Yī Fù: The Story of My Mom’s Jacket
My thesis project starts with a pink jacket.
Last winter break, as vintage became a trend again, I was digging through my mom’s closet and trying to find something I could wear. Most of what I found were business suits, business skirts, and more business uniforms. As I was trying to reach the top shelf, I found a dusty photo album. Inside, there were some scattered photos, and I was immediately drawn to a photo of my mom. In this photo, my mom was wearing a pink corduroy jacket, smiling sweetly at the camera. She was in her 20s, young and pretty. My mom was a businesswoman before she retired. In my memories, I hardly saw my mom wearing anything that was in a bright color nor anything that wasn’t business casual. In her closet, it was also hard to find other colors besides black, brown, white, and beige. But now, a pink jacket?
“Mom! Can you come here for a sec?” I showed her the photo.
“Oh, yeah, that was years back. You weren’t even born at that time.”
“Okay, but didn’t you tell me that you don’t like wearing pink?”
“That’s because I am too old to wear pink now.”
“But you looked so good in this. Do you still have this jacket?”
A few hours later, as the jacket was hanging in front of me, I asked my mom for the story behind this picture.
(Figure 1: My Mom’s jacket, Photo was taken in 1992, Beijing)
In 1990s China, clothes were still limited, and the imported pieces were considered a rarity. In Beijing, there was a department store called Peking Friendship Store. In the beginning, when the department store opened in the 60s, it only welcomed foreigners, diplomats, and Chinese from overseas. In later years, even after the entry criteria changed, people would still need to use a Foreign Exchange Certificate to purchase items inside. My mom was an English major in college and just started working at a foreign company at the time, so each month, she could save herself Ten Yuan of the certificate, which was equivalent to one dollar back then. She saved and saved, finally keeping enough savings of the certificate to purchase this jacket from the department store as a first employment gift for herself. “I’d never seen or worn anything in such a bright color, and I couldn’t move away from this jacket,” my mom said. She remembered herself standing in front of the fitting room mirror, and holding the certificate tightly in her other hand.
Looking at her smiling in this picture, I tried to relate to her joy.
In 2018, the average American bought around 64-68 new pieces of clothing per year, which is about five times more than in 1980. On average, each piece will be worn seven times before getting tossed. It’s hard for most of our generation to experience the same amount of contentment or gratification over a piece of clothing as my mother did in those times. It’s also hard for our generation to imagine the scarcity of goods when we were born in a peaceful time with abundant resources. It’s also hard to cherish a clothing item for so long that even if the color faded, we still wouldn’t throw it away.
Looking at my mom’s pink jacket versus the several similar versions I got, even though mine could have a higher price tag, hers weighs heavy in my mind because it is full of memories. This pink jacket has accompanied her for over 25 years. Looking at this pink jacket, I can feel my mom’s happiness and understand the meaning this item has brought to her. Our clothes gain sentimental value as we wear them and it fosters companionship between the item itself and its owner. Together, it creates memories.
Yī fú becomes Yī fù.