Here comes mother. She's stylishly turned out as always. Today it's a black and white geometric-patterned shirt, black slacks, cerise cardigan and chunky silver jewellery. However, my mother isn't going out to lunch or to the theatre. No, she is 86, suffers from a degenerative condition and lives in a residential care home. She's dressed up because it gives her dignity and commands more respect than if she was shuffling around in a dressing gown. And it makes Mum feel that, although being in a home isn't the life she'd imagined for herself, at least she still feels human.
Clothing humanises us; it's a primary form of self-expression. History has shown, conversely, that a fast way to dehumanise and diminish a person is to strip them of their personal clothing. You may have seen distressing images of mistreated prisoners; they are often naked or semi-naked, their lack of clothing emphasising their vulnerability and robbing them of individuality.
This is why I was delighted to read this week of hospitals which, at long last, are doing something about a clothing item that some consider the ultimate in humiliation, the hospital gown. With its gaping back and insipid hues, the gown infantilizes the patient, rendering them powerless, without a voice. Now Star Light Canada have asked designers to create funky gowns for teens to wear during hospitalisation. And the results are remarkable. Not only do the teens smile again, they feel more like themselves, unique. Who knows, I suspect this could even impact positively upon their recuperation.
As one of the designers involved in the Ward + Robes project said, "I hope when someone puts this gown on they feel like they're stepping into their power." The words of the teens who get to choose the gown that most suits their personality suggests they do that and more. Check out what they have to say here
People who are in care, in homes, in hospitals or institutions do not deserve to be further degraded by being robbed of their personal identity i.e. their own clothing. That's why I'm indebted to the care home staff who take the trouble to help my mother choose a well co-ordinated outfit every day. They are overworked and often stressed. But they still find the time to debate with mum whether the purple shirt works best with the navy skirt or the grey, so that Mum can face the day as a human being who still counts in the world.