A gray sweater vest, mock layered with a white button up shirt underneath. Short sleeves that looked almost too short, but the neckline looked high enough to cover the cherry tattoos on my upper chest. The sweater material was thin, but not so much to be revealing and the darker gray on lighter gray diamond shaped pattern was cute but didn't scream “School Girl Roleplay”. It looked professional, but not so much that wearing it would make me feel as if I was playing dress-up in someone else's clothes.
I honestly did not expect it to fit.
It looked too short on the hanger, and was labeled as one size smaller than what I usually wear. I added it to the cart anyways. I still needed to find just the right top for my upcoming Family Court Mediation appointment. The appointment where I would be meeting with The Ex and a stranger to determine who should have custody of our son. After carefully combing through each rack Thrift Town had to offer, the shopping cart I was pushing was still almost empty. Eying the armful of clothes my friend was carrying as she walked towards the dressing rooms, I figured I might as well try it on, if only to pass the time.
Minutes later, staring at my reflection in the dressing room mirror, I was surprised. I could not find anything wrong with the shirt's fit. The sleeves came down low enough to keep the scars on my shoulders covered, and the neckline did indeed cover my tattoos. Even better, the design that I thought was cute also did wonders to camouflage the extra pudge my stomach has clung to since becoming a mother 6 years ago. I sighed at my reflection and made a face. It fit, but I had not looked at the price tag. Even though it was in a thrift store, it still had it's department store tag and extra tiny white button. New items, while still a great deal when found in a thrift store, also cost more than the typical thrift store find. The other tops I had found were all poorly fitting, but they also were all under $5, which I knew would not be the case of this shirt. This was going to be a tough decision.
I carefully pulled the shirt off over my head, avoiding the numbers on the price tag, and got redressed. Meeting my friend outside the room, she asked if I had any winners. I told her a few had been okay, but only one really fit. Needing to make a decision, we looked at the price. Blue Thrift Town tag: $12.99, department store tag: $44.99. It was a great score as far as thrift store finds go. But it was also $8 over what I had hoped to spend. I felt bad enough that I had been planning to the $5 of grocery money for a top, but to spend $13 meant I couldn't get any food that week. It would use up all of the money I had. The friend and I debated it. It fit well, and I really needed a “nice” shirt, since my closet contents lean more towards the stylings of Abby Scuito and Penelope Garcia than Ann Taylor and The Gap. I sighed again and made my decision. I wanted to look my best during Mediation, I reasoned as I walked towards the checkout line, shirt in hand. I wanted to feel as confident as possible as I sat next to The Ex and explained why I felt his claim that I was an unfit mother was completely ridiculous. I hoped that if I at least looked the part of a professional, then I would be able to keep my composure while explaining why I felt that the person I chose to create a child with was now, 7 years later, not the best person for that child to live with on a daily basis. It was a lot to expect from one simple thrift store shirt, but for $12.99 that shirt needed to fill those expectations and then some.
The shirt hung in my closet, waiting patiently for the day that was far too quickly approaching. The other clothes shoved to each end of the closet, I had place it carefully separate, not touching the other poly/cotton blends. I had hung it carefully on the hanger, smoothing it out gently, not wanting a single wrinkle to mar it. Even the pants that were to be worn with it were hung on separate hanger, carefully spaced to not touch each other. Every time I opened my closet, I saw it. Every time I wondered if it was good enough. It had to be good enough. This stranger who would be making a recommendation to the judge would know me only by my looks and words. I had confidence in my words, and the paper proof to back up my claims and concerns. It was my look that still worried me. I'm not a slob, but I didn't want some sort of imagined physical lacking to cause the mediator to be biased against me. This shirt had to hold the flag of confidence for me. This simple shirt had to wrap me in the belief that I looked like the good mother I know deep inside that I am. Like faith, this shirt needed to be powerful enough to carry me through that day with my head held high.
The day of the appointment was a nightmare. Staying focused in class was impossible, the papers I tried to compile wouldn't print, and I ended up running half an hour behind. Agent M was in a horrible mood when I picked him up from school and that just further chipped away at my confidence. The time came for me to get changed out of the jeans and plaid shirt I had worn to class and into my court clothes. Black slacks, sensible heels, and the shirt. I got dressed quickly, enjoying the brief solitude and using the time to go over what key phrases I wanted to remember to say. I buttoned my pants and carefully pulled the shirt over my head. Maybe it was the quiet, maybe it was a quiet giving in to the chaos, but something felt different as I smoothed the shirt down and fixed the collar. Looking in the mirror, I did a head to toe assessment. My hair looked good, my makeup carefully and lightly applied. I didn't look too tired, the pants were lint free. The shirt looked good. I looked good. I felt good. I was ready. The shirt had been worth every penny.