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  • It starts with Granny digging through the big closet in her basement. I lurk behind her, looking at the shelves and cubby holes jammed with bags of knitting needles and yarn and never-finished needlepoint portraits.

    Out of that musty closet Granny magically manifests two dresses that my mom wore in her teens. Both were white and had to be released from protective plastic wrappings. One was lace with spaghetti straps and this light pink satin sash. The other, a pleated chiffon with rhinestones scrolling around the waist.

    It was love.

    I wore the daylight out of those dresses. In the house. Out of the house. To play dates. Probably to church. For lunch. For dinner. I liked the looks I got and the whispers I heard when I wore them to the local Piggly Wiggly on Saturdays with my mom. And the funny thing is, I don't recall feeling particularly princess-y in those fancy, debutante-y dresses. What I felt, what I felt I got, was the power of attention.

    Experimentation with dress ensued. Mom tutored math students in the afternoon for extra cash, and sometimes, bored with watching Zoom on PBS, I would rip off my shorts and tshirt and streak through the dining room, embarrassing the tutor and offending the tutoree as they sat hunched over chunky brown calculators and piles of eraser dust.

    And while I was never interested in dressing dolls or Barbies, I was always fascinated with dressing myself, and looking at what others wore, and dressing them if they’d let me. I was only seven and already I sensed the power of dress. I didn’t need my Wonder Woman underoos to figure out that dress can be a tool of aggression as well as expression.

    In the west, we have figuratively gone from fig leaves to Ferragamo. Is a burning bra that far away from Playboy bunny outfits? Dressing (as opposed to simply covering) is about expressing emotion. Protection. Attraction. Status. Control. And we get to do it every day.

    I still love dress-up as a grown-up. I once wore a conservative black leather suit to a very conservative business meeting just to see what would happen. The streaking impulse is gone, but the fascination with my clothes - and yours - is still strong.
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