For Joe, it is the Air Jordan Hoodie that belonged to his son, Jeremy, bitten by a fatal heroin overdose. For writer and stylist Simon Dunan, it’s a pair of Lycra Stephen Spruce leggings, worn through sweaty aerobics classes to cope with AIDS as another friend. For Michael, this is a patchwork quilt stitched by his mother, Debbie, while she was in prison.
We perceive clothing as fashion or utility, to show something or stay warm. But it is more than that, as we are reminded in “Worn Stories”, about the new Netflix series, which debuted last week, about the clothes we wear and the stories they tell. Based on the books “Whore Stories” and “Worn in New York” by Emily Spivak, the series presents the Sartier Autobiography, a collection of personal stories of chance, identity, survival, community, and life. On our body every day.
“The clothes make so much memory,” said Spivak, who is the series’ executive producer in a phone interview last month. “It’s very tactile, and it really absorbs experiences. It plays an important role in reminding people we care.”
I can relate. I have my own worn stories, and they revolve around love, loss, grief and memory. The clothes that live on me no longer belong to anyone I loved so much.
I used to say something about the obsessive buyer of casual clothes, T-shirts, baseball caps, Sox and Adidas sneakers. Kate, a warm, earthen jewelery and love of my life, was well aware of my hunger. He made fun of me about a pile of sneaker boxes, but he also liked to buy me small gifts. She knew that whatever holiday we took, it would include anything, whatever store could feed my yen. And when she went out of her city, she always came back with something special.
She returned from a solo trip to San Francisco with a crown jewel: a blue-and-gold Adidas Golden State Warriors jacket. Whenever Stephen Curry would sink another improbable three-point shot, we were very happy to see the Warriors. I often wear jackets for my weekly pickup games, just to hear ooh and ah.
“Looks like what the players wear,” a friend said. Of course it did. Kate bought it.
Some of our purchases were very luxe. Before we hopped in a cab to Laguardia on one of our many New York gateways on our way back to Dallas, there was exactly the “Repo Man” shirt I picked up in the East Village in Garbage and Woodville. And a pair of brightly colored, Warhol-esque All ‘Dirty Bastard socks she bought me in Oaklandish, a killer boutique shop in downtown Oakland. (I grew up next door, Berkeley).
We loved traveling and shopping on a budget. She loved to see me in these clothes, but mostly she liked to make me happy.
In 2018, Kate started forgetting words. He complained of numbness and weakness in his right hand. A series of MRIs was inconclusive. In February 2019, we visited a neurologist who gave the diagnosis: corticobasal degeneration, a rare disease that affects the area of the brain that controls information and brain structures that control movement. She was 38.
The disease is terminal.
The next several months were a tornado of trauma. Away from my job at the Dallas Morning News, I moved to Houston to work at the Chronicle. Kate moved to live with her parents in East Texas. Overwhelmed by mourning, I suffered a severe emotional downfall. I was briefly hospitalized. It was a very dark time.
Meanwhile, my clothes were everywhere, mostly in a storage unit in Dallas. A friend gained access, boxed some items and sent them to me in Houston. Was the Warriors jacket. And “Repo Man” shirt. And ODB socks. Seeing them filled me with emotion – sorrow, gratitude, regret. I will never return, for a long time, for a period of time that does not hurt.
This might be a good time to mention that “Warne Stories” is not all misery. There is a nudist community in Kissimmee, Fla., Where clothing usually means sandals. “I can’t imagine my feet getting naked,” says Diane, a community resident in the show’s first episode. “Going out and roaming the lawn, there are insects down there.”
There’s also inspiration: Carlos, from Blythe, California, spent eight years behind bars. Today, while working for the Ride Home program, he picks up newly released prisoners from prison – and goes shopping for clothes to wear them into his new life.
Then there is the Sachs player Timmy Cappello, who was gifted a studded leather codpi by Tina Turner while they were on tour together. “I’m not even sure I can play the saxophone without it,” he says in the second episode. Woven stories can be fun – and go on.
For Morgan Neville, a documentary producer (“What You Are My Neighbor,” “20 feet from stardom”) and an executive producer of “Worn Stories”, the series has a personal resonance. He still carries a jacket he first wore as a teenager, he said by phone recently, which helps him join his mother, who died in 2016.
When he was 13, he ventured deep into the English rock band The Who. He ordered a bunch of Union Jack flags and spent hours stitching flags in a jacket with his mother. Today it hangs in his closet, reminding his mother every time he sees her.
“It’s one thing to look at a picture, but it’s something to capture something and wear something,” Neville said by calling. “And to wear something that connects you to someone is influenced by all these things. It can be spiritual and it can be emotional.”
Clothing has a unique power to cling to the love of our beloved departed people. Kate died on July 2, 2020 I regularly kissed the socks she bought me (even if they were dirty). I stroke the Warriors jacket, sometimes thinking of the end of “Brokeback Mountain” when Ennis applied Jack’s shirt to his chest. I wear my Kate clothes regularly. They bring me closer to him, and what we had.
Even when Kate was dying, she was ready for me. Finally, her dad, Mike, sent me a pair of striped socks with Kate’s order, adorned with the words “Straight Decent Boyfriend”. They show me that she never lost her sense of humor, or the generosity of her soul.
Before arriving in our world, Mike had also purchased matching bomber jackets for me and Lorenzo, who were dating Kate’s sister at the time. This is just a basic, brown leather jacket, but I carried it. I love the simplicity of it, and it keeps me warm. During a recent phone conversation with Mike, I made him sit on the front porch, and I told him so. He really seemed moved.
“When you wear it,” they said to me, “it’s hugging me.”
This is why clothes can do something else. They can hold you tightly when you feel alone. They can make the world feel a little smaller.