This is a big, long, mess of a post, and I’m declaring that with confidence before I’ve written a single sentence of it. But what I’m going to attempt to write about right now is a gigantic tangled mess in my head, which is the whole point — if I could untangle it into a clear and logical string of thoughts for a nice, tidy post, then it wouldn’t be the problem that it is, and there’d be no need to write about it at all. The problem is my wardrobe. (A “first-world problem,” to be sure.)
I’m not even sure where to start talking about it. My closet is a disaster — clothes literally spilling out of it. I can’t walk in there because the (small) floor is covered in shoes I don’t wear. Clean laundry is piled up on a chair to one side of the closet because it’s too much work to try to squeeze it in where it belongs. Pajamas and exercise clothes are heaped on a railing on the other side of the door, and there’s dry-cleaning draped over the rail opposite that. Across the bedroom is a big IKEA wardrobe, half of which is also mine, and I mostly don’t have any idea what’s in there. I could go on, but you get the picture.
I’d love to just go into the closet and cull, cull, cull, but the central part of the problem is that I don’t really know who I am right now, sartorially speaking.
For nine years in the aughts, I was running a website for readers and writers, and working as a freelance book editor and author. I worked from home. And home, for the last four of those years, was convenient to nothing and no one. I didn’t leave the house much, and there was no point in getting dressed to sit by myself inside all day where nobody ever saw me. I also was reluctant to spend money on clothes, so what I did buy was off of outlet mall clearance racks. I dreaded meetings, knowing I had nothing appropriate to wear. I was quite the dumpy hausfrau, unrecognizable from the clotheshorse I’d always been, and my poor husband rarely saw me in anything other than pajamas. It got to where I feared Stacy and Clinton might show up in my kitchen one day. Then I went back to working in an office, in downtown San Francisco, and everything changed. I bought a lot of high-heeled boots, rediscovered the joys of getting dressed, and felt cuter than I had in a decade.
Now I work alone again, doing a lot of physical stuff — hauling inventory around, packing orders — and I love every minute of it. I leave my building a lot now, and I’m in a compound full of studios where many others are here working during the day. So it’s not like before. But the nice clothes? The high-heeled boots? None of it has any place in my life now. It’s also cold in my workspace, I may have mentioned. My chief concerns when getting dressed in the morning are mobility and preventing my toes from freezing and falling off. I’m not in pajamas, but I might very well be in a flannel shirt and baggy jeans and Converse (with socks and shearling insoles). Not a pretty picture.
On top of all that, Bob and I are having increasingly serious discussions about our next move — when and where that might be — and of course any thought of future packing prompts visions of immediate purging. As much as I would like to throw it all out* [SEE NOTE BELOW] and start over (ok, maybe everything except Acer), that’s obviously not an option.
And on top of that, I have ever-evolving feelings and opinions about store-bought vs handmade clothes — aesthetic concerns, financial concerns, ethical concerns. I have always loved making my own clothes, and adding knitting to my (comparatively rudimentary although longstanding) sewing skills has opened up new worlds in terms of what I’m capable of making for myself. But when you have a closet full of clothes that aren’t right for you in one way and another, can’t afford to replace them all at once, and don’t have nearly enough time to make all the things you might actually need and want, what do you do?
I’m not sure — yet — why I’m babbling about all of this to you, except that it’s VERY on my mind lately. A couple of years ago, my nearby LYS owner Kristine Vejar started Seam Allowance, which asks members to pledge to make “just” 25% of their wardrobes. Last year I watched in awe as people participated in Me Made May, posting photos of themselves day after day after day in clothes they’d made by hand. Sarai Mitnick has started a series on her Colette blog about architecting a wardrobe more thoughtfully. And I believe in all these things, as well as not contributing to the disposable fashion culture and all it entails. When I was packing for the trade show a couple of weeks ago, I was painfully aware of the fact that I had nothing handmade to wear to the show. None of my bulky sweaters were going to be appropriate, especially in sunny San Diego, and I was kind of horrified at how little else there is in my closet that I made for myself. (Thankfully, I had the sweater Meg made me, which I wore and got tons of compliments on.) But given the dire situation with my wardrobe right now, the thought of trying to make even 25% of the things I need — even if I could figure out what those are! — gives me instant anxiety. Where on earth would I find the time?
So for the moment, I’m just airing this. I know I want to find a way to buy less and make more, on some achievable scale. I know I need to figure out how I want to be dressing myself — stylishly but sensibly — for the actual life I’m living and the person I want to project to the world. And I want to do a better job of making things that fill actual gaps in my wardrobe: to be as thoughtful with my project choices as I have always been with purchases. (I’ve long followed that rule about not buying anything if I can’t immediately put together three outfits with it, using only things I already own. And yet that has never applied to my knitting.) So I guess this is some sort of an intro. To what? I don’t exactly know yet, but having written and reread this, thoughts are already beginning to form about ways to tackle it all, bit by bit. So that’s a good thing!
And I’ve made one decision. The only thing I have on the needles for myself right now is my Slade cardigan, and it meets all the requirements I have of adding a new garment to my wardrobe, so I’m going to proceed with it. But it might take me awhile to untangle this mess of mine, and until I have some semblance of a master plan, I’m not casting on anything else for myself. Period.
I’m hiring. Please pass it along! Thanks, everybody — the position has been filled!
*I didn’t anticipate anyone taking this literally so want to be really clear about this: I don’t throw away clothes! If they’ve been worn to the point of rags, they literally go in the rag bin in Bob’s studio. The like-new stuff gets offered to friends. Workish stuff gets donated to Dress for Success or a similar organization. And everything else goes to Goodwill.