Because black is how I feel on the inside

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The reason for my long absence from this blog is the same reason I’m making my latest dresses. My mom passed away this December after a long and extremely brave battle with cancer. As anyone who has gone through something like this knows, cancer is a real motherfucker and watching a loved one die is difficult, surreal and god damned painful. But I don’t come from people who mope, so I’ve been trying to channel at least some of my grief into sewing.

This is actually in large part due to the fact that I suddenly find myself wanting to wear a lot of black clothes. It’s not actually a conscious thing or something I’m doing because of some social rule, but there is something in this grief that makes me want to not stand out. To retreat into myself and be really quiet. Including my clothing. There is just something really dissonant about putting on a bright red, blue and green floral dress while I feel completely dead inside. It feels like a lie and it just feels so very loud.

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So I’ve been making black and grey dresses and it not only helps me not feel like the Garish Griever but it’s a nice productive way to work through this. Because I will get through it and things will feel ok again and I’ll be dressing like Phyllis Diller before I know it. But right now, I’m 13 again and all I want to wear is black.

But this practice of wearing black, especially in a popular urban city (SF), has been an interesting experience. Since I normally dress quite colorfully, I self-centeredly assumed that people would notice the change in my clothes and it might help me avoid having to have some awkward conversations.

How was your holiday break?

Uh, not great actually.

Yeah, it was totally too short. Did you go anywhere?

Um… uh, my mom died.

(stunned, awkward silence)

Maybe it’s because I watch too much BBC, but somewhere in my out-of-touch brain I assumed that an adult person wearing all black would be a loud, glaring social cue that they are in mourning. “GRIEVING LUNATIC. PLEASE APPROACH WITH CAUTION.” But of course, after a few days of no one seeming to notice, I looked around and realized that nearly half the population of SF dresses in all black and grey, all the time. So I was hardly signaling anything other than possibly getting “on trend” for once in my life.

The irony is not lost on me that while I spent my teens wearing black and having people sarcastically ask me, “who died??” that when someone close to me did, in fact, die and I’m wearing black in mourning, no one seems to even notice.

Demented and sad, but still social. (photos by Karen Finlay, Baby-Doe von Stroheim and Amy Petrolati)


But it’s still been therapeutic. I’m going into my third month of wearing nothing but black and grey and it’s so comfortable — and comforting — that I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever stop. I remember hearing that after Roy Orbison’s wife and two sons were killed within a few years of each other, he wore black in a state of mourning and just continued doing so because it felt right. I can see how that could happen. Aside from the psychological comfort that it’s bringing me right now, it’s quite a relief to never have to worry about matching anything ever again. And black hides all kinds of spills and messes. Just the other morning, my husband spilled his coffee all over his messenger bag and with nothing nearby to dry it off before the coffee got inside, I quickly grabbed the laptop and began rubbing it all over the skirt of my black cotton dress. No one would ever know!

I’m sure I’ll eventually miss wearing colors and I’ll venture back into the world of light. And speaking of Phyllis Diller, my book club read her autobiography recently so when we met, many of us dressed the part. I couldn’t bring myself to go full-Diller, but I did manage a blue feathered hat.

So maybe there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.

Photo by Karen Finlay
I fucking love these ladies. (Photo by Karen Finlay)



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