“Can you stay after school?” she asked. As a second grader, home wasn’t an especially happy place to hurry to. Dad’s drinking had worsened over the years and Mom had bigger worries than after school milk and cookies.
“We’ll wait until the others are gone,” Sister Leodegard said. I was the teacher’s pet, so I suspected that I might be the recipient of some special privilege that she didn’t want my classmates to see.
The hallways eventually emptied and she opened the wooden closet door. She pulled out a woman’s red wool coat. In the 1960s we would have called it a car coat, one that fell to the hip on an adult. On me, it fell below my knees matching the mandatory length of our navy blue uniforms.
Mom’s best friend, Margaret—seamstress of my First Holy Communion dress that year— transformed the oversized garment into a perfectly tailored winter coat for me. After that, Sister continued to privately hand me bags of castaway clothing.
As a college student stretching my work study dollars, I learned my budget went farther at thrift stores than at shopping malls. I continued to enjoy thrifting as a hobby even when my salary as a lawyer no longer made it necessary.
I was proud of my cleverness. When someone would complement my newest dress, I would boast about its $4.97 purchase price. One such day, I was cautioned in a low whisper, “You don’t have to tell anyone.”
I was an adult before I understood the subtle shame messages sent since second grade.
While I felt pride from using my money wisely to acquire a wardrobe I loved, my embarrassment came from of not knowing what everyone else knew: You gain status if you carry a designer bag costing hundreds of dollars. Your status is diminished if that same bag comes from Goodwill.
I didn’t know the rules.
At this season of my life I still enjoy a steady paycheck and can choose to shop wherever I like. I still enjoy an occasional stop in a consignment shop for a piece of vintage jewelry or some other irresistible item. This summer I was in New York City and came home with a hand embroidered summer frock with lime green polka dots and a gorgeous black beaded cocktail dress. Total tab: 35 bucks.
No one can shame me without my permission.
Do you ever try to hide what you really love?
Is it time to reclaim your authentic self in some small way?
What would you be delighted to do if you weren’t afraid of judgment?