How Fashion Helps Me Remember My Mother Since She Died

Photo: Courtesy of Landon Peoples.
When I was 7, my mother committed suicide. Since that day, remembering her has been a struggle; a search for moments I sometimes don't believe are there. But as I grow up, I find that parts of her that have been living dormant in me are revealing themselves. And I know it's her.

I didn't really know what happened until about four years later, when I found her death certificate in my father's closet. Single gunshot wound to the heart, it read. But up until then, he'd always told me she was sick. I believed him, and, as a matter of fact, I still believe him. More than 90% of suicides are due to mental illness, and women are three times as likely to attempt suicide than men.

You could say I look like my mother. I have her eyes, her cheeks, and her toothy smile. But the person who remembers her best is my sister. She has the sharpest memory I know. From her smell, to her laugh, to her touch — she can describe my mother so intricately, it's as if she were still here. But when I'm alone, all I can do is wonder, Why am I the way I am? Why do I like these things? Why do I love what I do? Did she have to do with any of that? The connection I feel when I look at old photos of her is overwhelming. It's like her style clicks with me. That's my mom.

From what I've been told, she had great style. Her bags, shoes, and jewelry were always scattered around her rooms, like the entire house was one giant showroom. If I wasn't dressing up in my sister's ballet tutus, I'd be in my mother's closet trying on her heels or, better, wearing her sleeping T-shirts as dresses. She worked at a bookstore that carried Ray-Bans, so I used to wear those, too. To be honest, not much has changed. I've got more clothes than I know what to do with, but I'd say my closet is just as disorganized as hers.

That's my mom.

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Photo: Courtesy of Landon Peoples.
My interest in fashion has to come from her. It's the only clue I have. When I see photos of what she dressed like in the '70s and '80s, I see myself. I see whimsy. I see colors — fuchsia, cream, blue — and I see confidence. The way she cocked her hip out, rested her hand on the bone (quel intuition), turned out (there's the dancer), and lifted her chin ever so slightly to catch the natural light...or, my personal favorite, when she'd cackle directly to the camera, head-on and teeth first. My friends tell me I do the same thing.

I've always experimented with my style, and when I look at hers, there was never one look, no uniform. One day she'd be wearing a slip dress, the next, a pantsuit. But when the '90s came around, it was vintage T-shirts and jeans all the way. (Mom jeans, of course.) My style has followed a similar route. I used to wear sheer button-ups from American Apparel in high school (giving full nipple, naturally), and I stick to blacks and navies today. Although — sorry, Mom — I don't see what you saw in a pantsuit.

The hardest part about losing my mother isn't what it felt like then; it's what it feels like now. I wasn't old enough to process her passing at 7. I was told that after they said she "went to live with the angels," all I muttered was, "Can I go back outside to play with my friends?" I didn't cry much. Today, I have a more complicated relationship with loss than others. It's hard for me to let go of people. And it's even harder when they want to leave me. I don't always attribute the loss of my mother to, say, a friendship breakup, or a broken heart. But every ship that sails tends to bring me back to her.
Photo: Courtesy of Landon Peoples.

I don't always attribute the loss of my mother to, say, a friendship breakup, or a broken heart. But every ship that sails tends to bring me back to her.

There was a time in my life when I really, really needed her advice. There were times I'd be afraid to wear a certain color, for fear of thinking it'd out me as gay. What would she have done? I'd ask myself. To use my clothes as a form of self-expression — or as armor — was the only way I knew how to cope. And maybe that's what she did too. As she got older and her style became more utilitarian than ever, I saw a woman who was more comfortable with herself, with the heart of a lion. When I look at my own style, and when I feel most comfortable, a T-shirt makes me feel at home. Though, one of hers would be better.

Fashion can teach you things about yourself that you never even knew existed. And the best part about that is watching your personal style grow with you. I have to believe it's what inspired her too. As fickle as it can be, for some reason, I know it will always be there. There will always be creativity. There will always be passion. And the best part of that relationship is that I can take from it what I need, when I need it. And I know I won't wake up one day and it won't be there anymore.
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