I would like to be able to say, as the writer-wanna-be that I am, that words were my first love. I would like to say that the written word, the manipulation of words into sentences, and of sentences into thoughts, and of thoughts into actions, I would like to say that this is the first great passion of my life. I would like to say that the intellectual, the character-building processes that I so enjoy and admire now, were always the center of my world.
I can’t. It would be a lie.
My first love was a combination of color, texture and patterns. My first passion revolved around imagination and fickle fits of fancy. It was an ever-changing, always-demanding obsession that became the measure of my existence.
My first love was fashion.
I was going to be a designer. It was something I had decided before the age of ten. In spite of the fact that I was a tomboy-in-reform, I was very much a girl when it came to clothes.
I know where this very common career decision was born. It came from the bonding moments with my mother. My mother never worked. That left a lot of afternoons and weekends of free time. There were weeks when we would hit the same shops three or four times. We tried on clothes, we looked at the things on sale and we drove the salesclerks crazy. Every once in a while we would buy. That was before my father went into business for himself, you see. That was back when he worked as a foreman at a construction site and we never had any money. Looking was fun, but buying was not an option. So when we finally did buy, it had to be something that was going to last. Something unique. Something special.
As far back as I can remember, I kept a sketch pad and some colored pencils with me everywhere we went. I’d get inspired by something and sit down and start drawing. Draft after draft after draft. And when I was finally pleased with my creation it never looked like what I had in mind to begin with. It was a somewhat magical, mystical thing to be able to create something from nothing. And I loved that I could do that.
I feel that way about writing sometimes.
I just knew that I was meant to be a clothes designer.
With this goal in mind I consumed fashion mags by the dozen. I watched television with a critical eye to what was being worn by who and how. I paid particular, critical attention to what my friends and their friends were wearing. I figured out what worked and what didn’t work. I developed a sense of style long before any of my friends figured out the difference between a personal image and current fads. I became a trend-setter in the sleepy border town where I spent my teenage years.
My mother always told me that you shouldn’t look like everyone else. So if everyone was wearing bleached jeans, we were only allowed to buy one pair. If everyone was wearing punk clothes, we were only allowed to get a few items to spice up our wardrobe. We had just enough to show that our things were new and that we did keep up with trends, we just didn’t succumb to them. We wore the clothes; the clothes didn’t wear us.
By the time I was a teenager my father was self-employed and money was not a problem. We could spend as much as we wanted. He never said no to new clothes. He never denied us a new dress for the next dance or the pair of shoes to match the dress. And we went to a lot of dances. And we rarely wore the same thing twice. By then I was taking my designs, buying the fabric and having the dresses made by a seamstress. My dresses were unique. My outfits were mine. I always looked good and I loved it.
Even though I didn’t study design, I went as far as applying and being accepted to several design schools. Unfortunately, design schools are very expensive. And I am ever-so-practical. So the practical side of me decided to go with my second love, writing. I’ve never regretted the way things turned out.
I still love fashion, though. It’s the side of my personality that makes me change the tone of auburn, red or copper-brown of my hair every four weeks or so. It’s the side of my personality that makes me choose a teal-colored hair clip to match the teal slacks I happen to be wearing. It’s what’s behind the fact that I own five different shades of red lipstick. It’s what prompts me to collect handbags the way others collect pens, and change them just as often. It’s why I get compliments on my shoes even from coworkers who see me every day.
On most days I look cute. I like looking cute. I like it when people notice that I’ve put some thought into what I’m wearing and how I’m wearing it. Old habits may die hard, but you never get over your first love.