The significance of a sailboat skirt 

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“Just throw on a t-shirt,” my husband responds automatically any time I’m struggling to pick out clothes or questioning what I should wear.

He knows that is rarely my outfit of choice. I dress for my mood and associate clothes with feelings or events. Because of this, I can rarely pick out clothes in advance. What if I don’t feel like wearing that tomorrow? Before motherhood, this was occasionally an inconvenience or frustration, but it never had any ramifications other than a slow packing process or a late arrival. I always eventually figured out how to prepare and what to wear.

I wore a green dress for a major college internship interview, with a white blazer that never felt like it belonged on me. For my dad’s military retirement ceremony, I bought a blue lace dress that is still a favorite years later. Before my first date with my now-husband, I went with a go-to classic: my turquoise skirt with tiny white sail boats on it. I had just graduated from college, and it seemed to perfectly capture the lightness of the afternoon; the idea that this could be the start of something.

I felt like myself in that sailboat skirt, which is both a major feat and a laughably deep association for a piece of clothing. Still, I catalogue these outfit choices in my mind like tiny milestone markers representing a larger event or moment in life. They have significance to me, if no one else. The first thing I bought after learning that our baby was a boy? An airplane onesie. My dad is a pilot and it seemed like a fitting first purchase as I browsed through clothing racks and tried to wrap my head around the fact that I was going to have a son.

During the last few months of my pregnancy, I lived in swing dresses and swim suits that were a few sizes too small. Fortunately, the latter was always worn in the privacy of my parent’s pool, so I didn’t have to subject the public to the fear of a chlorinated water birth. But still, this period of time taught me to let go of control – of my body, of my wardrobe, of my plans. He would come when he was ready and I would eventually stop waddling. I was limited to only a few outfit options that covered my giant stomach but didn’t suffocate me in triple-digit heat. I became both indifferent about my clothing and yet uninspired by my three repetitive choices. I missed my old jeans and at the same time I couldn’t imagine who I would be the next time I was in them.

As I prepared for motherhood, I often found myself standing blankly in front of my closet wondering what the mom version of me would wear. I had quickly given up on packing a glorious, Pinterest-worthy hospital bag, but I knew that I needed something in there besides socks and jolly ranchers. The summer my son was born was a scorcher and the heat seemed to fuel my anxiety. I might never care what I wear again, I thought, as the responsibility of caring for a tiny human loomed and reality set in. How was I going to handle this? Instead of googling more hospital bag lists or overthinking my labor wardrobe, I focused on washing his impossibly small clothes.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry about choosing the best hospital clothes or bringing the right robe. Of course my outfit choice didn’t matter when it came to becoming a mom. I put on a hospital gown and was delirious for much of my transition into motherhood. It didn’t matter how I looked. It didn’t matter what I packed in my bag. He arrived in the midst of a million emotions and full of overwhelming love.

After a foggy newborn period, our infant phase was marked by stretchy black yoga pants and more uncertainty, while toddlerhood emerged with a newfound love for skinny jeans and a budding confidence. So, in this aspect of life, I choose nostalgia over minimalism. There are some clothing items I won’t get rid of, even though I rarely wear them. Others have obvious seasonal or practical limitations, but they still have personal value to me; like an old picture in a frame that you never update. Because sometimes in our quest to get rid of everything, we forget why we’re holding on and that who we used to be shaped who we are. The day Ryan proposed to me, three years after our first date, I wore another sailboat skirt as we walked by a marina on the California coast. It now hangs next to the turquoise sailboat skirt from college. My closet may be slightly more full – and certainly less organized – than others, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

When I look back on my first year with Griffin, there’s a tiny, applesauce-stained outfit next to mine in the mental timeline of events. From the light cotton onesies that got us through the Arizona summer to the cutest Hawaiian shirt he wore for a tropical wedding, his outfits are pressed into my memories along with his eating schedule, sleeping preferences, silly faces and so much more. He’s crazy and messy and perfect. Life is far less curated and much more wrinkly than it used to be. And I’ve never felt more significance in my choices than I do now.

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