wiping the tears off her face, she responded with confident reassurance.
“Dina, I did. If anything I wanted to wear black for the rest of my life, but because of you and your brother – because of my kids – I didn’t continue wearing black.”
In 2008, just before I moved to Texas to live with my aunt for a year, my mom got into a car accident that left her traumatized and is the reason why she stopped driving.
“I wore black up until my car accident, that is when things shifted for me. When you left to study in Texas for awhile I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ I decided I would change my wardrobe because you were far from me and I didn’t like the feeling of adding too much negativity in our lives, especially after experiencing that.”
“In Arabic, there’s a saying that in translation reads along the lines of ‘darkness pulls more darkness,’ as in if you put out negative energy, you will receive negative energy and I didn’t want that. When the accident happened, I felt in a moment that I was going to die. It’s as if I saw death right in front of me. I even said my goodbyes and gave myself to God in that moment. When I came out of it alive, I thought, ‘wow my kids need me, let me start making some changes. I really don’t want this.’ I said, ‘I’m living now for my kids’.”
After the accident, whites, blues and denim slowly refreshed my mom’s wardrobe and I could sense the start of change, the subtle spring before a more passionate summer. Still, she wasn’t excited about fashion and the effort was minimal. It was only after we moved to Canada in 2011 that I started to really encourage my mom. I would buy her pieces for different occasions and I could see that my efforts were slowly influencing her. She began talking about a certain style of blouse she couldn’t find and started digging deep into her closet to revisit pieces she had neglected for years. When my mom came knocking on my door asking if her skirt matched her top, I knew I was beginning to get a big part of her spirit back.
I asked my mom if her wardrobe took a dark turn after her mother’s death as well and this is what she had to say:
“My dad was alive, so it was different. I wore black for around two years, but my dad didn’t let me continue mourning my mom for too long. A lot of my siblings, including myself, got married after my mom died so we had weddings to attend around that time too so, I didn’t want to continue wearing black because I wanted to honour her spirit. Honestly, my fashion sense and the interest I have for it, I got it from my mom. My mom’s spirit was so fun and lively. She loved parties and loved celebrations. She loved colours and used to say ‘if I die, I don’t want anyone to wear black,’ but I couldn’t control it.”
Although my grandfather’s death led to my mom’s detachment from fashion, I do believe that the way in which she dressed herself was still important to her unconsciously. The reason being? She made sure her pain and mourning were clearly reflected in her wardrobe choices.
How I wear this blazer: Since my mom never got the chance to wear it, I feel like it’s mine. I love the silver and metal details on the sleeve and the zipper that goes around the back. To balance how large and overwhelming it can be on my body, I pair it with short skirts and fitted-dresses. Generally, I like to pair oversized jackets and blazers with specifically short pleated skirts. I call it the ‘I Ran Away From A Catholic Boarding School’ look. In the winter I’ll add knee-high socks.