On the smell of clothes

Me and my mom are the kind of people who go on an all out shopping once in six months — just before winter and just before summer. And if we feel particularly celebratory, once for birthday shopping. The best part about these shopping trips is the one hour after we get home; when we open the shopping bags, the scent of new clothes rush out. It is sort of a tradition in my family to come home and try on all these new clothes under the pretence of finding out how they look outside the unnatural shop lighting. It is not just the scent of new clothes, it is the palpable rush in the air, the feeling when you open the bag; it is as if you are opening gifts, even though you know exactly what is inside.

My mother was also always particular about seasonal clothing, which is to say the winter and summer clothes are packed in suitcases and designated to the top shelves until the seasons come back the next year. When the suitcases are brought down each season, I always felt this excitement, again, as if expecting something new to come out of the suitcase even though we packed it up together, the same old sweaters, the same old embarrassing monkey caps. This time the scent is of naphthalene balls.

Today morning, my brother who is a textile designer opened up a huge suitcase of fabrics he has stocked and clothes he has designed. It was like I had walked into a huge wall of nostalgia. There was this moment right before he opened the boxes where my nose expected naphthalene balls and new clothes. The scent was a little different this time. Unrecognizable. Unfamiliar. Like it had met my expectation of being ‘new’ but disappointed me somehow by not giving out the air of mothballs.

There I sat, like a helpless child with a new toy, opening up the clothes one after another. Breathing in the scent, touching the fabrics, awed by the colours and stories my brother had pieced together. I snapped out of my reverie only to see him do the same — except it is more intense, like he could see the potential of what it can become. I didn’t expect that somehow, that a person who works with clothes all the time to feel the same kind of excitement and awe.

Strange, isn’t it? These expectations we have out of things, material, non-living things. Strange how we piece the world together and feel so strongly about what could be mundanities, if we let it be.

I folded the clothes, with a reverence I didn’t have before. I folded them like my mom used to, when I had piled up all the new clothes inside out after I’d tried them all on. Maybe my mom never thought of telling me in so many words, but I feel like I understand now.