“My Life in Clothes” is written by Tina Martel, Alembika Guest Author and a breast cancer survivor, living life flat and promoting body positivity through fashion.

I was brought up in a household with little money. I learned to sew at a very young age from my seamstress grandmother who made three piece suits without a pattern. When my grade 8 home economics teacher was teaching us how to sew pot holders I was bored to tears. I begged her to let me try something more complicated but the problem was that she did not know how to. Of course I remembered what I made: a knit hot pants suit with an invisible zipper. In the poor woman’s defence she also taught sex education and her only qualification was that she was one of the few teachers who was not a nun. 

I still remember the clothes and hat I wore the first time I walked into my small town church after my marriage had disintegrated. It was a cream coloured two piece with a mid calf length skirt. My scarf was tied under my fedora in a very glamorous Hollywood throwback look. And I was sporting a huge pair of sunglasses. In retrospect I probably looked like I was forecasting the current mob wife boss trend but I was determined to walk in cool, chic and unbothered by such a trifling matter as divorce. I  have long since forgotten the ex but the clothes?? Those I remember.

What I wore became inextricably tangled with memory and emotion for me. I still remember buying an evening dress in Las Vegas when I was 19, that I continue to wear. The velvet skirt that I wore to my graduation exhibition for my MFA. The powder blue sweater and black wide legged corduroys I bought at 14 to wear to my grandparent’s anniversary. The epic platforms I lived in through Grade 12 that made me almost six feet tall. The unfortunate grey shift dress whose maiden voyage was a funeral and it became forever after only wearable at funerals. The dress I made with the material my ex mother in law brought me back from China. I had to buy a new sewing machine to accommodate the silk material. Consequently the dress went from free fabric to costing $1200. Until my MIL reminded me that the trip cost them $6,000.

Ask me about any major or minor event in my life I can probably tell you what I was wearing. When I found myself spending a lot of my life in hospitals I decided that the very least I could do was make myself happy by what I wore. I had seen a wide array of fashion during my appointments; everything from just rolled out of bed, pulled on my sweat pants and my husband’s t-shirt to covered in pink ribbons and cancer gear. And going into an appointment to have a chemical shoved through your veins is really a challenge on its own. Dressing fabulously helped. I did unfortunately not want to remember all of those events and was forced to give away a few things that had become abhorrent to me. Decades ago I sat on the floor of my wardrobe staring at the clothes inside while the flames from our business were visible through the window and across the river. After all what do you wear to a fire?  

These clothes were, silk dress aside, not always expensive or high fashion but they all meant something to me. I don’t have a therapy animal, I have emotional support clothing. I have things I reach for when I know the meeting will be tough. When the news might be uncertain. Some things make me smile. Some make me feel unstoppable. As if I am walking through the scariest alley in the city but I am oblivious: all billowy coat queen of the night. Still wearing sunglasses. Nothing is holding me back. After all: I’m dressed for it. 

You can follow Tina on Instagram @not_in_the_pink_ or order her book, Not in the Pink.

Read Tina’s other blog “Tina’s Blow” and our spotlight “Meet Tina #alembikawomen.

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