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Closet Case

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The clue to my fashion future was hidden on my hangers

nol_nov07_medres_page_22_image_0001.jpgI attribute the arrival of the gorgeous, telephone book–size fall fashion editions of magazines, crammed with ultimate up-to-the-minute couture, as the sole motivation for cleaning out my closet. Once I crack open those glossy tomes, flip through page after irresistible page of high fashion, then freak out over all the outfits I absolutely cannot live without, I come to grips with the fact that I’ll have to part with some clothes I own in order to usher in new pieces, such as a glistening jewel-toned silk blouse, an electricblue handbag, tall knee-high boots and a fitted wool dress in the perfect shade of gray. For a pack rat like me, purging my wardrobe is a lot easier imagined than done.

At the onset of this monumental chore, I ask myself questions that professional organizers are handsomely paid to put to their frustrated clients: Do I feel great when I wear this item? Does it flatter my figure, or is it something I just bought on a whim? Is it a timeless piece that can be worn forever? Does it reflect who I am today and project the image I want it to? If “no” is the answer, I tell myself the offending item must be retired to the donation bag. And sometimes I listen.

On my most recent wardrobe expurgation, the first item I grabbed was a oneshouldered white DIY T-shirt with an iron-on decal of the Fonz, clad in his leather jacket and holding his thumb up. Inside my head I heard the candid voices of fashion experts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly of the Learning Channel’s popular show What Not to Wear, cackling “AYYYYYY, that shirt freakin’ stinks!” and envisioned them holding their thumbs down at me. And they’d be so right; I didn’t need to advertise my third-grade crush on Arthur Fonzerelli via a garment, so into the bag it went. There! I was fine with my decision. I was freed of any Pinky or Leather Tuscadero wannabe syndrome. But ridding myself of the faded baby-blue Three’s Company nightshirt would have brought on too much separation anxiety at that point.

Next up was a stretchy-lace long-sleeved V-neck dress with a triangle-cut skirt, shocking violet in color and very Stevie Nicks. I had practically admired this gypsywitch splendor right off the back of a friend, who gave it to me after she wore it to one of our high school dances. And oh, how I loved this dress back in the day! It made me feel so cool and beautiful that at any given moment I’d put it on and look at my teenage self in the mirror, singing and dancing along to Fleetwood Mac albums. Today it just smacked of ’80s outdatedness, and unless I felt like parading around as some sort of diaphanous lace-sheathed purple people-eater, it was time to kiss this fashion debacle good-bye. But the platform boots stayed!

I then came across a darling gauze sundress I wore in sunny Mexico on my honeymoon while my husband and I stumbled into a makeshift-looking zoo, where the main attraction was an inquisitive group of long-limbed monkeys communing together in a large cage. These gentle sweethearts approached us one by one in choreographed train formation with outstretched hands through the bars, politely taking cookies from us . . . until the wide-eyed caboose arrived. This unmannered mammal snatched a cookie out my hand, then did a serious 180 and got in my face, shrieked like a banshee being attacked by a wolverine and lurched forward through the cage, grabbing my dress by the hem and stuffing as much as was physically possible into his gaping maw while pulling me toward the cage! “What would Faye Wray do?” ran through my head a thousand times in twelve seconds, but thankfully my strong man of a husband saved me from the irrational beast’s attack, which left my dress rather than my leg decorated with massive bite holes. I conceded that no tailor could ever fully rectify this mad, saber-toothed primate’s ruination. So adios, into the bag it went.

I then eyed a long black pantsuit-type jacket with a sophisticated frame. This was a go-to piece that worked for all occasions, with its stark, modern elegance and flattering fit. I remember thinking many times that I was the cat’s meow in it, looking way hipper than I truly was, and often wondered if fashionistas might mistake it for an expensive piece out of a European collection, which it certainly wasn’t. At a funeral, clad in my reliable, sleek black jacket and black pants, my outspoken grandfather approached me. “Wow, look at that satanic trench coat getup! You headed to polish off some high school?” OMG!!! I went from “übercool” to “Sprockets” in one fell swoop, and with fashion mortification running at a premium, I contemplated jumping into the casket myself. That dark shroud of doom went straight into the donation bag without passing go, without collecting $200, along with multiple other items that were wreaking serious havoc on my wardrobe. Thinking of the poor souls that may lay claim to these heinous handme- downs made me want to take the donation stash to the back yard and break the parish burn ban in order put a cap on further fashion humiliation, but my religion of recycling wouldn’t allow for it. Hopefully what they say about one man’s trash is true.

Let’s face it, memories attached to clothing are often what keep us hanging on to them, and I seriously suffer from this. But I’m moving past my affliction. Giving my last good-byes to my old clothes, I thought how thankful I was to have worn them, as ridiculous as some of them were by today’s fashion standards. I was thankful for having the access to savor pop culture enough to reflect it in my wardrobe. I was thankful for traveling to a foreign land and not having to undergo rabies treatment or thigh amputation during my honeymoon. And I was especially thankful for having a grandfather with a terrifically twisted sense of humor in my life, one who dubbed me the spawn of Satan’s fashion cheerleader. Having a few laughs at myself while rummaging through my closet was priceless, and so was gaining extra space for all my future fashion disasters.