There’s a certain jacket I like to wear. It was green once, but has since faded to some kind of grey. The elbows are getting holes in them, and the cuffs are slowly fraying back into balls of thread. I wear this jacket almost every day, regardless of what other clothes I’m wearing or even the temperature outside.
I purchased the jacket for the Hungarian equivalent of $4 on a chilly afternoon in Budapest in May 2010. Some of my closest friends and I had managed to convene partway around the world, and we were doing what we knew best: bumming around and thrift-shopping. The jacket wasn’t really my style – or hadn’t been, at least – but I tried it on and felt something special happen. I felt a transformation and knew that it was my glass slipper, my magic pair of jeans like the ones from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. My friend immediately confirmed the glass-slipper effect, and even though I was slightly broke, I put up the thousand forint required and walked away with an instant favorite piece of clothing.
Over the course of the next three years, it developed a host of memories and some magical powers, powers to tie me to the future and the past in the same moment, to render me both invisible and extremely conspicuous, and to allow me to speak freely and confidently on subjects I know nothing about. It’s been with me to a few different countries, through different stages of my life, various loves and crushes, and a couple career visions. As it’s taken on so many memories and supernatural abilities, it’s lost a bit of its color and the ability to hold itself together and put forward a sharp appearance.
But that’s okay, because we support each other. Where would the memories go, if they weren’t contained in this article of clothing. Where would they fly away to?
Towards the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, with the dark rising in the entire world, all fates rolling towards one impending doom, Bilbo sets out on another journey at last after disappearing from his 111st birthday party. Here’s what Tolkien has to say about those last moments.
“He walked briskly back to his hole, and stood for a moment listening with a smile to the din in the pavilion and to the sounds of merrymaking in other parts of the field. Then he went in. He took off his party clothes, folded up and wrapped in tissue-paper his embroidered silk waistcoat, and put it away. […] From a locked drawer, smelling of moth-balls, he took out an old cloak and hood. They had been locked up as if they were very precious, but they were so patched and weatherstained that their original colour could hardly be guessed: it might have been dark green. They were rather too large for him.”
This is the piece of tattered clothing that most people would be inclined to throw away, but it is Bilbo’s own personal suit of armour and the equivalent of my Hungary jacket, the one that ties me to past selves. I can remember every piece of clothing I wore on my journeys, and some of the stories that happened in them. These garments journey with us, to different countries or worlds or states of being, and for me at least they retain some of those journeys and become portals through which I expereince the past and imagine the future.
It’s not fashionable, but it’s meaningful, and I think that’s even better.
I pulled the quote from a full text version of The Lord of the Rings that can be found here. If you liked this article, you might also enjoy: Oh Travel, Why Are You So Magical?, wornstories.com, a website about clothing and memory, and Step Out of the Van and Into a Postcard.