Clothing as magic & other conversations

 You wanted to know if I’d always worn red and black.


No. But I’ve always been a bit particular about clothes, For example I wore a yellowish brown plaid wool hat all through out one school year in about 4th or 5th grade. My mother even asked for special permission for me to keep it on as a I sat down through the pledge of allegiance although I think in the end that was too far for even me to go. I’m not sure what made me wear the hat, but  to not wear the hat was to feel naked, lacking in protection. Although of course what I most needed protection from was people trying to torment me by stealing my hat.  The hat was a lightening rod, a way of focusing attention in one single point.  And maybe it worked since as I recall the battle of the hat was the only one we fought and after this, I was left relatively alone.

I remember reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and thinking about the power of a pair of shoes. Walking a pair of purple converse sneakers around the edges of my school yard and telling them ‘this is is where we live.’

So I’ve always had a bit of magical thinking about what I wear.

My mother says I told her when I was six that I wanted people to know that I was weird.

That’s probably true. There were so many ways I was different from my peers in all the neighbourhoods I lived in. English on a French street, atheist at a Catholic school. On the surface I might have looked a little like the other children but it didn’t take long for my differences to be exposed. I definitely recall thinking this when I was about twelve. That I’d rather someone not like me at all then like me and change their mind. That it was better for everyone if our cards were out on the table.


I was a tomboy for most of elementary school but a kind of retro punk through high school. I liked pointy toed pumps and tight skirts.  I didn’t have much of a style at all in Brooklyn, where I gave up as much of my personal identity as I possibly could, where the Old Man and his ideas tried to make me over into a soldier one day and a seductress the next.

After I got out of the organization in New York I had literally, only the clothes on my back. A grey pair of pants, a sweater from a boy I had a crush on who gave it to me after it shrunk. A pair of loafers. I rebuilt my wardrobe. Waitress clothes, student clothes party clothes. Gradually as I started working in bars these all became, more or less, the same clothes. Some of my favourite clothes, an embroidered jean jacket, a pair of red corduroy pants, were clothes that I borrowed and never returned to people. I think I felt like the world owed me something and I took it in every way I could.

If I stole your jacket, I’m sorry.

I think red and black became the default when I stopped working in bars and started in non-profits. You could say it’s a way to keep flying that freak flag.  The flag isn’t a declaration, it’s a warning.  I’m not trying to say that I think I’m weird, I’m just letting you know that at some point you are going to think this.   But it was more than that. Red was like the hat, like the purple tennis shoes.  As I headed off to my new job in the Downtown East side in a city I was new to, in a relationship that was also still new, I needed my talismans. Red socks. A red scarf. A red sweater.  In some ways working in the Downtown Eastside was a lot like working in bars: drugs alcohol, the simmering presence of violence. In other ways it was a whole new identity for me. A real job.

Photo by Emily Cooper

Red said ‘I’m as ready as I know how to be.’

Gradually anything that didn’t fit with my red amulets fell by the wayside. And since I feel like white is just an invitation for bad things to happen to you, the default was black. I like black because it’s practical but I like red because it feels like mojo, and the combination of the these things is like manifesting a life philosophy. Although that’s only just occurred to me now.

The other question you asked was if I would ever consider changing my colours.

I don’t know the answer to that. My guess is probably not, at least not while I continue to do frontline work. I don’t know how to be firm but compassionate, gentle but alert, in any other colours than these.

I am trying to remember when I stopped wearing that hat. I think maybe I moved to a different school, or maybe I lost the hat and couldn’t find another one with the same magic. Even now I have such mixed feelings about that girl and that time. Her stubborness, her persistence. How she gets dressed every morning, putting the hat on her head. Her shield and her Achille’s heel one and the same thing.

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