Ernest Hemingway was once asked to write a short story in only a few words. He responded with “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This succinct sentence may take only a second to read, but it contains multitudes. It carries with it the subtext of a heartbroken mother, an infant whose life was cut short, and a family mired in grief. The image of unworn baby shoes perfectly captures the pathos of losing one’s child before having the chance to know her.
In my experience, Hemingway is right, unworn clothes tell stories. Sometimes it’s the story of body insecurities that lead me to push a dress I love to the back of my closet. This usually happens because, when push comes to shove, I’m unsure of whether I can pull off the high hemline or the plunging back. Other times, unworn items tell the story of ill-advised gifts from family or friends who can’t seem to accept that yellow will never be my colour.
You probably have your own stories behind unworn clothes – sweaters or perhaps a pair of jeans with the tag still attached. Perhaps the story that comes with these items is hilarious, or maybe it’s as tragic as Hemingway’s. My most memorable story of unworn clothing is somewhere in between.
Wedding dress, never worn. That’s the story a white dress hanging in my parents’ hall closet tells me. Wedding dress, never worn. It’s the story of a marriage that wasn’t meant to be, a relationship that was no longer good for me, and a beautiful dress I may well never wear, but that no one can bring themselves to discard.
I thought I’d eventually get a dress made. Perhaps something floral? I didn’t want to look like a traditional bride, until I tried on a traditional dress, and fell in love.
My dress was – I suppose is – white, and floor-length, with a tiny train of silk. From the moment the salesperson helped me into it, I knew it was The One. The dress I loved more than all the others in the store, and probably the world. I was certain of it, in a way I later realized I was not certain of the person I was meant to marry.
Of course, the person I planned to marry was very special. I do not mean to cast aspersions, but just as not every dress is The Dress for everyone, nor is every person. Even though I felt effortlessly beautiful in my wedding dress – a feeling I had never felt before – my relationship felt like a Herculean task from day to day. I could not be The One for my former partner, and he couldn’t be The One for me.
And so my perfect dress sits unworn in my parents’ closet. My mother keeps it safe for me. She insists I could wear it to a gala one day if I shortened it, and maybe dyed it a different colour. She’s even suggested I could wear that gown it when I meet someone who actually does fit me as well as it does. While I find it as beautiful as the day I bought it, I wonder, could my dress ever overcome its tragic past? Will it always be a stunning reminder of an aborted wedding? I remain unsure.
Gorgeous as it is, right now, I’m glad my dress remains unworn. I’m glad it hangs in my childhood home, wrapped in a garment bag and protected from the world.