We start the scene with my mom standing teary eyed at the bottom of the staircase on prom night, looking up as I walk down the stairs. But the reason her eyes are going blurry isn't because her only daughter looks beautiful in a gold silk dress — it's because her only daughter is loudly clomping down in a gold silk dress and flip flops. My mom hates my clothes. It's the way she's always been, and probably the way she will always be. And I love it.
My mom and I have always had a tense relationship when it comes to my closet. I've always had a soft spot for the the non-traditional. Tevas with evening dresses, mom jean Levi's with tennis shoes, vintage '50s dresses paired with black lipstick — that's more my speed. If she had it her way I'd only wear the polyester tunics and butterfly dresses she gets me every Christmas. You might think it leaves us locking horns each time I need to dress up, and I won't say you're wrong. But oddly enough, we both enjoy the tension. When isn't a mother-daughter relationship complicated, anyway?
No matter where we're headed or what I'm wearing, she'd always lean against the doorjamb and sigh heavily as I'm putting on my lipstick, eyeing my outfit and asking me to reconsider. Instead of being offended, I always throw my head back and laugh, delighted with her observations. Why? Because I'm 100 percent her when she was in her twenties.
I mean this lovingly, but my mom was straight up weird. The first time my dad met her was in a Polish bar in their Belarus-bordering village, where she rolled up wearing red rain boots and a cropped haircut with gray-highlighted bangs. My dad said the moment he saw her he shoved his friend off of the stool and on to the floor, waving her over to show they had an empty seat at the table.
I remember rooting through her closet and playing with '80s evening dresses that were so silver and satiny that they'd flow like molten liquid between my little hands. She had sassy sequined hats with cage nets, a jewelry box with coaster-sized clip-on earrings, and rows and rows of tulle dresses and satin blouses, their padded shoulders jutting out at all angles when I'd open the closet door with a church-like respect.
Every time she went on a date with my dad, I'd grab my plastic kids purse and climb on top of her bed, quietly committing to memory the way she'd kohl the eyes we both shared and how she'd consider the brown lipstick for a second only to go for the red. It was in her room that I learned I loved fashion — it was in her room that I got to see all the different ways a woman could transform herself into her different personas.
It was with her that I learned a woman was allowed to have multitudes; while many like to whittle us down to one identity, clothes let us explore all our different faces. She was mom with the soft sweaters, house cleaner with the tough Levis, artist with her New Romantics poet blouses, leader with her shoulder pad blazers, twenty-something with her sequined minis, and Vogue worshiper with her 98 percent-off Loehmans designer finds. You don't have to be any one thing when armed with your closet — you can be all the different lives you're exploring, and the person you see when you look at yourself, without anyone else's opinions, demands, or expectations coloring your reflection.
She liked big hair, heavy shadow, baggy men's tuxedo jackets, matching dress shirts with my dad, bolero neck ties, and fabulously loud dresses that favored tulle and gaudy bows and look-at-me-prints.
And I got all that from her. And I know she's both proud and exasperated I'm following in her footsteps. My admittedly quirky outfit choices aren't just reflections of all the different women living inside of me, but they're a physical connection to my mother. They're a connection to those memories I have of kneeling with her on the floor and helping her choose high heels, my plastic purse next to my leg. They're a link to the pictures I used to pour over when she'd be at work cleaning, tracing little fingers over parties caught in film, taking in my mom's jumpsuits and permed mullets, her hot pink suits and her fishnet gloves. My style is my small monument to my mom.
So whenever she begs me to change and to stop embarrassing her, I kiss her on the nose, put on my Tevas with my evening dress, and walk with her to the car.
And we link arms the whole way down, knowing each woman is the mirror image of the other.
Images: Marlen Komar