School started back this week (hard to believe, but true) and for the sixth year, I did not have to go. Being retired is the life I was born to. People still ask if I don’t miss teaching, and I’ll say that I do, but what I really miss is getting dressed every day. I miss my skirts and shoes and all the things I worked so hard to assemble as a professional wardrobe.
Actually, I haven’t really missed these things because much of it was still lurking in the back of my closet and in my storage chest. But after reading earlier this summer that most people wear 20% of their clothing 80% of the time, I realized that I was nothing but a statistic, and that it was time to address the closet problem. Starting in June, I began the slow, painful process of letting go.
There have been volumes written on how to develop a wardrobe, and how to clean out the closet. They all make it sound so simple, but the truth is that there are memories in each item of clothing. It’s hard to give away the pair of sandals I bought in Athens, even if they are a half size too big and keep slipping, or the perfect suede jumper I got in Montreal that now refuses to stay buttoned. I seem to have formed a personal attachment to the things that gave me an air of professionalism, but that were still fun to wear. How could I just turn and walk away?
I actually decided not to try and weed out everything at once. The first go through I focused on things that were flawed – shoes that were a little tight, the previously mentioned jumper. This produced a gigantic pile of things for the thrift store. After a month or so, I was ready to give it another go. Any orphan-colored pieces or thrifting mistakes went into the donate pile. Also, I scrutinized each piece for quality. If it was not well-made, out it went.
Finally, this past week I got really firm and vowed that if I’d not worn it since I retired six years ago, I’d have to have a very good reason for keeping it. As it turned out, the only clothes from my old teaching wardrobe that I ended up keeping were the really great pieces that I have been wearing: skirts from Gaultier, Celine and Courreges, the perfect black tee shirt dress from Lands End, cashmere sweaters and a leather jacket I’d bought in Florence.
But even more valuable than having extra space in my closet was a new-found awareness of the types of clothes that were now working for me. The glimpse inside my closet reveals that I love blue and I love stripes and plaids. There are no florals and very little green. I prefer V-necks over crew, and bateau over scoop. This has given me a nice list of things to look for while thrifting, to help zone in on the things that I’ll actually wear and love.
It also has helped me identify any gaps that needed to be filled. After throwing out the four pairs of sad-looking sweat and yoga pants that were my wintertime staples, I’d been on the lookout for a source of comfortable chinos, which I found at L.L. Bean (Love them, but I had to compromise my vow not to buy anything made in China). I’ve been able to see where I need to up-grade (and up-date) a few items.
It’s rather nice knowing that the clothes in the closet now fit with the way I live, but without making me look like an out and out slob.
Life changes, and so should your wardrobe. What’s really interesting is that now my closet looks a lot more like it did in 1975 (college days) than it did when I was working. Plato was right. To have a wardrobe that works, you have to know yourself.