The clothes and the man

I went to the theatre last night and there on my seat waiting for me when I arrived was a letter addressed to me. When I opened it later (it was too dark to try to read it in the theatre), I discovered it was a fundraising letter signed by the actor David Wenham, who was starring in the production I saw.

The letter centres on the important role of costumes in theatre and the quality of the costumes at the MTC. “Clothes might not necessarily make the man,” David Wenham says in the letter, “but costumes certainly make the character”.

Funnily enough, that particular quote by Mark Twain, “Clothes make the man”, had come to me earlier in the day as well.

I was at my mum’s house, ostensibly to look through my dad’s clothing to see if I wanted anything before she gave it all away to charity. Actually, I shouldn’t say “all”. Mum told me that she’d already given away Dad’s more casual clothing a while ago, without telling anyone at the time. Now she felt ready to give his formal clothing away too and wanted to know if I wanted anything.

Dad had a beige bomber jacket that I hated when he was alive because it seemed so daggy and he wore it everywhere. Needless to say now that he’s gone I love that stupid jacket because it reminds me of him… ironically exactly because it is so daggy and he wore it everywhere.

When I’d spoken to Mum on the phone before going over I had asked her about the beige jacket but she told me she was going to keep it. I was a little surprised as my mum’s not hugely sentimental, but of course I don’t mind. I’m just happy it’s being kept.

I then asked about one of Dad’s flannel shirts, seeing as he wore them all the time. She explained that she’d given them away, having assumed that we wouldn’t want his old clothes. So I went over to take a look at what was left.

Dad died unexpectedly about a year and a half ago and while it took me a while to accept it, I’ve more or less become reconciled to it these last few months. I thought if anything, I might feel a twinge of sadness when I saw his clothes.

Instead as the wardrobe was flung open and I saw his shirts and jackets and pants hanging there, I was overcome with a thousand memories.

Dad in his blue checked shirt sitting on the back doorstep at Mum and Dad’s with my dog, Gus, and pulling a funny face for the camera. Dad in his green and maroon all-weather jacket, standing at my front door with Mum next to him, visiting in winter. Dad in one of his many pairs of tailored Fletcher Jones pants (his favourite brand) and short sleeved shirts. Dad came to life suddenly in the clothes that he wore when he was here with us.

Tears streamed down my face. In that moment I wanted to keep everything. I was afraid that giving it all away would mean that I would lose those memories forever.

The rational part of me knows that that’s not going to happen. But I asked Mum if we could put it off for a couple of weeks so that I could get my head around it first. We closed the wardrobe and I composed myself.

It was during this whole experience that the quote popped into my head: Clothes make the man. Yes, I thought. They absolutely do.

Except for a moment they also did much more than that. For a moment, just a moment, clothes made the man come back to life. Seated man in blue checked shirt pulling funny face and holding a little dog


2 thoughts on “The clothes and the man

  1. My first reaction was ‘aw sweet’ … Then ‘very poignant’ … Then ‘wise woman putting it off for a little while’ … I too have things ( not clothes) of a deceased loved one to dispose of. I have had them in my car boot for nearly three years now. I know i will need to be feeling very emotionally strong to do it and be accompanied by loving people (husband will do nicely) and have lots of tissues …

    Your reaction is very normal. Bless you

    • Thanks Jo. We’ve gone through some of the other things that Dad owned so I thought I knew what to expect but I think I underestimated the extent to which clothes are associated with the actual person. No wonder actors often feel that they only truly become the person they’re playing when they put on the costume.

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