Ananya Jain writes about the joys of discovering hidden treasures and the special power of clothes to carry memories, with illustration by Pauline Kate.

When you think of dresses in the attic, what comes to mind? I think of finding a once-loved dress, maybe in the colour white but now cream with age. I think of finding little treasures and trinkets like a copper necklace or maybe a brass ring that’s missing a few stones. Round eyeglasses that have long gone out of style, and maybe a pair of black heels that have seen better days along with a strand of pearls. To think, that if we could rummage out a few forgotten treasures in your grandmother’s attic, we’d dust them off and label them “vintage”.

Something vintage with a story: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. One day my closet will become dresses in the attic. It’s just a door guarding some wooden hangers and a jewellery box.

If I could start up my own little boutique on the corner of a street, three blocks away from a charming outdoor French café, I would name it Dresses in The Attic. It would be small and antique-like, with sun-bleached wood floors, lots of sunlight, and flower boxes in the windows. I’d string white Christmas lights on the ceiling; have fresh-cut flowers in hand-painted vases, and a bookshelf with all my favorite classics on display.

Pertaining to clothes, I would have whimsical dresses in every color, but mostly white. They would typically be day-dresses, for picnics during the spring, long walks in the park on warm afternoons, or days spent puttering around the house for reading and relaxing barefoot. There would be pretty tops, silky skirts, shorts, and jeans. There’d be purses of every kind, sandals, heels, and jewellery. Simple things that are pretty.

Finding old yet beautiful pieces with a story that fit each season can be quite interesting. White cotton dresses, long knit cardigans, riding boots in the fall. Cable-knit sweaters and dress coats in the winter. Light cardigans and floral dresses in the spring. Peter Pan collars, the colour white, skinny jeans, dresses, shoulder purses, pretty perfume bottles, Essie nail polish, and a smile, for all four seasons. What story do they tell, what memories do they hold?

The first time I saw a white eyelet lace sundress on a wooden hanger of a local boutique, I was quick to fall in love with the simple yet lovely idea of something so whimsical and pretty. In the way Audrey Hepburn is best known for her pearls and little black dress, I loved my floppy straw hats and light sundresses. I loved them best, out of any other piece of clothing I owned, because in their own little way I felt that they described and fit me differently, far more than when I was wearing jeans and a top.

Sometimes, a piece of clothing can take you places you can only live to imagine. It starts with fabric, buttons, beads, and in itself it becomes a memory with an intriguing story. All the hidden treasures found in our mother’s or grandmother’s closets allow us to travel in time, soaking up all the moments that have unraveled before us and relive the joy, happiness, sadness, heartbreak, and disappointment. They tell the story of a life full of little moments that might hold tears, anger, laughter or silliness, and those other moments that just can’t be defined but still take our breaths away. There will be memories to count, share, and remember associated with that single dress, so that by the time we’re slow-dancing into the after-life we will have made bad memories to forget and the best of memories to hang on to.

Have you even gone through your parents’ old photo albums and closets? If you have permission, I suggest rummaging around to see what quirky and interesting things you can find, and maybe even use. I love going through my mom’s or grandmother’s closet and unearthing hidden treasures that I can use, like finding a patchwork quilt that’s full of mismatched pieces that wouldn’t really be whole without them all together. It’s the kind of quilt one would find tucked away in your grandmother’s closet and you couldn’t possibly appreciate it if you didn’t know the stories behind each piece of fabric. It’s also fun when people ask where you get the things from; “Oh this old thing? It’s vintage!” That’s the way it is with clothes, it’s the stories and memories weaved into its fabric that make up the dress. That’s what makes it alive and full of character.

Find more from Pauline Kate at paulinekateillustrates.com

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