Privilege Blog

When You Show Up Somewhere Dressed Exactly Like Your Sister

We know that as society loosens the bands of protocol, sorting out appropriate attire for ritual events becomes more difficult.

For weddings, showers, corporate casual, and, yes, funerals, human societies are re-architecting the social dress code. But based, we might ask, on what? Unsurprisingly, a complex algorithm drives what we decide to wear. But how heavily weighted is cultural heritage, and how much does personal unconscious contribute?

For example.

When my uncle died recently, his daughters were unsure of what the formal memorial ceremony might look like, and when it might occur. So, as an immediate response, one of them invited all the local family over to a remembering dinner. Here is a photo of my sister and I standing together that night. We did not discuss what we’d wear. I didn’t even know she had this shirt.

That’s me in the blue. Rose Red and Snow White, we were.

I imagine the protocol heuristic of our thinking went like this. It was a casual, family event. In Northern California, that means jeans.  It was a serious occasion, however, so “good” jeans, however defined. It’s not surprising that we were both in 7 for All Mankind dark wash, since I had given my sister the pair too short and too small for me. “Good” shoes in our generation still means defaulting to black, perhaps influenced by our decade in patent leather Mary Janes. We rather miss those pink-edged scalloped socks.

But the shirt coincidence may have derived from a more intimate, family part of the what-to-wear equation. The year my family lived in London, we gave my father a Liberty of London tie for his birthday. It was the first time I remember that we, the children, picked out a present ourselves. Probably at Harrods, or Harvey Nichols.

Liberty of London was so mod, in 1968, and my uncle was a mod kinda guy. As I looked at the photo above, trying to decode why on earth my sister and I both wore semi-transparent flowered long-sleeved button-fronts to a remembering dinner, it dawned on me that possibly my sister and I dressed with these memories as guide.

And the constant, the equation terms that prevented either of us from wearing the right color undergarments? High WASPs like to pretend that underwear doesn’t exist. Unfortunately the laws of physics refuse cooperate with our ideals. We’ll invoke impunity, just this once.

Surely you and your siblings, or your virtual family members, have shown up dressed eerily alike to events, all unawares? Tell me the stories. We found ourselves terribly amusing, which added, somehow, to the night.

45 Responses

  1. This happens with me and Country Mouse all the time, even though we live on opposite ends of the country. I’ll see a photo of her wearing the exact same outfit I wore to, say, 4th of July. It just makes me miss her.

  2. One thanksgiving, my two sisters and I showed up with identical garnet and pearl jewelry, each bought at the same museum on separate trips involving thousands of miles. As with your Liberty shirts, memories were involved.
    Thank you for jogging mine,

  3. I have no siblings, so I can’t answer this question quite right.

    However, I will say that I went to a wedding once and wore the exact same dress, shoes & earrings as another woman at the wedding! We looked like the Bobbsey Twins!

    In our defense we both had blonde curly hair, the same curvy figure and apparently the same budget. We laughed about it. Our husbands were totally confused about how such a thing could happen.

  4. Hmmm, I honestly can’t think of any such anecdotes altho’ I can think of some involving borrowed garments and squabbles over same. Closest I can come is that 2 of my daughters and I, for several years, wore Citizens of Humanity Ingrid jeans in the same dark wash. Now I’ll be thinking about this, trying to remember any co-dressing and wondering how to explain its lack. . . .you prove, yet again, that the social anthropology of clothing is fascinating!

  5. My mom and aunt showed up to my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary in two different patterns of the same dress. We all laughed but I think it brought back memories for my grandmother of dressing her girls in matching outfits.

  6. This happens to my older sister and I all the time. I think it’s a combination of our shared penchant for pink and for structured A-line or sheath dresses. We end up eerily similar on many occasions. Luckily she has curly hair and always wears flats, so with my straight hair and addiction to high heels we always look a little different.

  7. Recently did this with a friend – we both showed up in khaki skirts and black tees, with toddlers on our hips.

  8. Not as adults – you’d have to get my sisters to willingly enter the same room as me; I’m something of the family pariah (at least in their eyes). My brother and I are on very good terms, but I don’t think he’d be caught dead in a garment similar to one of mine.

  9. I’m a lifelong sisters watcher and love to note how often sisters are similar in taste – wear similar amounts of makeup, similar hair styles, similar degrees of dressiness, likes and dislikes in clothing, and yes – will select very similar outfits for an occasion. I see this in women of all ages.

    Fun to speculate about the whole process of forming taste.

  10. My sister and I dress quite differently, but my mother and I work in the same city and the same profession (law). We have often met for lunch only to find we accidentally wore matching outfits, though with slight generational twists. When we were both going to a recent conference we checked in while packing to avoid this issue.

    I have a wonderful mother so I am not troubled that I am turning into her, only that it is happening so much earlier than I had expected.

  11. I have no sisters, so my story is about my best friend.
    Even before starting to know each other better, I’ve noticed dressing very similar to her. As our friendship grew stronger we discovered so many things in common, similar cultural backgrounds. We would sometimes call each other and check that we don’t show up dressed the same at the same event.

    For a very discreet bra under diaphanous blouses a nude color just a shade darker than my skin works quite well…

  12. My sis and mom and I often wear variants of the same look to parties. Takes us right back to our mother/daughter dresses, usually made by MamaRubi.

    And when I worked in NYC, male and female colleagues often turned up to the office looking alike (e.g., black pants/skirt plus French blue shirt/blouse). We’d get in the elevator together, look around, and start laughing. (Maybe there’s an editorial uniform…)

  13. My sister and I look nothing alike, so we purposefully dress alike for special events. It’s like we try to make up for the not-so-obvious by wearing the same color or style of clothing. We’ll check in with each other to make sure the other one is also wearing contacts/glasses, heels or no, because we have to “match”. Hmmmm, maybe remnants of a childhood in which we used to wear the same clothes to parties?

  14. My sister and I do this constantly. Usually, we wear our own interpretation of the same color top, pants, shoes, earrings, and sometimes scarves. Nothing is exactly the same, but one would definitely think we had planned it. We never consult, we just laugh and have come to expect it.

    In our case, I think we go through a process of filtering event, time of day, length of travel, and other features through our similar cultural lenses.

  15. My sister and I have different taste in clothing–style, color. And yet, for my brother’s wedding, without consultation we were completely coordinated, *and* with my mom. Different styles, same group of colors.

  16. My sisters and I have similar taste, but rarely match. My cousin and I, who are 6 weeks apart, showed up twice to family events dressed very alike. The first time was an anniversary party for our grandparents – we both wore black flowy 90’s dresses with pink flower prints. Then the summer after our high school graduation, we both wore sarongs tied as dresses to a family dinner.

  17. Your sister must be a sturdy gal too! I haven’t noticed this much within my own family, but I often notice on campus that many of my colleagues will choose to wear a similar color on a given day.

  18. Some years ago one of my sisters and I showed up for a summer holiday with the same bathing suit, a one-piece from Lands’ End with a bold chevron stripe pattern. I think she had the dark blue and I had the aqua, to go with our different colorings. We do have the same body type, so it was flattering to both of us, but it was still pretty funny that we chose the exact same suit.

    And I have to admit that the second thing I noticed about the picture of you and your sister, after the nearly-matching blouses, was the choice of underwear. Oh dear, you really must work on that.

  19. This happens to one of my sisters, my mom, and I all the time. We’ll show up in red tops with black pants, for example. They are never completely identical, but close enough that we laugh about it. The other sister (whose fashion taste is on a different wavelength) never does this.

    How wonderful that you can tie the fabric pattern to a childhood memory – never thought about that.

  20. I have a first cousin who is like a sister to me. We do sometimes shop together and end up with the same, or similar things. Even shopping apart this happens. When she, my mother and I get together, we’re all often in some version of the same thing. Khaki and white, jean (or navy slacks) and white, or black jeans or pants, and a light gray top.
    This past Sunday was my mother’s 80th birthday party at my home, and my cousin and I (without talking about it) wore cropped white jeans, and navy and white striped tees. It’s so common, that no one even notices it anymore.
    We all have an aversion to prints also.

  21. I have a twin sister and we have been known to be on the same wardrobe wavelength as well even though we are different sizes and live in different cities. We did it on purpose for out 30 birthday but sometimes it just happens.

  22. Mouse – Aw, boo for sisters across the country.

    Meg – My pleasure. And identical jewelry is a very strong tie indeed.

    Ally – Your husbands clearly didn’t have this kind of sister!

    mater – So interesting. You have lots of siblings, right? Maybe how to dress wasn’t part of your socialization the way it was for me and my children. Or maybe you’ve broken away from your family culture?

    Beth – Oh that’s so sweet.

  23. Cathy – Is she as stylish are you are?:)

    Polly – When the kids start matching, game over:).

    Jan – Well that’s special circumstances.

    That’s Not My Age – Well, yes. There’s Liberty and there’s boy Liberty:).

    Susan – Ha!

    Carolyn – Love that, lifelong sister-watcher.

  24. R – Yes! I can imagine if you have professional overlap you’ve got to check:). And how nice of you to say that about your mom. She would be happy.

    Diana – Yes, I’m working on the underwear:). Thanks for sharing about your BF.

    Rubi – Yeah, not good to dress like male colleagues:). I can imagine you, mom and sister all in similar dresses. Very cute.

    Hijab – Huh. Interesting. Cute.

    Lynn – I agree, it’s a set of shared filters.

    Leslie – Ha! Weddings bring it out in everyone I think.

    1. In many cases, the undergarment thing is about the flash picking up the sheen of the synthetic material underneath.. So even if you were wearing the appropriate color of foundational garment, you might still get some bling!

  25. Ming – I hope you guys laugh the way we did.

    Sue – Eyeglass frames? Wow. Related to face shape?

    Duchesse – Well, nude isn’t a color because everyone has different skin:). My sisters are my greatest friends. I am sorry for your loss.

    TPP – Ha! Not even matched nautical this and that? Matched khakis?

    Mardel – Yes. Blogging is a little bit like sisters:).

    SSG – xox

  26. Nikki – Wow. That’s some serious matching. Given that it’s a cousin, I almost wonder if you two have rogue genes:).

    K-Line – Yeah, it was pretty hilarious IRL.

    Terri – The odd thing is that my sister is much more of an urban Artsy Cousin. So it was REALLY cultural/family based.

    MJ – To be fair, the flash of the camera made the underwear display much clearer than it was in the twilight. But yes, point well taken.

  27. Carol – I wonder if you will discover patterns from your own family anywhere in your special occasion dressing.

    Kathy – You and your cousin are even more strongly aligned than my sister and I are! And no, the watch is a quirk of mine. Probably too conservative for my sister.

    TB – I wish you and your sister many more years of matching.

  28. Hi… my sister and I tend to wear the same things a lot. We have similar taste, and tend (after 12 years at private school) to wear “uniforms”… something easy to slip into and not to fussy.

    I met a distant cousin for the first time about 10 years ago, and we were dressed identically. Red cashmere twinsets, black wool pants, black boots, pearls and red fingernail polish. It was a little eerie.

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  30. My sisters are ten years younger than me, both different stylistically and in build, so none of us wear anything alike, even in color oddly enough. My mother and I are only 17 years apart so we tend to dress in similar colors and stlyes at times. I often think it’s because we more or less grew up together. Though I’m mostly the bridge between her generation and my sisters.

  31. I’m late to the party here, and this story will give away my age, but I can’t resist.

    My law school roommate was getting married. It was a small wedding, and the bride, her mother, and I were all meeting at the church several hours before the ceremony, where we were to change into our more formal clothes. Each of us got dressed that morning in our own apartment, without consulting anyone.

    We all arrived at the church wearing the very same Diane von Furstenburg wrap dress.

  32. My brother and I once showed up for a day trip dressed nearly identically- same sneakers, same cargo pants, and each wearing our “Gap” tshirts that we’d gotten as a gift from the same family friend. We were in a group on an exchange trip and we had different host families, so there was no way of knowing till we got to school. This was back when we were the same height, and we got a lot of weird looks.

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