For my gorgeous “Punky” —
In the last year, I’ve lost a net of forty-five pounds. People have lots to say about that, sometimes. I’m sort of uninterested in most of that dialogue, because I was pretty happy with my body and how it works, looks, and moves before and after that change. While I wasn’t really focused on changing my body, I did change a lot of my habits and also the emotional backdrop of my life, and I think the body change is a consequence of that, combined with the fact that I have eliminated a major allergen/irritant from my food choices and my guts are healing and functioning better.
So gross medical crap and weird body discussions aside, one of the things that this big change has necessitated is some major adjustments to my wardrobe. Yes, I’m going to talk about clothes. With enthusiasm. If that’s not your thing, I’ll get you next post with something more your speed. It’s cool. You don’t have to love everything I love. Have a cuppa and go look at baby marmosets or something.
I’m going to skip a lot of the over-arching commentary I have on Issues with Women’s Clothes for a hot second, because frankly, this post would be of Epic Length if I went there. Instead, I’m going to stick with talking about clothes the way I talk about friends. Friends, in the general sense — not my friends individually or specifically.
I’m an introvert. We’ve discussed this. You’re aware. Hi. Part of that introversion means that I curate my friend circle pretty ruthlessly. I’m the same with my closet. My general rule for closet cleaning (I’m available, if you need help with that) and clothes purging is this:
Step One: Put the thing on your body. Preferably with other things with which you typically wear it.
Step Two: Is it comfortable? Does it button/zip? Can you sit down in it? Can you move your arms? If No, pitch it. If Yes, proceed to Step Three.
Step Three: Is it wearable? Is it free of stains, holes, tears, missing buttons? If No, pitch it. If Yes, proceed to Step Four.
Step Four: Look in the mirror. Is your immediate reaction something along the lines of, “Oh hell yeah”? If No, pitch it. If Yes, proceed to Step Five.
Step Five: Do you like it? This step also includes things like, will you actually in real life wear it? Does it have at least two or three other playmates in your closet? Can you layer it, or is it a one season item? Do you look forward to putting it on your body and wearing it in public? If these are mostly either positive answers, or answers like, “I’d wear this more if I had a ____ to go with it,” where _____ is a broad category of item like “cardigan” or “pencil skirt” then keep it. If it’s something mega specific like “purple and green striped blazer from Anthropologie that ran last season and is on eBay for $400” pull an Elsa and Let it Go.
[Step Five is why I only own one pair of jeans. I don’t wear them. Every once in a while, you need a pair of jeans, sure. I wear jeans maybe, MAYBE once a month, even in the winter. In the winter, it is mostly to put over long johns so I can shovel snow. Don’t get me wrong! There’s not anything wrong with jeans. They’re comfortable, I look great, you can wear them year ’round, they go with everything… jeans are great. They’re just not a strong part of my personal style, and I’m okay with that. I’m just not a denim girl. Plus, jeans take up hella bureau space and I hate that. I also don’t own any shorts, unless you count a pair of compression shorts for dance classes, which I don’t because they’re not clothes I can actually wear on the street without getting arrested, probably.]
Just as I curate my social group using specific, pragmatic criteria (that’s another blog post, though) I keep a tidy, smokin’ hot wardrobe by being as unsentimental, decisive, and parsimonious as I can. If a piece of clothing doesn’t jive with the other stuff I wear (more on that in a second), or fails to make me look or feel awesome? It goes. Period.
Okay, exception: I have a tee shirt from Tori Amos’ Dew Drop Inn ’97 Tour, and that is literally the only article of clothing I own that is worn out, super comfortable, and is three sizes too big for me. I wear it with yoga pants for dance class and cleaning days and I will never, ever get rid of it because that concert was amazing and Ears with Feet for lyfe, y’all. We all have that tee shirt, and we all have that friend. To be fair, I also don’t own a lot of tee shirts. It’s like, that one, one from PM Press, a True Blood tee-shirt from 2010, and a black one featuring Death from Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel, because of course I have that, and one with an octopus on it that my friend Michelle gave me because I like octopodes. Again. Nothing wrong with tee-shirts! I just don’t wear a ton of them.
Part of the reason I’m this unforgiving with clothes that get to live with me is I’ve moved A LOT, and moving clothes is The Total Worst Augh. I try to keep my wardrobe under the following limitations: excluding undergarments, 3 dresser drawers; fewer than fifteen hangers (with allowance for skirts to double up on pinch hangers), one winter coat, one rain/spring/fall coat, and fewer than 5 pairs of shoes, not including a pair of athletic shoes and a pair of snow boots because Mid-Atlantic Region. Ideally, that’s my whole wardrobe for all seasons. That rarely obtains, because sweaters can be bulky, and everyone has that hoodie they love (I do), etc. However, I hate having too many clothes, because too many clothes means too much d*mn laundry which is the only thing worse than having to move with too many clothes. It’s a maintenance bandwidth issue (just like it is in social circles).
The other reason I’m unforgiving with clothes that get to live with me is that I’ve developed a very distinctive way of looking, dressing, and presenting myself to the world. I worked on that, because it’s something I like, I love looking and feeling like my best self, and it also helps me curtail spending money on clothes and shoes I have to store, launder, and move
twice annually it feels like periodically, to my annoyance and chagrin.
Another way I limit the number of clothes I permit myself to possess is that everything in my wardrobe needs to play nicely. I build my wardrobe the way I used to build Magic: the Gathering decks: by color. This means that if you look in my closet, you will see only shades of the following colors: white, black/grey, brown, purple, pink, burgandy, and navy. That’s it. Those are the colors of clothes I purchase.
That probably sounds insane, but hear me out. Since I don’t wear trousers often, and jeans even less so, I rely on layering basics. To stay under my self-imposed limit, every article of clothing needs to be relevant for at least three seasons, and in at least two or three outfits. The secret to that is to make sure you can put that burgundy blazer with a pair of burgundy tights, to pair with that lilac sleeveless dress, the black cowl neck sweater and pencil skirt, and those navy skinny trousers and white button-up blouse. As long as your pairings are purposeful and mindful, you feel put together and polished. Plus, those are the colors I like wearing.
I am also like this with my social group, which sounds weird. I don’t like single-task relationships. I prefer rich relationships that span interests, values, and virtues to someone I can connect with over, I dunno, Twin Peaks, and nothing else. Having limited time and energy (maintenance bandwidth) to devote to people, I like social interactions that run the gamut of laughter/goofiness, emotional connection, deep abiding care, and reliable support. I have a pretty specific range of needs and desires, and like when I am close to people who can speak to an amalgamation of those needs and desires, and for whom I may do the same. I don’t pursue relationships (or clothing purchases) that are not purposeful and mindful in this way. Friendships don’t just blossom for me, I select them. Mine are diverse, varied, rich, and personal — I value and love my friends, deeply.
So, to draw a parallel, the Keep/Purge decision tree is comparable to what I consider basic requirements to associate with me. This includes things like, does it fit/do you advocate for gender equality; does it look good/do you know how to love people well; is it comfortable/do you respect boundaries, and so forth. The aesthetic decision tree is comparable to a sliding scale of shared and diverse values and skills between my friends and I: the things we share in common, and the things that make us different but well suited for one another.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this is twofold: first, I need to clean out my closet and dresser, like whoa, and have been investing (about $50 a paycheck) in filling out my wardrobe in a purposeful fashion (get it?!). Modcloth’s been a huge help with that; second, a friend of mine recently discussed with me her desire to fully and explicitly develop criteria for herself regarding dating partners. I think the parallels are strong because lookit: life, time, and closet space are all limited things, and we all have a particular vision of the kind of life (or style) we want to achieve. We all have really different needs (I don’t need a lot of knocking around clothes, some people do!, I don’t need bras, some people do or like them!) and should address those needs as valid.
We should also interrogate our tastes. I’d always wanted to be that girl who gets up early and does something cute to her hair. Reality: HAVE YOU MET ME I AM NOT THAT GIRL, and that’s okay. I throw it in a french braid, or run a brush through it and go, most days. The thing is, I felt this pressure to be a certain kind of woman who did certain kinds of things and that pressure was not coming from inside of me. This is obvious because I was not willing to do the work to be that sort of woman. I wanted to HAVE ALWAYS BEEN that girl, because that’s how women “should” be. Or whatever. What even. We’re the same way with our desires. There’s this pressure to have “a lot” of friends and a busy social calendar to be seen as sociable and successful. There’s this pressure to pursue romantic relationships with people who meet criteria that have nothing to do with what helps us to flourish. There’s this pressure to look really good in empire waist dresses, because that’s what’s on the rack. There’s this expectation to wear jeans when you prefer wool tights and dresses. These pressures and “shoulds” can be especially intense for women who are whip smart, ambitious, successful, accomplished, educated, etc. Some of them come from our families of origin, from movies or books or magazines, from our well-meaning friends, or from the culture and geography in which we find ourselves.
But really, the shoulds we ought concern ourselves with are the ones that we already know best, but sometime need to excavate from the avalanche of cultural concerns. For this friend of mine, we’ve talked a bit and I have my suspicions. I suspect she needs someone who deeply (and independently) values and advocates for consent, bodily autonomy, and gender equality; someone who acts as a grounding point for her electrifying presence and energy; someone who values her ferocity and her gentleness in equal measure and has the strength to help her temper their raw edges… These are not needs you can find talked about “on the rack” — you have to go looking for these tweeds and suedes and velvets off the beaten path. If you clear the closet of the stuff other people keep telling you to wear, you make room for the things you really want.
And that is what I want most for you, Punky. *clinks champagne glass, and tosses a pair of red wool tights your way*