At a small birthday dinner recently, three people asked me where I got my black velvet jacket from. Versace was a classic, but that didn’t make it so special.
“It was my mother,” I answered proudly. When it comes to complimenting something unique I’ve been wearing, this has always been my response.
When I was a little girl, I played dress-up in my mom’s closet endlessly. She had two – one in her room full of old things, storage boxes and furs, and one outside to carry everything else. Snooping in her wardrobe sparked the excitement of doing something seriously taboo, slipping on delicate things I shouldn’t touch as if I was sneaking inside a fashion museum.
At 41, I’m still playing with my mom’s clothes. When she died a little over a decade ago, the closets I ransacked and longed for as a girl finally became mine. No permission needed to touch or try. When I stand in the mirror, the giant layers no longer overwhelm the child’s body. Everything fits in in many cases, some things are actually too small now.
When she died, the lockers I looted and I longed for as a girl finally became mine.
Wearing these items not only gives them a second life – it makes me feel closer to my mom. Like elegant blankets that I can take with me wherever I go, their cut reminds me of the woman who wore them first.
I am not alone in this practice. Recently, the daughters of celebrities have made headlines for wearing their famous mother’s costumes. Angelina Jolie’s daughters raided her wardrobe to wear dresses eternity Red carpet premiere. Notably, her daughter Zahra wore a vintage Elie Saab gown that Jolie previously wore to the Oscars in 2014. Just this summer, 16-year-old daughter, Rowan, wore her mother’s red strapless 1998 gown to her prom.
Both decisions prompted rapidly spreading stereotypical moments that also sparked debates about the power of a sustainable, recycled approach. Celebrities’ display of intergenerational wardrobes not only allows their own items to be recycled – it also has a huge impact on fashion consumption as a whole. When celebrities with big shopping budgets choose to share pieces with their kids instead of buying them new clothes, it allows us to feel comfortable doing the same on a smaller scale.
But for me, the bond between me and my mom has always been the biggest benefit of sharing her wardrobe. Wearing her own things is a way to preserve her style — and in a way, her memory.
It’s funny how my mother rarely wore the things in her wardrobe that I now cherish the most. Her daily attire consisted mostly of leggings and oversized black jackets; Her version of a typical New Yorker costume. I’ve never picked her up in a Missoni rainbow striped dress or Norma Camali’s luxe gray wrap jacket. These pieces may have been her favorites before my time, but that was an era I can only tell from the faded photos and fondly shared memories of when she was still here.
These pieces tell the story of a beautiful young woman who traveled the world, dined with great friends and was independent and personal. In one particular photo that I look at a lot, she’s standing on a street corner somewhere in Italy, wearing brown sandals with socks and a light blue top strap. Her happy expression was as if she was staring at me.
I remember once finding a box with a gold engraved picture of my father from my uncle’s wedding. They were young and relaxed – her face was surrounded by dark bangs, a long-sleeved black dress that complemented her slender frame. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life. At her waist, a giant white gardenia is pinned to the bodice of the dress. Decades before Carrie Bradshaw called her flower top, consider.
Years later, upon graduating from high school, I tried to copy the look, pairing a cheap Joyce Leslie black dress with a white gardenia pin. I can still remember the pride I wore this outfit, emulating the style icon and heroine as she happily watched it.
Recently, I’ve been copying entire photos I discovered during cleanups, recreating my mom’s stylish moments as accurately as possible. Tradition allows us to maintain our special bond now that she is gone. It is a bond that I carry with me in private when I put on her clothes.
Wearing her own things is a way to preserve her style — and in a way, her memory.
According to a study called Enclothed Cognition conducted by Professor Adam Galinsky and colleague Hago Adam at Northwestern University, emotions play a big role in what we wear — not because of the clothes themselves, but because of the associations we form with them and what they excite in us. This explains why I still think of my mother’s dress as a form of dress, which evokes so many strong emotions.
Her pieces are a fashionable body of armor that doesn’t quite represent me or my mother, but rather the bridge between us. When high-waisted skirts appear between the pages of next year Vogue magazineI can swim through a sea of my mother’s old skirts, and I know my clothes bear the seal of approval.
At a time when our generations define so much—either pesky millennials, old-fashioned baby boomers or progressive generation Z-er—still a shared love of style still manages to associate me with my mom. It’s a bond that helps me heal a little more each time I take something off the fold and put it down.
I may mourn her absence, but when I put on her clothes I embody her presence. Although she is not here, her spirit persists. This is the true power of style.