As a thrift store wanderer, I'm constantly surrounded by interesting clothes coming from all different kinds of attic chests and basement closets. And at a granny-run thrift store is where I met the pants that changed my life — nestled right there in between acid washed boot cut jeans and baggy cargo pants circa our junior high years. A pair of pants that I never thought that I'd ever own, but that became the catalyst that completely changed my style.
As I was wandering in between racks of fuzzy mohair sweaters with moth holes and second-grade-teacher denim overall dresses, I saw from the corner of my eye a pair of wool grey slacks poking out from the dollar rack. They were a proper pair of old-lady pants, with razor sharp pleats going down the line of the leg and plenty of baggy room in the butt region. They were high waisted and reminded me of my old babysitter that used to have pants that buttoned right below her boobs, and I had to bite my lip to stop the laugh from tumbling out. They were not my style. At all. I still had about 60 more years to go before I started sampling these types of closet options, and I had no business even looking at the slacks, really. They were not what I would have then defined as my style. At all.
But I felt this weird tug to them that equal parts alarmed and confused me. Something about them was so... I don't know. I wanted to say "me" but that would mean I was a great-grandmother who made cookies for the church bake sales, and I wasn't sure I wanted to go down that road. But while half of my brain argued over the ugliness of the wool slacks, the other half started to walk down a different tangent full of possibilities. I imagined wool berets and berry lipsticks; American Apparel ads and platform oxford shoes. Baggy crop tops came to mind, as did tight turtlenecks with my '50s reading glasses. Something was forming in the back of my head, and I didn't want to ignore it. So looking behind my shoulder like I was doing something illicit, I grabbed the pants and ran to the changing room.
While in there, I rolled my shoulders and looked myself square in the eyes, ready to lay on the mother of all lectures. My mouth set in serious lines, I gave myself a talking-to before I let myself take off my coat. "Listen," I said. "There's no way we're going to like these pants. Don't make a mockery out of your wardrobe. You think your '50s Hawaii-resort dresses and gingham picnic skirts are going to welcome this ugly pair of pants with open arms? No." Throwing a sly side eye at the trousers, I nodded my head gravely at my reflection.
On top of that, it's going to make my butt look about a mile long and eat up any hint that I've got an hourglass shape, turning me into a 26 year old newspaper boy. Nah. Not for me.
And if I didn't slip into those pants — no matter how reluctantly, no matter how hesitantly — I wouldn't have a closet full of oxford shirts and men's cardigans right now, with rows of tasseled penny loafer shoes and neatly folded fisherman sweaters. I wouldn't have my dad's watch on my wrist like a favorite cocktail ring. I wouldn't sigh lustily over anything that looks like it could have belonged to a 70 year old literature professor.
Pre-grandma pants, I was all about them Doris Day dresses and '50s curls, but now I walk around with permanent bed head and have gone for a masculine-Katherine-Hepburn look that's cut with bohemian and lazy vibes with unbuttoned collars and messily rolled pants. It was a giant change.
But I needed that change. My personality was shifting. I was growing on the inside and becoming better acquainted with who I was and what I wanted to become, and those sweet pies-cooling-on-the-windowsill dresses weren't going to reflect that any longer. And while I wouldn't go as romantic as to say that those dollar wool pants were the one thing that helped me become comfortable with that changing version of myself, I will say that they helped me recognize it and express it. And even more importantly, it showed me that I was in fact leaving an older me behind, and that I was ready to do so. They didn't help me define my sense of self, but it helped me refine it and explore it.
So my message to you is that if you like something, you should try it. Just cannon ball in there. Don't think about your preconceived notions of what works for you and what doesn't; what you like and what you wrinkle your nose at. Because if you listen to those style prejudices or body negative thoughts, you'll never know where those random style whims could lead you.
Being brave enough to follow your interests and likes can help you become better acquainted with yourself and help you figure out who you are. We're constantly changing — whether personality or aspiration wise — so we shouldn't silence those weird sparks of interests because they could lead us to a new version of ourselves that we're ready to become. Who knows? Maybe a pair of pants can just be a complete and total "no" in a dressing room. But then again, other times they can be a catalyst towards something completely and wonderfully new.
Images: Marlen Komar