Dress codes by Marielle Higler

My mother was a very strict woman. She set very high standards for herself and therefor also for us, my four siblings and myself. Not an easy task if you consider we were born in war-crippled Holland during and shortly after WWII.

She stood on etiquette and good table manners. She valued good schooling and education so we could become strong, independent, well-trained, well-behaved, professional people. That’s all great and I am very grateful, but as part of that image we had to be dressed sensibly and conservatively, from a very young age on. And that’s where my problems began.

We went twice a year (spring and fall) to a very expensive clothing store (no big box) and were dressed in good, wholesome, good quality clothes that would last us at least a couple of seasons and then some.

Nothing fashionable or funky, no trendy, poor quality stuff that would have to be replaced the next season. Until I entered primary school I had to wear a snow-white, semi-starched, ruffled apron over my clothes to keep them clean. Ugh!!! The shame, the jokes. As old as I am I can still feel it!

My hair was straight as straw. I remember my first perm at the tender age of six!! Of course my friends went with their mothers to C&A, the department store that sold the cheaper, trendier, funkier stuff. They got to wear their natural hair. They looked their age while I looked like a younger image of my mother.

Choosing the right clothing for me has been a problem all through my adult life. I am 63. What is wrong with me? I have been away from my mother’s scrutiny for almost half a century. That little girl from way back when is long gone. Why didn’t I take the initiative as I did with the rest of my life?

I don’t have the answer, but I have been deeply involved over the last few months with the translation into Dutch of your website and method, Antoinetta, and I felt obliged to test my own issues against your method. And it works!!

I understand now that the anxiety and concealed anger against my mother’s fashion ideas from 50-60 years ago have stayed alive in my head and therefore in my reality, mostly because I kept them there. I had to submit to my mom and her fashion ideas when I was little, but when I turned 22-23 or so and became independent I was free to escape that force. Why didn’t I? They must have struck a very sensitive corner of my soul and anchored there for all these years, ruling my thinking and my outer appearance.  I finally understand their origin and the power they held over me all these years. More importantly I now understand my own power to change all that. When I realized that, something broke away inside, or something opened up.  Not sure.

I now laugh about my former dressing anxieties. I think it is sad and hilarious at the same time that I held on to them as long as I did. When I go into a store now I force myself to try on a ton of outfits and I often become a nightmare for many a store lady, but if the clothes don’t make me feel good or if I have to work to make the clothes look good, there is no sale. I may look like the boogie woman sometimes, but it is a comfortable boogie woman with a smile on her face. I savor the freedom!

We are only human and I have to assume that most mothers work from good intentions. Still, in all fairness, I will facilitate a meaningful conversation with my kids and ask them what anxieties I unknowingly forced on them.  And I wonder about my mom. If she would have had the chance to break free from some of her own or her mother’s instilled notions, would she have? Would she have enjoyed the freedom? What would she have looked like? What would she have done differently?  I so wish I could still discuss this with her. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!



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