My dad is not a modern, clothing-coveting man. He doesn’t see the point in spending money on such frivolous things and hasn’t worn a tie in almost a decade. He avoids buying new garments with the stubbornness of a child, and when he does purchase them, he always insists they remain pressed, clean, and pristine, ultimately helping him avoid shopping for longer periods of time. His classic look is a black or navy crew-neck sweater, and dark-washed jeans or corduroys. My stylish mother often totes home fashionable new things for him to don, which he stashes deep in his closet and refuses to wear.
Ever the money-saver, he always tries his hardest to return the things my mother buys for him, but he isn’t always able to do so in time. The outfits he hasn’t managed to get a full refund for have slowly accumulated in my parents’ closet, hanging there mournfully, practically shining underneath the thin layer of dust that has settled on them.
My dad is fully aware of who he is and doesn’t need any material things to validate him. When I come back from a day of shopping with my friends, he looks at the bags hanging from my arms and the iPhone in my hand, shaking his head with a mixture of pity and contempt.
“Kids these days,” he’ll mutter in deep, guttural Russian, before slumping back to the garage to build a new bookshelf or something equally practical.
As far back as I can remember, he’s had very strong opinions about what I choose to wear. My dad and I aren’t really what you’d call best friends. In fact, we‘re two completely clashing personalities (who may only clash because deep down we’re too similar). When I was but a wee lass, he would constantly chastise me for dressing too boyishly, or for having holes in my jeans, or for layering shirts in the summer. “It’s too hot!” he’d scorn, “You never dress appropriately for the weather!” I learned to simply say that he had no sense of style because he was a boy, and he clearly didn’t get it.
Then one day, about two years ago, I was stricken with a longing for an oversized sweater, and found myself rifling through my dad’s closet, confident that there would be something there that I could take for myself. I struck sartorial gold. That day I took a grey, argyle, wool V-neck sweater. My mother had bought it the year before, convinced that it was something my dad wouldn’t object to; he did. That single sweater gave way to an obsession with my dad’s clothing, which I now steal, hoard with the fervour of a small rodent, and wear as often as I can.
Once, a friend asked to borrow the grey wool sweater. I was hesitant. This was my dad’s sweater, after all. Would it look the same on her as it would on me? Would it be the same? Would she understand the importance of this sweater? I was nervous, but I reluctantly handed it over. The entire time she wore it, I squirmed and felt nauseous.
I pestered her continually while the sweater was in her possession, and eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, she gave it back. But it seemed different somehow. It was smaller. She had washed it, and being wool, it shrunk. Now my dad, who wouldn’t have worn it before, wouldn’t be able to wear it at all. The pseudo-connection I had with my dad because of the sweater was now severed, and it suddenly became fully my own.
After this incident, I swore off letting people borrow my father’s clothing. He’s my dad, I reasoned. I should be the only one wearing his rejected clothing, the only one proudly parading in his leftover, holey T-shirts and big, woolly turtlenecks. It was selfish, I know, but my need for my father’s approval and my desire to have a well-developed relationship with him has, at this point, manifested itself in clothing.
Although fashion is (and always will be) something we greatly disagree on, I find comfort in wearing his soft sweaters, despite the fact that he himself has never actually put them on. The whiny teenager in me is still angered and frustrated by my father’s comments and personality, but the adult who I am growing into understands why he is who he is, and how exactly it is that our unspoken relationship works.
text by Sofie Mikhaylova