A few years ago, I helped some friends move into a new house. It was one of those cross-town moves where you grab a friend with a truck and spend a day shuttling things between houses. While the guys were moving furniture, the girls moved clothes and dishes. Stereotypical, maybe, but true.
When we went into the house for the first time, I was struck by just how much closet space it had. But as we brought in load after load of clothes, I was a little bit sick at just how small the closets looked as they were filled to the brim.
How could any one person use so many clothes? The answer was clear – she couldn’t – since fully half of the clothes still had the tags on them. I watched as she stuffed more and more clothes into the closet. She laughed when she said her husband would just have to deal with not having any closet space.
That experience was eye-opening and also confusing for me. I knew there was no way I could want so many clothes, and I also struggled to understand how a seemingly rational and well-educated person could let their wardrobe get so out of hand.
When I worked at a corporate desk job, a bigger wardrobe was a necessity. There were suits for the rare client visits, business casual for everyday, and comfortable clothes for after work and weekends. And with time pressures created by long hours, laundry was my biggest bottleneck, so naturally there were a few more items in my closet.
Now, though, I have the luxury of setting my own hours and my own dress code. Instead of driving 30 minutes through smog and rush-hour traffic, I walk a mile to work through a quiet neighborhood. The “professional” wardrobe still lives in the back of my closet, but most days my comfortable clothes are also my work clothes. Laundry is still a chore, but no longer a bottleneck.
When I made the transition from corporate to self-employed, I spent two months with only my favorite, most wearable clothes in my closet. Many of those clothes have been in my wardrobe for five years or more, and get worn every week or so, regardless of the season.
These are the clothes you have a relationship with. The wool shirt Dad bought in the seventies. A favorite top from college. Your first and favorite business casual, machine-washable, wrinkle-resistant layering tank. If they’re made well, if they’re taken care of, clothes can last a very long time.
I’m the first to admit I’m a creature of habit. I like the things – especially clothes – that feel familiar to me. When a favorite shirt tears and can’t be mended with my meager sewing skills, it feels like the loss of a dear friend.
Actually, I really like the comparison of clothes to friends. I have a few close friends, just like I have a few favorite garments. If I take on too many of either, I feel guilty, as though there’s someone I’m neglecting, someone I don’t love enough. And, in both relationships, I’m in it for the long haul. If you haven’t guessed, I’m not one of those people who has 5,000 Facebook friends, just like I’m not the person who has a closet stuffed with unworn clothes.
My closet has expanded again after my 2-month stint with 8 days worth of clothes. There are some friends like my totally impractical but delightful “sheepy jammies” that I’ve been thrilled to reunite with. There have been more cordial reunions, like with the business clothes I’m keeping “just in case.” Time has given me the distance to recognize some relationships with clothes that just weren’t working any more. The distance of time has helped me to let go of these clothes.*
Now that my wardrobe is distilled down to the essentials (plus some), I’m eager to keep it that way. That’s fed into my decision to not get too caught up in Slow Fashion October as a making event, as much as I adore making. Instead, I’m using it as a time to reflect on my relationships with textiles.
I'm really enjoying seeing the creative outpouring that is Slow Fashion October. If you haven’t heard about Slow Fashion October, be sure to check it out. A more detailed explanation of the whole shebang can be found here, or you can check out the hashtag #slowfashionoctober on Instagram.
*Just because I’m letting go of the clothes doesn’t mean I’m giving up on them entirely. They’re in a box in the garage waiting to be repurposed…something I’m taking my time on too.