What it feels like to rip through that curated closet one last time.
For women my age with any love of fashion, the names Christian Dior and Lanvin have particular meaning. For years, long before I had the money to shop for anything even close to this, as a little girl I dreamed of wearing the kinds of pieces that made me look both rich and beautiful.
I was never either, but I sure wanted to look like I was, and get what I sincerely believed looking that way would deliver. It didn't. But I'm ahead of myself.
It took decades. At 32, I finally lost enough weight to zip up a size two skirt from Loehmann's, one of the very first off-price discount designer stores. My generation will recall that name.
Long story short, once I got slim, I started buying beautiful clothing. Barely wore most of it; it was a ritual of acquiring, admiring, and carting massive amounts of said gorgeous clothing from one house and city to another.
I justified the purchases by saying I needed them for work. Nope. Not really. Like most of us, the more I acquired, the more I leaned into a few key pieces I trusted and which looked terrific in front of a business audience. The rest was pure hoarding.
My friend Sonja, who has a closet decluttering business, used to shop with me. After a long day of finding gems, we'd lay them out on my bed and admire them. I rarely wore them, although some of the classics got plenty of air time.
I found lots of orphans, those pieces of suits that nobody wanted, but I found on sale. Lots of them, which sat forlornly looking for a match, just like I did. We never found them, my clothing and I.
Sonja also helped me download and distribute, in one way or another, masses upon masses of very pricey pieces that would never be worn, taking up space and collecting dust. It took years. I had enough clothing to kit out an entire girl's college. My friends would wander through my house admiringly, imagining that I must live one hell of a life if I had THAT kind of collection of gowns, dresses, shoes, accessories. And tons and tons and tons and TONS of jewelry.
Nope. I lived in a retail paradise called a home. The only thing missing was price tags.
People have a hard time understanding hoarding. I can speak to part of it. My sexual assaults, rape, incest history caused me deep insecurity. I also soaked up every fashion mag which promised me love, a better life, if only I looked like that model. The clothing industry made a mint on my misery and did two things: drained my wallet while never delivering the implied brand promise.
Being thin and looking rich didn't do jack shit for me other than garner envy, jealousy and a bunch of folks who genuinely believed I was living a certain kind of life.
Nope. I do live a certain kind of life now, the life I wanted, which involves adventure travel. Not much room in a life like that for showy, high-maintenance designer clothing.
When I moved to Oregon in 2020, I brought with me the last closet of only those most prized items which I couldn't bear to cull. Those pieces include a goodly number of skirts which require a tiny waistline, which I don't currently have. I have a small waistline, but I no longer weigh in at 118. I am right about 128-130, and at 5'8" that's a good weight. The last thirty years I've been much smaller, partly because of a prescription that I took for migraines.
Suffice it to say that that precscription had horrific side effects. I shitcanned all my scripts but two back in 2017, regained full health, and starting putting on a few ounces here and there which the med had kept off. The way I see it, if we care more about your body size than your overall health, we deserve what we get. I finally acknowledged that being 118 again was highly unlikely, but for a brief moment in 202o when, after a terrible car crash, I dumped some 40 pounds and looked like a skeleton draped with skin.
There are health aspects to this, to say nothing of how the body shifts things around as we age. Being too skinny isn't good for us, and as we progress into our later years, having a bit of fat is protective should we have a major health disaster. The idiot lie that "one can never be too rich or too thin" is insulting not only to science but also the pervasive idea that those two things are absolutes in terms of our value to the world.
GO. SPIT. After years of being terrified of a pound, I am happy to pound that extra ten into the pavement (which I am about to do here as the sun comes up). Something to be said of being free of tyranny of weight watching. To that:
I no longer have a 25" waist, not because I don't work hard at it, but because a combination of quarantine weight + injuries + surgeries have left me with a bit more about the middle than I've had there for thirty years. But those pounds mean that I can't currently zip up anything that sits in my closet, all the remnants of the years I was really, truly tiny. I am well aware of the uselessness of keeping it for the someday I'll fit back into that.
Why, if I never wore it the first time when it did fit? Right?
But I am not going to waste time worrying about my waist size, for that is a waste of life, if you'll forgive the puns. I've wasted enough money on compulsive clothing purchases for the desperate need to cover the body that had been brutalized, while the clothing itself did nothing to salve that pain, but did pain my wallet.
My waist, which is highly likely to change once I start training in earnest for Kilimanjaro, is combined with the reality that here in Eugene, wearing a Dior Bar Jacket isn't going to impress anyone. Around here, it's puffy jackets, hiking boots and the like, and I live in Lycra.
It isn't that I don't love that clothing, that closet is supremely impractical for the life I actually lead.
And therein lies the great truth.
I have always collected gorgeous clothing for the life I imagined, not the one I lead.
Many of us do that. Pretentious and terribly overpriced lifestyle catalog companies like The Territory Ahead and J.Peterman appeal to that very thing: spend oodles of cash on some clothing item, the copy sells the hell out of a Cary Grant Dream, and you spend a month's rent on an item that both of us could find elsewhere for a pittance and without pissing away our inheritance, such as it is.
Just to look like Lumbersexual or whatever we're aching to be.
Nothing I ever bought at any price turned me into an universally adored fairy princess.
Mark Twain once wrote "Clothes make the man," which is often quoted without the other half: "Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
In this case, clothes break the (wo)man's pocketbook.
As I settle in, at least for now, here in Eugene, the demands placed on my time and my life don't create a need for much dress up. What there is needs a capsule wardrobe, those utterly marvelous basics that fit every occasion without breaking the bank. I already have a few of those. The rest?
Well, look. I've joked about it before, but where the hell am I going to wear a $3500 Stella McCartney skirt with a flounce without looking like I'm an ounce shy of a pound in my punkin head in this part of the world?
Now look, there is no way I actually paid that. I did get it on sale, but even on sale it was way too much (all designers do that these days, by the time you get 80% off it's down to what the stupid thing should have been in the first place). And any SALE dud that isn't worn is still x dollars wasted on a dust-collecting item. These days that money goes for trips and experiences.
This morning I walked into my closet and pulled out all the skirts that I can no longer wear. Some of them are very short. That's back again, like all dumb trends. As someone who wrote on fashion for a women's magazine, honestly, just wait a while. Everything comes back around; it's called new, and it isn't. The only thing new today is extreme sticker shock for a simple cotton blouse.
The old adage around fashion, and it was true, that you bought classics which lasted for years, only worked if two things were true: both your body and your lifestyle largely remained the same.
My body has been through the wringer from fat to anorexic to fit. Fit I still am. Slightly more padded in a way that means that for now, the size two skirts need to go to a size two girl.
I'm a size four/six girl, and I am done with being terrified of an ounce. If I want an ounce of cashews, I eat 'em. I just don't overdo it.
My friend Sonja, who once had a 22" waist, is turning 61 this year. She and I have been close friends for close to forty years, and we have seen each other quite literally through thick and thin. These days, married, happy, settled, content, she is a soft brown woman, still with an hourglass figure but a generous pair of hips, still breathtakingly lovely.
She is precisely this, from Ursula le Guin:
Perfection is “lean” and “taut” and “hard” — like a boy athlete of twenty, a girl gymnast of twelve. What kind of body is that for a man of fifty or a woman of any age? “Perfect”? What’s perfect? A black cat on a white cushion, a white cat on a black one . . . A soft brown woman in a flowery dress . . . There are a whole lot of ways to be perfect, and not one of them is attained through punishment.
I like being lean and taut, but my version of it isn't perfect. It's just perfect for me. Part of that perfect is being comfortable in the body I have right now, until it changes, which it inevitably will, with more training and harder regimens. But I don't do that to be skinny. I do that because I am planning to climb a great big mountain again.
Today I have no boyfriend to dress up for, no job to attend, and no audiences which expect me to look a certain way. That may change. However, what has changed, and which I welcome, is the opportunity to kiss goodbye some beautiful things which have weighed me down for years, which have yet to see the light of day, and which need to get loved elsewhere. As with many other things I've collected, it really is time to create space.
I have no intention of going soft, nor do I have any intention of letting my body go. What I am doing is letting a big piece of a fake lifestyle go, along with all the insane demands it made to maintain a body shape that imprisoned me for decades. I am extremely fit, that's what matters. What also matters is the ability to let go of those things which no longer define us.
That is how we can move into our next iteration free of the barnacles that cluster on our boats. I am tossing the ballast, because the way I see it, what's coming ahead in my requires that I keep right on lightening the load. If my body chooses to lighten up as I tighten up again, so be it. But it won't be because I'm trying to fit into that aging Balenciaga skirt that I can wear...nowhere around here.
Sonja just fired me an email on consignment sites. I am using her recommendations to pack up and sell what I love, but don't use, and will never use again. Life doesn't care what I wear. It only cares about how much I care, and how well I wear my heart on my sleeve while I do it.
You and I don't need a $3500 skirt or to look like a too-clean Lumbersexual to get that done.
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