Archive for April 19, 2024


Old Clothes

I’ve been doing a big closet purge over the past couple of weeks. I haven’t drastically changed size over the past few decades, so most of my old clothes still fit (though some fit better than others or fit differently). That makes it a little harder to know what to get rid of. I’ve been forcing myself to put on clothes and be honest with myself about whether I would wear these things again. It’s like playing the home version of that What Not to Wear show, in which they’d ambush a fashion victim, haul her entire wardrobe to their studio, make her show off her favorite outfits, then tell her what was wrong with what she was wearing and what she should wear instead before going through her existing wardrobe and tossing all the things that didn’t work. Alas, I’m skipping the shopping spree and makeover that came after that step.

I think the bulk of what I’m getting rid of will end up being my old suits. In my first job out of college, I was working in the public information office at a medical school. We dealt with the school administration, major donors (basically the city’s social elite), and the media. On a given day, we might end up sitting in a meeting with a dean or vice president, escorting a news crew to an interview, or interviewing a civic leader about their latest donation. That meant this was not a casual office environment. The policy was that we had to dress every day as though we might have to meet with the university president. Unfortunately, my salary didn’t really support the kind of wardrobe the job required, so I had a pretty big wardrobe of relatively cheap suits, things I bought on sale at Casual Corner or The Limited, with the occasional bargain clearance item from a department store.

Most of the time, this wasn’t too obvious, since doctors, scientists, and reporters aren’t necessarily known for their style. My suits looked pretty sharp, even if they didn’t come with a designer label. There was the occasional awkward moment. For instance, there was the day the president’s assistant called over to our office to see if any women in the office were available to go to a luncheon. It was one of those society “ladies who lunch” events as a fundraiser for one of the departments (there was a “friends of” organization) and they had some last-minute cancellations, so they were trying to fill the empty seats. It happened to be a day when I’d worn my favorite suit, a Chanel-style black-and-white houndstooth number, so I was feeling pretty confident.

Until I got to the event and found that the “entertainment” during the luncheon, before the speaker, was going to be a Chanel fashion show. There I was in a suit that was obviously meant to look like the Chanel style, but very obviously didn’t have the logo on the buttons.

And then I realized that the woman I’d been seated with was Margot Perot (wife of H. Ross). I was a little intimidated at first, but she turned out to be very nice and actually kind of funny. The fashion show was the sort of thing in which the models walked around the room during lunch and stopped at each table to explain their outfits. Fortunately, it was the resort collection, so there were no suits to stand in sharp contrast to my fake Chanel suit. Mrs. Perot and I ended up snarking about some of the crazier outfits together. Even better, the swag bag left at each place contained a full-size bottle of Chanel No. 5 cologne. That more than doubled my pay for the day.

But when I put on that suit now, I feel like I should be on the field playing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. All my suits from that time have giant shoulder pads. I have great memories of wearing those suits and how grown-up they made me feel, but I can admit to myself that I will never wear them again. Even if I have an occasion to wear a suit, I wouldn’t wear one of these.

Next, I need to cull dresses and skirts. I have a lot of dresses and skirts I love that still fit and that look good on me, but I need to be honest with myself about how many I need. When I go to church, I’m usually in the choir and wearing a robe, so I don’t dress up too much. I like to wear skirts and dresses for conventions, but I haven’t been to one since the pandemic, and I don’t wear the more structured dresses for that sort of thing. I usually bring something knit that I can throw in a suitcase. I may force myself to pare the collection down to a dressy little black dress, a dress suitable for funerals, and a few dresses suitable for weddings/concerts/the theater.

I also have a good-sized collection of formal or cocktail dresses, thanks to years of writing conferences that included formal banquets. Some of them are clearly out of style, but a few still look good. I might as well keep a couple because I’d rather not have to buy another formal if an occasion arose. I still have my senior prom dress, but it doesn’t look very “80s prom,” so I’ve actually worn it a few times (admittedly, at least one of those times was a “flashback prom” costume party).

One thing that’s helping with this process is keeping in mind the life I want to have. Late last year, as part of a class on goal setting and scheduling, I did an exercise in which I imagined what my ideal life and an ideal day in that ideal life would look like. The idea was to help set goals that will lead to that life and focus on projects and tasks that lead to that life, but it also helps here. Does it fit? Does it look good? Do I feel good in it? And would I wear this in my ideal life?

Forcing myself to put on these old clothes has really brought back memories. I have to admit that I kind of liked dressing up for work, though I also like that I get to wear sweatpants or shorts and t-shirts now. Speaking of t-shirts, that’s another collection I need to purge. I could probably wear a different shirt every day for a month, but I got so many of these through special events, so they’re souvenirs in addition to being clothing. I’ve heard the suggestion to make a quilt out of them, but I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t use such a quilt (my grandmother made quilts, so I already have a quilt collection). I may take pictures, then donate them.