I duck into a circular rack of clothing, a giddy smile on my face. Soon Mommy will notice that I am not by her side. She will, at least for a moment, panic. She will think that I have wandered off and gotten lost, or maybe even been kidnapped.

But then Mommy will come to her senses, calm down, and search for me. She will call my name in a sing-song voice and bend down to peek under the clothes.

I pick up my feet and tuck them onto the bars. Now I am invisible. I am a monkey nestled into a tree. I am a chameleon blending into my surroundings.

Still, I know somehow Mommy will find me, and I will shriek with glee. Then we will go to the next store and play again. This is my favorite game.


My mom’s closet is a treasure trove. Sometimes when I am home alone, I go inside and rifle through all the sweaters and dresses and shoes. There are jackets with shoulder pads from when she worked in an office. There is a thick winter coat from when she went to school in Philadelphia. There are even skirts and shorts from when she still lived in Taiwan.

My all-time favorite thing in my mom’s closet is her bright red qi pao. Long and silky, embroidered all over with blossoms, fastened from ribcage to collar with delicate butterfly clasps. It is the most beautiful, regal thing I have ever seen. A Chinese princess dress. And it belongs to my mother.

The first time I put it on, I am too small in every way. A few years later, I try again, but I am still not quite there. Finally, in high school, the hem falls to my ankle as it should — but the sleeves and chest are tight, and the stiff high collar won’t even close around my neck.

Wistfully I realize that I have outgrown my mother. I will never fit her qi pao.


In my own closet, there are a number of items I should probably get rid. Star Trek t-shirts, all XL, because as a kid I hid my body. My dance team uniform, stiff and cliché, but a reminder of the joy you can find in stepping outside your comfort zone. And way in the back, two tiny dresses that I loved in pre-school, one handmade by my best friend’s mother, the other frilled and polka-dotted, affectionately dubbed the Blueberry Dress.

I will never wear any of these things again, but each one tells a story about who I have been. About who I am. And maybe someday I will have a daughter who hides between hangers or presses her nose into the mothball scent. Maybe she will want to read my life in my clothes or try them on for herself. Maybe she will be fascinated by that “otherness” in me and want desperately to connect to the “otherness” within herself.

10 responses to “Clothes for an empress”

  1. tria Avatar

    i love this so much kristan! part 1 makes me so nostalgic for childhood, the idea of never fitting your mother’s qipao in part 2 is so beautiful, and i love the sense that i get of you in part 3. perfection!

  2. T. S. Bazelli Avatar

    Beautiful memories! I wish my own were kinder when it comes to this. I never fit anything that belonged to my mom (glamorous gowns, leather coats, buttery kid gloves, amazing shoes) and she ridiculed me for being too big, but I coveted them. I think all little girls do.

  3. Sherrie Petersen Books Avatar

    Lovely memories here. I like how you captured how clothing is such an expression of ourselves as well. I saved a lot of my daughter’s clothes from when she was little. These days, I’m handing her things from my closet that don’t fit well anymore or that I just think might look better on her.

  4. Shari Avatar

    Aww, I love this — such a nostalgic and sweet glimpse into different parts of your life. I, too, used to wander into my mom’s closet and rifle through all the clothes. My favorite part was trying on her shoes! :)

  5. Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) Avatar

    That line about outgrowing your mother gave me chills. So beautiful.

  6. Juliann Avatar

    Such a universal mother-daughter experience, I think. More than my mother’s clothes, I envied her shoes and her make-up. They seemed so grown-up and unattainable when I was young. Magical.

    My own 13-year-old daughter fits the pants I got in Germany when I was 15. She could probably wear my old prom dresses if she wanted to. Then there are the bridesmaid dresses and the coat I wore in high school that makes me think of The Breakfast Club.

    Closets hold such nostalgia. And to think – I almost got rid of some of these things.

  7. Kristan Avatar

    Thanks for writing the post that got me off my butt to finally put this down on paper! https://tria-chang.squarespace.com/blog/writing-prompts

    I have a hard time picturing you not fitting something! Your mom must be microscopic.

    My mom does that for me now too. Hence, I have a lot of Ralph Lauren tops… ;P

    Funny enough, I was never a shoe person! Although nowadays I’m obsessed with non-Crocs-looking Crocs… o_O

    Thank you. :)

    I’ve never been into makeup, but maybe that’s because my mom never really wore much? Funny inverse of your story: My mom once asked if she could wear MY prom dress!

  8. jkftravel Avatar

    Wonderfully done. My mother cut her wedding dress up so my sister and I could play dress-up with it. Either she loved us an inordinate amount, or she is just not sentimental.

    1. Kristan Avatar

      Lol. Your mom sounds amazing!

  9. Jonathan Avatar

    I love this post! I also have kept a lot of my clothes since high school, but due to laziness, not nostalgia.