Monday, 1st of February, 2016
There was not a lot of money to be spent on clothes in our house when I was a child. In some ways my childhood was very privileged, because I was born into an extended family with a beautiful farm in paradise, but in other ways life was hard. Most of us can look back at life and find things to be grateful for and simultaneously know where the struggles laid. As a child, money was an issue in our little family of three. Overall, Mum did not have a consistent and reliable paying job, and neither my father of my brother’s father contributed regularly to support us, and so we lived on government money, and therefore we fell into the low-income bracket or as Mum would say, “We lived on the poverty line.” We did not experience the world standard of poverty because we lived in an incredible part of the world, but on paper yes, we were financially poorer than lots of people around us and sometimes we had to rely on others for support. There seems to some stigma with this, but I feel Mum’s desire to be a stay at home mother was very important to her and it was what she needed to do. I may have done things differently, but Mum made the best choices she could and regardless, money was always tight. As a child I was well aware of financial strain and it definitely shaped my character in adult life.
As I look back now, and I have been exposed to much greater examples of poverty and suffering, I know that what I experienced as a child was actually a beautiful enlightened life, but for some reason, even though we had so much, there was an energy that still circulated that diminished from all that we had. I should have grown up knowing just how lucky I was, even if we did not have money. Emotion, attitude and knowing where our personal lines and limits are drawn really shapes our lives. I like to think I am limitless, that I am accepting of everything. But I am not. I drew some very big social lines from a very young age.
Sometimes Mum was so broke we would have to have food boxes from charity. I remember once one box came because the pantry and fridge were totally bare and it was going to be weeks until we had cash again. I remember getting home from school and Mum telling me a food box came. I opened the cupboard and looked at the box, which was full of things we would never normally buy to eat. I looked through the box that sat in the cupboard hopefully and instead I was disgusted by a packet of powdered potato that you added water to, to make mashed potatoes. I held the packet in my hand and I felt so poor I wanted to cry. “This isn’t real food.” I thought to myself. “I am better than this.” I suppose if I had really been starving, seriously starving I would have eaten it, but regardless, child me knew that a real potato was much better and that poor people should be given better food.
This story isn’t about food though, it is about clothes, but I needed to share that first so you could understand, that the reason we did not have money to buy clothes was because sometimes we did not even have money to buy food. Mostly we were more than ok, but there was definitely extremes of great highs and great lows in our house. We only had to have charity boxes a few times, but I remember it. Some of you might think, but wasn’t family there to help out with food? Yes, family was right there, just down the road, and things always felt abundant and safe at grandma’s, but you see, sometimes when the government allowance would come through, Mum would buy things that Grandma would think were frivolous or the car would break down or there would be a huge bill, and then when the money ran out at the end of the month, we could not always ask Grandma for help. Grandma would know if Mum had used the grocery money to buy paint to paint one of our bedrooms. Grandma was however always helping anyway, by having us out to the farm for meals and lending Mum money for larger life goals like buying a car or house. In lots of ways Mum had help constantly but then there was always this balancing act, that could lead to quarrels about things. “What is more important? Pink bedroom walls or food on the table?” Mum just could not make ends meet, she was always scraping and she always wanted and needed a little more. There was constant pushing and pulling and it is quite exhausting when I think about it. That emotional and financial life battle we were all caught up in.
So with all of that, new clothes only happened I suppose twice a year, and in hindsight, this is also good and the way it should be, but for some reason, I felt like I wanted more. On Birthdays and Christmas when I received clothes, they were generally clothes from Kmart or Best & Less or handmade clothes that Mum, Grandma or my Aunt made. The handmade things I was given were very lovely because my family are skillful sewers, but when you have your heart set on something else for some reason, it is what it is. Sometimes I would be given a bag of hand-me-downs from friends that had more money than us, and that was usually my favorite. I could have been super happy with all of this, any other child might have been, but I wasn’t, I was caught up in ideas of how things had to be, in order to be happy. I wanted to define a ‘better life’ by clothes.
I remember once Mum had been given a bag of hand-me downs from someone I admired. As I sifted through the bag, a feeling a great disappointment arose, because the clothes were very exciting but they just were not going to fit me. They were what I considered at this time in my life as expensive clothes. They were brand name clothes, with labels on the inside and logos on the outside. Clothes that said Esprit and Benetton. To me these brands represented money and freedom and class. In my mind these stores were fancy city store, and if you shopped in them they gave you a glossy paper bag with cotton handles, it was my idea of perfection! I had never had that experience myself but you know the media is saturated with this kind of existence, and I thought it all must be so wonderful to go into a store like that to shop. The shopping represented a life that felt secure and abundant with choice.
There I stood, at the desk in the spare room, which was also where we kept the sewing machine and ironing board. With quick hands I rifled through this bag of hand-me-downs looking for some clothing happiness. I wanted to wear these clothes, I wanted that freedom where you could just go into a shop and buy a new shirt that said “Benetton” across the front and walk out swinging the shopping bags like it was the best day of your life.
It was so important to me, that desire to rise above was so strong that I unpicked the brand name tags out of the hand me down clothes that did not fit and I sewed them into my clothes so they would no longer be Kmart brand. From then on, when I picked up my shorts, I would see the Esprit label that I had sewn into them and I would smile to myself and think, “Who cares if they are really Esprit or not, they say Esprit now and that is that.”
My mother likely saw this when she did the laundry and she knew how much my desire to find happiness lay in clothes, and when my 13th birthday came around, she took me down to the coolest store in town, The Jean House, and she let me try on the designer brand name clothes of my dreams and I was allowed to pick out something to buy. I am sure this was an exciting day for Mum too, as she had worked at The Jean House at one point briefly, and she knew all of the staff, and Lismore was a small town back then and so the staff had seen my very young mother pregnant, and then pushing baby me around town in my green striped pram, and now here I was growing from a child into a young women. With the help of everyone, I choose a black Quicksilver tracksuits. I know that does not sound very special, but you see it was not just any tracksuits. It was the start of Quicksilver’s girls line and I grew up in surf culture so these brands meant something to me. Quicksilver had brought out a cropped track suit jumper that showed the mid drift. It had a silver screen printed graphic that said Quicksilver across the front with a drawstring in the ribbing so you could scoop it in under your breast to make it snug and shapely. I did not have any breasts, but still, it was basically a spunky, sort of sexy girl tracksuits. The legs were slim and fitted with cuffs, and I would wear it with my white sneakers that I used to scrub with a toothbrush to keep extra clean. The two piece tracksuit cost $100 in total which was a lot for us to spend on a tracksuit, and from that day on. I never heard the end of it. Sometimes it would be because Mum was proud that she met my needs, and then other times, it was tha my needs had caused her stress.
“I took you down to Jean house and spent $100 on a tracksuit you had to have!” My mother would say to me. I learnt then and there that even if something is really important to you, but then you don’t have any money again the following week to buy food, it can turn out to have been a bad choice. Grandma found out Mum spent all that money on a tracksuit for me, and Grandma had no relationships to brand name clothes what so ever because she sewed all five of her children all their clothing and to Grandma this was not a wise use of money when we did not have money for food. Grandma would hold Mum accountable of purchases like this, not in a mean way, just a rational way, but then Mum would feel bad and cry or feel stressed and it would spill onto me too. It isn’t something to look back on and say, “Oh it was so and so’s fault.” It is just a story you know, of people’s actions, feelings, a time and place.
Then to some degree I would just have to be selfish and go out and enjoy wearing my tracksuit anyway. I knew deep down Mum wanted me to be happy, and she would be proud to see me looking so jazzed up over my outfit. Someone had to be free. I would wear it over to the soccer field while the soccer boys were training and get a little teenager attention. Grandma would understand too, but you see, then the same thing would happen all over again 2 months later over something else Mum had bought for me or my brother or the house or herself. It was always a constant cycle, of balancing desires and emotions and money and family. I can still hear my Grandmother’s concern over my mother choosing to buy “Expensive cheese!” Family can be tricky.
About a year after buying this tracksuit, when I was 14, I started working as a shop assistant. I wanted and needed to have a job so that I could contribute to the household by supporting myself. I had been promised a job by a family friend, at Pinkerton’s Jewelers, and as soon as I turned 14 I was allowed to start working there. It was a lovely family own company run by a man we called G.P. who had known me from the time I was a baby. I was hired to be a “Saturday morning girl” and I would work from 8:30am to 12:20pm each Saturday selling and cleaning gold, silver, diamonds, watches, clocks and crystal. I was paid five dollars an hour to start with so between babysitting and the jewelry story job I could make about $35 a week. I would contribute some of my wage towards weekly groceries when Mum was super broke and I was able to buy myself clothes or go to the movies with the rest.
Next door to Pinkerton’s Jewelers was a clothing boutique that sold what I considered to be stylish clothing. The jewelry store and the clothing boutique shared a back hallway and stairwell leading to the stock storage floors directly above. Two young sisters owned the boutique and when new things arrived they would show me as I walked back and forth in the shared hallway. I have always been so easily lured by fabric. I was not making very much money in the scheme of things, and so I would have to put the clothing items on Lay-By as we called it, and pay a little off each week. I would pop into the boutique for a chat after work and put $5 or $10 on my account here and there and then after a month I could take home the dress or jacket or whatever it was my heart was set on.
There is a deep feeling of pride as I write this, because those were special humble times of my life, and society for that matter too. Where one was happy to work hard and wait. Chipping away at a goal, little by little.
So I have set the scene well and truly for you, of why I love clothes and how in my past, I both yearned for them symbolically, for a sense of security and joy and then I started working at a young age so I could cloth myself. Now let’s just fast forward life to more recently. To the time when one day, instagram made one of my childhood dreams come true and I suddenly had more designer children’s clothes than I ever imagined I would.
I was deeply drawn to Children’s fashion. One thing in life lead to another and somehow I glided swiftly along a path through instagram where people started writing to me offering us clothes. It started slowly, bit by bit there was a trickle and then before I knew it, I was paddling down this constant steady stream. It was more amazing than I ever imagined. It actually did make me feel good. It gave me what I wanted. I had wished and wished and wished as a girl, for these clothes and then 30 years later, my wish had coming true. I was forming beautiful friendships and a portfolio of creative photos. I really had a sense I was a part of something.
The opportunity for more clothes just kept coming. I let it happen and I made it happen and for a while I was thriving on it. I felt an addictive richness, and my life felt abundant in a way my inner child had really needed, but then suddenly I could not cope with it.
One day I woke up and we had too much. Too many emails, too many clothes, too many photos to take, too many friends, too much pressure. I felt it in my stomach. “Enough Kirsten, we have enough!” and so I started saying no, but the thing was, no can be so very hard to say when you have wished for something for so long and when you truly admire the beauty in a very deep and meaningful way, but still, there was something there that did not feel right and true anymore and when that happens, one must listen… which mean’t all my friends also had to listen to me go on about it while I processed letting go. It was an ongoing conversation I would have with anyone who liked to have a chat.
“I have to give up children’s fashion… but I can’t, it is just so fun! But I have to, I just can’t keep taking photos of the girls like that, and I can’t be a part of the more, more more stuff anymore. It is too much. But how can I give up Mabo and Soor Ploom and Babaa and Ace & Jig, and who in their right mind would say no to a Little Creative factory coat?” I would say.
Oh the temptation was so great. Then I would sit myself down and rationalize. “Winners let go and move on Kirsten, winners let go and move on.” Deep down there was a sense of contradiction, an awareness of greed and disconnection from the planet and to those in need. “I have alignment to the earth” I would tell myself. I was a bare foot, paddock running, mud sloshing, waterfall jumping, cow chasing child and my inner environmentalist and conservationist was always nagging me. “Kirsten, just because something is organic or ethically made, it does not make it ok for you to have it. If you already have enough, enough, is enough. Let someone else have it.”
See really, the world has enough clothes and fabric to last generations, and we all know that, but clothes have become about so much more to people than meets the eye and I had to be connected to that truth within myself and bring my truth to the surface. Mostly, like everything it has to do with needing love attention and excitement, and that is totally ok, I am not alone in being healed by cloth.
My self honesty was always there hugging me and nurturing my best self. “How can I be me, and not be a contradiction?” I would wonder. How can I fill this need within myself and honor the earth and others who have less? So I decided I would just take a break. I would stop accepting clothes, maybe not forever, but just until we wear, grow out of, or give away, what we have. Or I work out a better way to do it, that helps others and the planet more.
It is a big deal to me, as you will all now know. That I am healed and empowered, and that I am able to help others. Medicine comes in so many forms and it is a sigh of relief I know I do not need cloth to heal me in that way anymore. I still feel a great sense of safety and comfort in beautiful clothes, it makes life feel good, but sometimes going without makes life feel better.
Much thanks to all of the amazing people who helped me, and held me in friendship.
Thank you for reading Magnesium Blue.