Friday, April 23, 2010

The path to fashion enlightenment

Tis time for a powerfully important ritual performed twice a year. Time to exchange the contents of my closet from fall/winter attire to spring/summer.

We live in an old house, which generally translates to small closets. Many consider this a ding against the house value, but I don’t see it that way. Small closets force me to alternate seasonal wardrobes from closet to under-the-bed storage bins. Though I do have an odd superstition, leery of pulling out spring attire because Denver weather has multiple personalities. Yup, I alone could irritate the Snow Gods to bring on three feet of white stuff out of spite, just by pulling out a sleeveless linen dress. Perhaps a press release of my pending transition as a forewarning to local weather forecasters might be a good idea. In the meantime, the Yankee Clipper and Radio Flyer sleds remain on full alert and the snow shovel rests on the front porch. Maybe after Mothers Day they can be relieved of duty.

The process of seasonal swapping commands me to inventory the haves and determine needs versus wants. Giant, walk-in closets don’t require that seasonal exchange. Not unless it becomes so packed one can no longer enter it. Besides, forced entry into such a closet comes with serious threat of clothes blindness where one can be inches from the door, but not able to see it thanks to giant clothes drifts. These giant closets should come with a giant warning label or OnStar communication system. This is America, no doubt it has happened, some poor woman stuck in her closet for days. It will never make the news because who wants to admit that?

This process encourages me to treat clothes with respect. Afterward, there is a brief period of mending a seam or sewing a button. How many Americans still do that? How many own even semi-stocked sewing boxes? If you have time to watch corny reality shows, then you certainly have time to mend a few clothes. Besides, these acts have a meditative quality. I find that American culture is losing many simple acts that help us pause, relax and appreciate something. Why? Because when we appreciate what we have there's a big possibility we won’t want more.

Mostly, this process keeps me fiscally responsible. If I have to shop, it's done with greater wisdom and knowledge of my needs. Items I purchase blend with my wardrobe. I don’t buy cheap, trendy clothes that require me to buy more clothes. Ever done that? If you do, just return the offending item and forgo the unnecessary expense. What I buy will be worn.

This process keeps my wardrobe honest. Items unused for two seasons - unless it’s something unique - go to the thrift store. Many American closets are packed with closet filler. What is closet filler? Items that still have the tags on them that have been hanging in the same spot for years. Closet filler distorts perception. There are many Americans who have huge, fully stocked closets supporting hundreds of ensembles, but the owner wears the same seven-day attire. Weird, no?

We’ve been in our house for over ten years. The goal is to reduce the spring haul to the thrift store. Why? Because that means I’m getting to be wiser in my retail choices. The same process is performed with my daughters. Our thrift donation largely comes from Little Pie’s wardrobe, items that no longer fit. My clothes filter down to Petite Poe which in turn filter on down to Little Pie and eventually end up thrift.

My wardrobe is becoming more and more timeless. I believe there’s a misconception of what is (and is not) a timeless wardrobe. Many people equate "timeless" with a conservative style. Trust me, I don’t dress conservatively. A timeless wardrobe is built with a solid foundation of quality clothing. For starters, there’s the little black dress that can go from beach to a fine restaurant depending upon the shoes and how hair is styled.

I’ve come to realize (and it’s a painful realization of how fast time passes) that many of my clothes where purchased after graduating college in the 90’s. Yup, I have gorgeous, timeless summer dresses from the 90’s that still receive compliments.

A wardrobe needs tending, mending and thought to become timeless. Once you achieve that state of fashion enlightenment, the forces of want (and suffering from the onslaught of tacky yearly and seasonal trends) are forgone. The bank account gets added protection too. Fashion enlightenment is better than any strongly fortified fashion insurance policy.

Maybe soon I can tackle Mr. Golightly (he's been insanely busy) for a photo shoot of my twenty-year-old items mixed with thrifted items and you can tell me whether I look like an old maid or whether these clothes are indeed timeless. Some of my older wardrobe was bought in the lower level consignment shops of Chicago's Gold Coast and Boston's Newbury Street.

Please, I dare you to look into the deepest, darkest recesses of your closet. It’s a brave thing to do. Do you like what you see?

Post Script: I kid you not. It’s been raining today. After I posted and went to my closet the rain turned to snow, it's too warm to stick but sheesh! Damn the torpedo’s! Spring has sprung in my closet! I don’t care if I wear sandals in the snow, they’re gorgeous sandals!


The Queen of Fifty Cents said...

Even in Southern California we switch our seasonal clothing. I did mine last weekend, and danged if it didn't snow in the nearby mountains this week. I think you're onto something.

I have a great trick for weeding your closet. When you switch your clothes, hang all the hangers backwards in the closet. Then when you wear a piece, turn its hanger around the right way. In just a few weeks you can see exactly which pieces you wear and which you don't--and then you get rid of the don'ts!

Shopping Golightly said...

Very, very clever.

One reason you are a true Queen!

Daisy said...

We're having a major remodel done that includes replacing our tiny closets with a walk-in. In preparation, I purged. I was ruthless; if I haven't worn it in a year, if it doesn't fit just right, it's gone. No sense storing and then moving pieces I don't wear. I won't mention the ice chopper and icemelt still on the front porch...

geogrrl said...

I'm still weeding, but do it less and less.

When I left grad school and got a job, I had to start dressing (somewhat) like a grownup. Our office is fairly casual, but I am a professional person and have to fit the part.

At first, there was a frenzy of clothes-buying, thrifted and new. That has slowed considerably. I add a few pieces here and there, am still on the lookout for a few, and am weeding out what doesn't work or hasn't been worn. I find for the most part I'm pretty happy with my choices and look less and less. Mostly I go with separates in solid colours that I can mix and match as I please. I'm also getting quite a collection of quirky shoes to set off the outfits.

What I do like about thrift is that I can be far pickier about the quality of my clothing, and don't feel bad if a piece turns out not to really work. If it doesn't, back to the thrift shop it goes! I can also cycle out things that just don't interest me any longer.

Most of our furniture is thrift, with a few pieces bought new on clearance. When we first went shopping for furniture after I started working, I think I could be heard across the store when I said, "$400 for a COFFEE TABLE! Are you #*%$#$^%^# KIDDING ME!"

We've just been too poor for too many years to bring ourselves to pay full price anything unless we have to.

Oh, and I'm one of those people that recycles sweaters by unravelling them and knitting them into something else. It's a great way to get quality yarn.

I also felt sweaters to make them into other things, and recycle clothing, curtains, table cloths, and sheets into duvet covers, other curtains, and some clothing projects if I like the fabric. Some people look at me like I'm crazy, but it's just fabric.

Because it is so easy to get materials, I have to keep a tight lid on the volume of my crafting materials. If it won't fit into the bins I have, then I start picking out what I'm less in love with or what I don't think I'll get to and it goes to the thrift shop.

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one for me.

What if I get rid of stuff and then NEED it? What if I lose weight?
I spend a lot of my life in grubbies. And grubbies get damaged/worn out. Also, it's a bit difficult to find sz 2x on the 2ndhand market.

So, I have extras.

I am trying to prune a bit based on my lifestyle. But ... I need to start at the start. I need to go through the bras first; figure out what fits right; figure out what's most comfortable; and then try on clothes.

Maybe next week ....

Seriously, though, as a SAHM, I probably don't need as many dressy outfits as I actually own.


Shopping Golightly said...


I'm a liken' what you're writin'. Hope to hear more from you. We're birds of a feather, except I don't sew...yet!

Colleen said...

Once again, a very inspirational post! With the sun peeking out from behind the rather grey clouds around here, I've got a little spark of energy to go clean the closet, so, onward I march! One hard and fast rule I follow is never buy more clothes than my FIXED number of hangers will accomodate. It's kind of like your "flinch point" but with hangers instead of money. If I find a simply "can't live without" blouse, dress, or whatever at the thrift store, I will let myself indulge. However, doing so creates a "must donate something" decision in order to enforce my self-imposed rule.

BTW, whoever does the photography for your site and the "Thrift Catalog" is to be applauded. Looking through your catalog is like looking at a high-end museum catalog. Wow! I think your posts and pics should be published in book form! I'd buy a copy in a hot second!

Laurie said...

I too have to a small house, & swap my summer & winter clothes. And I always weed some things out, either due to not wearing them, or being just plain worn out. Like anonymous, I have a good amount of homestead clothes, good for tending chickens, digging in the dirt, soapmaking... I've always mended buttons, & last year, began learning to sew on a machine. Been having fun with that. I'm looking forward to seeing your thrifted outfits!

Shopping Golightly said...


I'll pass the compliment on to Mr. Golightly. He takes the photos.

feelsliketime said...

I love digging out the spring clothing!

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

Yes, there are parts of So. Cal where it snows. I, however, did not live in one of those parts growing up there so I never got the opportunity to do the seasonal switch. I do it in TN + recently 2 bags went to donation between me + my boyfriend. *Hum...that was great last year, but I'm not that into it this year* I say about 98% of the clothes I buy are 2nd hand (the 2% consists of underthings) so I don't feel horrible moving them out the door the way I did waaay back when I shopped regular stores (that's the term I use for non 2nd hand shops)