My Teenage Daughter Borrows My Clothes

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Some mornings my 16-year-old daughter emerges from my not-so-tidy closet with one of my shirts or sweaters. She holds up a navy fitted tee or a heathered beige hoodie in front of the oval-shaped bathroom mirror, where she sizes up whether it passes muster as a potential frontrunner for that day’s school outfit.

I try to stand at a distance, but can’t help but watch her assess her options, as she tilts her head from one side to the other—her hair still up in the messy ponytail she had slept in the night before—as if she’s carefully thinking through her decision.

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At times she walks out, chooses one of her own things; but on other days, she goes for one of my favorites—a soft black cardigan—and asks, “Can I borrow this today?” five words which seem to make my day, and at 6:50 a.m.—the idea that my clothes are good enough for my teen to wear—that’s a good place to start.

Emily’s not a fashionista. She has never worn much makeup and often opts for an oversized sweatshirt and leggings. But some days she takes more time, carefully deciding between the green or blue v-neck tee, or tall black boots vs. charcoal Converse sneakers.

But it’s on those particular mornings when it’s my closet she chooses to weave in and out of that I find myself quite elated, like it’s an endorsement that maybe her mom is kind of cool. Something about her pulling out the black and white stripped shirt I had worn the week before or an olive sweater I had forgotten I owned, reminds me not just of a shared sense of style but of our closeness, that even in these adolescent years, we are still connected. That our relationship is more than just me driving her to and from swim practice and her presence at the dinner table for family taco night.

Growing up, I never once borrowed an item of my mother’s clothes. Her pristine closet, with blouses lined up, every button precise, every wrinkle perfectly ironed. Her sweaters and shirts neatly stacked, as if a Talbots employee had come in every day, several times a day to fold and refold each article of clothing. With her shoes and slippers meticulously in a line and her belts neatly hung, the smell of her lavender scented sashays lingered sweetly in the air. She has always had good style, my mom. And we pretty much wore the same size. It never would have occurred to me though to borrow her clothes. Maybe I didn’t look in her closet enough. Maybe I should have spent more time sorting through her shelves and her hanging shirts, pushing over the navy velour robe she sometimes wore while making our bologna and swiss cheese sandwiches. Or maybe I just didn’t want to.

When I think of my mother’s closet, I didn’t know then what it meant to borrow or not borrow her clothes. The constant “who am I?” question lingering in my teenage years. But now that my daughter sometimes chooses to wear some of mine, I realize it’s not just that my mother and I had a different sense of style, we had a different type of relationship. Perhaps it’s today’s generation with this mother-daughter closeness; because this level of intimacy I have with Emily I didn’t have with my mother growing up.

Relationships now are often defined by a sense of immediacy, an instinctive moment in time; Emily and I “check in” and often stay connected throughout the day: Please bring a suit and towel to the pool; will pick you up in 15; got an 89 on Chem test!!! And when she tries on and borrows my clothes before school, it’s something even more personal—like she’s not just giving me a stylistic thumbs up with multiple smiley face emojis. Rather, it’s more like a validating exclamation point, as if she’s taking a sliver of my identity, all without a tinge of self-consciousness.

I remember when I held Emily’s little hand as we walked through the Nordstrom’s kids department at the Westchester Mall, her lopsided pigtails swaying from side to side. In an oversized corner dressing room I sat her on my lap as I helped put one leg and then the other into a pair of bright red leggings. “Hands up, cutie,” I said before slipping on the white long sleeve tee speckled with tiny strawberries. Holding hands, we faced the full-length mirror together to assess whether we liked the outfit. Today the decision is hers rather than ours. But, on the days when the white long sleeve tee she chooses comes from my closet, it’s as if, like years ago, I’m a part of her decision making process.

When my daughter walks out of the house in the morning wearing one of my sweaters, it represents to me more than just, “I like borrowing your stuff.” Rather, it subtly says, “I am connected to you, I am in your care” as if by wearing an item of my clothing, she somehow knows she is in my protection. And I feel it too, when I drive her to the high school and she gets out of the car and walks toward the front doors. Most days she doesn’t turn around to wave good-bye. And that’s ok. My teenage daughter has chosen to borrow my clothes. Maybe that makes me feel sort of hip. Maybe it’s like a rubber stamp on my style choices. Or maybe it’s just for that particular day, by wearing my shirt or sweater or jacket, she feels me wrapped around her.

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