“Scott! Look at this! It was made in Barbados!”
I’m holding up a leotard/unitard/one piece shorty exercise outfit. Exuberant tropical flowers, red, orange, pink, are splashed large across a white background.
What’s surprising is not so much that it was made in the country we now live in, but that I’d bought it 25 years before, on a Caribbean cruise that my ex had been keen to go on. I hadn’t even remembered which island it was where I’d found it at a dockside stall.
What’s surprising is that I still have it. It survived countless closet clean-outs over decades, even the final downsizing from a big house to a storage locker. It spent years in a box labeled “Clothes too good to throw out,” and somehow, last year, when I was clearing the storage locker on a visit to Canada, it ended up in my suitcase rather than the charity bin.
What is not surprising is that it looks almost new, the colours vibrant, the fabric still stretchy. I didn’t wear it much in Canada. My exercise clothes were more structured, dark and plain coloured. Just one of those impulse tropical purchases that didn’t fit my regular life— but somehow I never got rid of it.
I bet I looked good in it, almost 30 years ago, even though I had already had a child. Yet I wasn’t confident enough to wear something that so clearly said, “Look at me!”
I hadn’t worried much about what I looked like when I was young. I wasn’t classically beautiful or even cute, just awkward. I was flat-chested at a time when we’d sing, as we did calisthenics in our girls’ PE class, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust! The bigger the better the fuller the sweater, the boys depend on us!” I was so far from the ideal that I was free to be myself, and to my surprise, the boys seemed to like it. Of course, I had that innate power and beauty of youth that youth always takes for granted.
In my twenties, what I liked was being strong. I worked in the woods, as a geologist. I played hockey and rock climbed. I also loved getting dressed up, and the shock on the faces of those who thought they knew who I was.
Somehow, in my thirties, it started to change. I had the body of a woman yet the message was that it should still look like a girl’s. At the same time, my work had a professional dress code. My husband started suggesting some clothes should go, and he picked new ones for me. I stopped throwing away the free samples of anti-aging creams. Maybe that’s why my flowered clothing stayed in a box— I was afraid of the gentle mocking I might get if I wore something so inappropriate.
And now, twenty years later, I joyfully wear my flowered leotard, as I do my yoga on the days I don’t surf. Compared to my rash suits, it’s actually pretty tame. My hips may be wider, my waist thicker, and gravity has had its way with me. But I’m strong again, and I don’t give a damn about what other people think about what I wear.
So say “Hello” to a brave and beautiful broad. Or just maybe, “Welcome back.”