When my mom was up against the toughest battle of her life after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer on her birthday last year, these are the pants she wore:
I’d recognize them in my sleep. There was always at least one pair in every load of laundry, and every mall trip included a stop at Eddie Bauer for another pair. She lived in these sweat pants for the last 6-months of her life. They kept her tiny, shrinking, body warm and the draw string enabled enough flexibility to still fit the next week. So, it was the memory of these sweatpants that sparked my unease with an article I read yesterday.
It was written by one of my favorite writers, John Jannuzzi, who wrote his post after reading a rant post in the NY Post, by Elisabeth Vincentelli (who’s maybe one of his favorite writers?! Thus, completing the circle of life!) This chain may sound confusing. Basically, both writers post pros of dressing for success in order to be taken seriously, (because this is such a new thing!) I respect these two writers immensely, and they make lots of valid points… But… I have a big BUT and I cannot lie: their words read like those belonging to v. fabulous New York City people, who’ve never set foot in a small-town suburb and walked among its native people. Most definitely, the writers have never once braved the glorious lands of the netherworld, aka WalMart. (The prices there amaze me!) It’s not a bad thing.
I’m not here to tell anyone right from wrong, shame the fashion elite, or try a dramatic appeal to their emotions. I’m smart enough not to give myself authority where I haven’t earned it. But. Really, y’all? Your standards for dress are a galaxy far, far away from what is most important on the list of priorities many people carry with them every day.
My mom, while wearing saggy sweatpants, was facing a 5 percent chance she would be alive beyond a year. And, despite these impossible odds, as well as her oncologist’s too honest prognosis of 6-months, she 100 percent had not “given up” on herself.
In fact, she was overly positive, and I still sob every time I go back and read her last Tweet.
“Never give up. You don’t know what’s right around the corner.”
Her Eddie Bauer sweatpants were worn to as many places possible: dark movie theaters, the mall, neighborhood parties, the cancer hospital, visits with family, Christmas dinner, and even church. It was a blessing when a day arrived where she physically could leave the house, sweatpants or *not. (*It was v. much encouraged by my family that she wear pants.)
Plus, do you know how not fun it is shopping for a cute chemo outfit? It’s not fun. My mom and I tried before her first treatment to find a great new “power outfit” that really set the tone (for a miracle) because, as Jannuzzi writes, “Those who look their parts and places project authority, confidence, and an undeniable sense of self-awareness.”
The truth is, though, there are some heartbreaks in life that squash us no matter what we wear or will buy, how much money we have, if we’re attractive or not, or whether we are super successful and always look our part in the world.
I’m sure both writers would argue they, of course, weren’t suggesting sick people need to dress better– but they don’t know that. One quick and dirty glance isn’t enough to know what someone’s got going on beneath sweatpants, pjs and cargo shorts– even, if you’re wearing Google glasses, you still can’t tell. It could be a really, super bad day. It could be a big deal someone got out of bed. It could be the nicest clothing that person owns… Something you can learn by shopping at WalMart: the majority of people in our country are just trying to pay bills, stay healthy (enough), love their kids (enough), make a living, and be happy (again, enough.)
The crowd of unsuspecting people who’re standing outside a theater in the creepy picture used by the NY Post, well, maybe they’re just really happy and thankful to be seeing exciting, live theater in NYC. And, maybe despite, Vincentelli’s disgust, the men running around with their jiggly man boobs flapping in the wind are just plain happy as can be. Maybe these “slobs” are happier than the people who judge them. There are days since my mom’s death where I fight every demon to feel happy. So, if “happy” is setting the bar too low, well, sorry.
After reading the articles I did think, well, maybe I do need to dress nicer because I don’t have cancer. I want to honor my mom’s memory, not look like I’ve given up on life. Before her cancer, my mom dressed extremely well– stylish and age-appropriate — and sweats never, ever, left the house. Her visits to my college attracted tons of gushing sorority sisters, all saying how gorgeous she was and they’ll dress ‘just like her’ later in life, (when they’re old.) But despite my genetics for shopping, I’ll be damned if the way I honor my mom is with how I dress… this woman went a month without food and over 15-days without water before she had finally “given up.” That’s some rad shit.
I understand I do need to be realistic about how the world works because there are different types of people. Some types can be super snobby and judge you harshly. I usually don’t notice it while I’m bopping in my stretchy yoga pants listening to Weezer and daydreaming about WalMart, but it happens. Maybe my opinion on dressing will evolve with maturity, like my music taste, or maybe I’ll forever dress and act like a child, as Vincentelli says. I gotta say, though, after being her caregiver, kissing her when she died, planning her funeral and then burying my mom, I don’t feel very childish in anything I wear.
I’d be careful what you label people, esp. if using Grandpa Jannuzzi’s term, “subhuman.” Think about what defines people. And, if there truly is a need for better dress… then there’s a need for better understanding, too.