Naked Fashion

TW: Implied sexual harassment

At birth, all arrive naked into the world; small bodies meet the skin of their mothers before they're swaddled in white cotton, then placed in confinement behind plastic screens. But  not you. Your mother refuses the swaddle, clutches onto your newborn body, still red and sticky,  to her naked breasts for so long those around you thought the two of you had become one. She  says the cotton is unnatural, it's better to be naked. 

When the other newborns arrive at home, their parents abandon the cotton for clothing  less protective, more colourful, more 'adorable'. But not you. 

At five years old, your mother reveals a large garbage bag hidden behind her. The dust on  its wrinkled surface floats into the air, causing you to cough. You ask, what's that? With only a  smile, your mother unties the bag, pulling out a pair of overalls with its straps missing. They're  hand-me-downs from your cousins, she says, then ruffles your hair. 

You wear the overalls like pants: tie a belt around your waist and let the top of the  overalls flap forward. The flap pools, scrunching up where the hoodie you pull over it ends. It is always uncomfortable and bulky, but for some reason you still like it because it keeps you warm  in the winter. 

Although they're oversized, you can't wear them past thirteen. 

When other teens enter high school, they become the fabrics that cover their bodies. They  warp, take on the personalities their clothing portrays. You, too, even though your mother never  lets you buy anything short and anything with holes. She tells you that it's safe, but you don't  listen. You abandon the overalls and the other hand-me-downs and cover yourself in leather,  translucent mid-waist down shirts, shorts two times too small like the other girls. 

But the holidays, of course, the winter holidays always have you running through the  door in a thick, oversized Christmas sweater shouting, "Family! Family! Family!" until there is  no home to return to and no one to celebrate holidays with. Then, you toss the Christmas sweater  into the black garbage bag and hide it at the back of your closet. 

Like other adults, you leave with the same high heels from last night, making you seem  much taller, more confident, than you are. Without them, you feel no taller than a toddler  barefooted. Your boss at Fortune Fashion, the one who always smells like rotten lime, offers to  buy you a new pair of heels when yours break. Instead, you decline, resign. What he wants in  return for the heels isn't a something you're willing to offer. 

You abandon the heels, then slouch; slouch until your head is so low that you can't see in  front of you because if you cannot be taller, you can at least be different. But even then, there is  someone else so bent over that their forehead brushes the ground. 

You can't do that. 

No, your mother has taught you better. 

No matter how far you bend to please the world, your forehead can never touch the  ground because touching the ground means surrender. You don't want to surrender. It's not an  option—losing face, your traditional pride. Bowing with respect is different from bowing in  defeat. Bowing to the dead is different from bowing in submission. You don't do things that  harm your pride. Never, never, never. Why is it that you only listen to your mother now? 

Your mother calls, asks how you're doing. You tell her you got a new job, a better one,  one where your boss doesn't make you bow—at least not in public. Fortune Fashion is the name. Mother seems both worried and relieved. You reassure her: it's fine. Really. 

But your new boss's kindness doesn't last long. It's only a facade. You should have  known. Since when was your luck so good, anyway? He walks past your cubicle. You stiffen.  Today isn't your turn. Let your breath go. His hand connects with the back of your coworker's  head. She flinches but doesn't move otherwise. Work faster, your boss says, rapping his knuckles  against your coworker's sewing machine. Work faster. 

You notice the black garbage bag at the back of your closet when you open it and pull out  the freshly pressed shirts you recently purchased at full price. Your coworkers can smell  bargains, and you don't want to smell like bargains even though your bank account has long  since entered the negatives. Your ex-boss calls you up, offers a raise and something else. No. 

You spit at the receiver when the line goes dead. 

He made, makes, everyone fall to their knees, unwillingly willing, rip holes where their  pants scrap against the ground. As long as everyone suffers, he is happy. As long as everyone is  below him—

After your last day at Fortune Fashion—the horrid place they try to call your "second  home", where everyone only seems to lose their fortune rather than gain success—you rip your  pressed shirts from their hangers and ball them up in your hands. You toss the wrinkled white  cottons, an imitation of the soft hospital towels, across the room. 

You want to hide under sweaters and sweatpants because, in all honesty, you miss your  overalls and hand-me-downs. Much more than the pressed shirts with the collars that will choke  you, like they have many others. Only ghosts can handle dressing in clothes so tight. 

You drag out the black garbage bag from the back of the closet in your new apartment  and dig out the overalls and Christmas sweater. Though you no longer fit the overalls, you pull  the Christmas sweater over your bare body and clutch the overalls close. 

At ninety-seven, you tell your children and their children who stand next to your hospital  bed that you want to be naked when they bury you—without makeup and beautiful fabrics. That  is how you entered the world, and that is how you want to leave it. 

About The Author

Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer, an immigrant from Fujian, and an active member of HWA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in F&SF, The Dark, PseudoPod, Jellyfish Review, Hobart Pulp, The Masters Review, among others. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (