Among the most meaningful things I’ve ever found in a thrift store was a pair of dresses I unearthed at the Goodwill in Durham, North Carolina. One was a white summer dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt dotted with embroidered flowers.  The other was a pink sequined number straight out of an old Italian movie.  What made the dresses so arresting wasn’t their cut or color, or even all the flowers and sequins. It was the fact that inside, attached to the labels, their former wearer had pinned stories:  “Picnic. 1957.  Hillsboro, North Carolina.” “Eastern Star Dance. May 8, 1958. Danced with M.K.”

I’ve since learned from my friend Emily Spivack who created and edits a blog about clothing and memory to call these stories “worn stories.”

On Tuesday night, as part of MAKESHIFT, we invited members of the audience to write their own worn stories. Rosanne Cash, Cathy Bailey of Heath Ceramics, and Natalie read excerpts of their stories to inspire us.

Here’s Natalie’s.

Here’s Cathy’s.

Here’s Rosanne’s.

Next, members of the audience, using the special cards and antique silver pins carefully placed in each gift bag, fixed their own worn stories to the wall for all to read.  Collectively, these stories formed a kind of paper “quilt,” a record of the deep meaning clothing can play in our lives and of our lovely evening together.

Here are a few examples of the stories that were collected Tuesday evening – some tantalizing, some funny, and all quite moving.

“I would love to repair the brown corduroys that I wore watching TV on Saturday mornings as a kid.”

“My grandmother’s camel wool cape makes me feel strong and beautiful, as I view her.”

“My Mom’s dress, which was her Mom’s.  It’s a classic 50’s style in black cotton poplin with a ditzy cat print.  I remember my mom wearing it when we were young.”

“My pair of hiking pants missing a leg (they zipped off) and in need of repair.  But they took me to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and one leg got lost on the journey home.  That journey, and those pants, changed my perspective on the world.”

“I have this great lumpy jacket I bought it college. I’ve been needing a new one, but this one is so full of memories. And it matches my red beard.”

“The maroon velvet tux jacket that I paid $50 of my own money to buy at an antique store to wear to my high school prom.”

“Morrissey’s shirt from the 1st U.S. tour of The Smith’s (1985)- ripped up by the audience as they pulled it off him.”


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  1. Grace

    My red “Psycho-bats” softball team t-shirt I’ve had since I was 5. I’ve worn it to sleeve in for 26 years now. It’s 50/50 Cotton/Poly blend, made in the USA, and softer than anything I own.

  2. arlene

    The green, jungle printed shirt bought for my eldest son when he was 5, after he recovered from a serious illness. He wore it for a school picture, chubby cheeked from the steroids he was on. His two girl cousins wore it, and passed it back to my two younger sons, born 12 and 13 years after my eldest. I kept it and gave it to my daughter-in-law, who passed it to their two youngest, who loved their daddy’s old shirt as much as he had. (I think it may make it to a great-grand child yet!)