In Favor of the Seasonal Wardrobe

In Which I Explore My History of Closets

People mistake closets for wardrobes. All the clothes in your closet = your wardrobe, right? Ah, fashion grasshopper, that isn’t true! Your closet is just the physical husk to store and house the powerhouse of beauty, imagination, possibility and creativity that ideally are your clothes. A wardrobe is really a collection of garments. But of course, it is much more than that.

We’re all collectors of clothing — society forces us to be, since we have to wear clothes most of the time. (At least in my world — maybe your world is a pro-nudity one! Lucky you!) Some will just buy things pell-mell just to satisfy these societal requirements and then move on with life. And that’s just fine — those are fine and worthy lives, and they’ve got other interests and priorities.

But many of us — visual-tactile types, those who have an interest in style or fashion or at least the creative, emotional and quasi-spiritual possibilities of dressing ourselves — have a mind-set, deliberate or otherwise, towards collecting and curating our wardrobes. This mindset can be conscious, like when you decide to buy only green or eco-fashion, or if you decide that “kindergarten sophisticate” or “70s L.A. witch” is your fashion concept for the season. But many times when it comes to clothes, we operate on a combination of instinct, guilt, fantasy, obligation, unconscious assumptions, doubt and confidence, depending on our mood and what we’re shopping for.

I’ve long been interested in not just clothes themselves, but the relationship we have towards them — towards fashion, self-presentation and shopping. Sometimes this underlying psychology and mindset fascinates me more than the actual clothes themselves, to be honest. (Sometimes I think I missed my calling as a kind of fashion/style therapist.) I began to truly understand the intensely intimate archaeology between the self and style with my strangely seminal experience of doing a massive closet clean-out during my grad school years. For some reason, the thoroughness and difficulty of the task finally gave me a bird-eye’s view of the motivations and mindset I brought to fashion, style and shopping.

When I was done, I had concrete evidence right in front of me — the sartorial survivors hanging right there in my closet — of the life I truly lead and the person I truly was, as well as the fantasies and dreams that felt true to myself. In my various discard piles, I also had concrete evidence of the wishes, delusions, longings and outgrown ideas I had as well. It was eye-opening and set me on a course to reframe and reshape my life. I still can’t get over how cleaning out my little Manhattan closet was the start of a great and lovely journey in my life, bringing me authentic contentment and a sense of inner peace. I still have my foibles and struggles, but there’s a core feeling of rightness: I’m right where I want to be and living the life I was meant to, and wearing the best clothes to suit that. And knowing that core feeling keeps my sense of style and shopping on track, and helps make sure my wardrobe is a source of pleasure and creativity, and not guilt, anxiety and confusion. Perfect feedback loop!


Look of the Week: The Blue Shirt (Or, My Basics Vs. Their Basics)

I have an embarrassing affection for reading style manuals and guides. I don’t care who’s written them: Posh Spice, Diana Vreeland or Krusty the Klown, I think everyone has a potentially interesting take on getting dressed everyday. One thing these kind of books love to do is layout a list of basics that “every woman must have!” And, you know, it’s basically also always the same thing: a white shirt, black pants, a little black dress, a trench coat. I often wonder if everyone’s seen too many Audrey Hepburn movies when I see a list like this. (Though, don’t get me wrong, I love Audrey…I wrote about her in my mini-zine! I just think the Audrey fashion hegemony has made us a little lazy in the style department.)

I’ve always thought this was super-boring. And I’ll be honest, outside of black dresses — which as a former angst goth punk kind of girl, I’m practically genetically predisposed towards — I don’t own any of these prescribed basics. I don’t own a pair of black pants. (I do have a pair of black skinny jeans, but thy are raggedy and could never substitute for formal black slacks.) And I haven’t owned a plain white shirt in, well, forever. This is mostly because I am very practical — I actually do not own any white clothes at all, because it honestly seems like a massive pain to do a whole separate load of laundry for them, and I just don’t want to bother! That’s why I don’t own any white clothes and don’t wear white shirts. (I bought a Rodarte for Gap too ages ago, but alas, I decided to screw it all and threw it in the laundry with my darks…and that was the end of that.)

But one thing I’ve very into are blue shirts, which I guess you can say is my equivalent of the white one. I used to buy boys’ school uniform oxfords all the time — I liked the gamine factor of wearing boys’ clothes, and they always fit perfectly. They weren’t too long and the sleeves were shorter as well — and for some reason, they’re usually blue. For me, the definition of a basic are clothes that make me feel like myself — maybe not my most glamorous, elegant or fabulous self, but just solidly “me.” That’s what a boys’ school uniform oxford does, with its practical kind of jauntiness, which is why I always have one somewhere in my closet.

But I’ve branched out into different styles, like the blue linen tunic with pintucking. It’s a lighter, more feminine style — I think of this as my Provencale summer shirt, even though I’ve only been lucky to be in Provencal in the summer but once in my life. If winter and fall ever feel a little heavy and torpid, I wear this shirt and the loose, graceful fit and blue color make it like Ahhhhh. Weirdly, as I get older, this style of shirt veers a little close to “San Francisco matron,” so I end up wearing it only with sharp, rugged type boots or, yep, some kind of black leather jacket…it “de-matronizes” it in my mind that way.

My latest favorites, though, are bib-front type of shirts. I’m not even sure why I like them so much. Maybe because it’s half-bohemian, half-preppy, half-jejune, half-adult? I really like the idea of clothes that are neither here nor there in that way. It’s weird, because as I feel more grown-up, settled into my nature and confident in my choices, I appreciate a bit more ambiguity in what I wear. Maybe clothes are like the last stand against this. But it might actually be more the realization that the more I get older, the more I realize categories, strict dichotomies and either/or thinking are really irrelevant, and things are a lot blurrier — and there’s comfort in that. There’s no need to put yourself in boxes in order to protect ourselves against uncertainty and doubt. Those emotions will find you anyway — it’s just better to arm yourself with acceptance and confidence rather than stave them off with rigid thinking.

Look of the Week: Getting That Semi-Elegant Bad-Ass Feeling with Blazers

When I lived in NYC, I wore jackets and blazers all the time. Boyfriend blazers, tuxedo-y styles, classic English-y redingcotes: they all made me feel upright, strong, swaddled in strength and fortitude as I weaved down the streets and sidewalks quick and sharp. My uniform was a sharp jacket, skinny jeans and boots — it was practical and utilitarian, but most importantly, it made me feel like a semi-elegant bad-ass.

Then of course, I left, and slowly those jackets went away. I either sold them — some lucky duck owns a fabulous Phoebe Philo-era Chloe wool jacket now for crazy-cheap — or replaced them as they wore out with cardigans, ponchos and wraps. I went soft and cozy in my gentle, hushed new life. This was instinctual and deliberate. After years of being armored — a mental and emotional fortress onto myself — I wanted to be open, receptive, warm. And it works — if you ever want to soften your heart and soul, put something against your body that feels that way. It helps.

But lately I’ve been gravitating back to the jacket and blazer. I’m not sure what it is — I don’t have a yen to move back to the city. Perhaps it’s that I go riding horses a lot more these days, and the strong upright posture you hold is rubbing off on me in strange ways. Or maybe I just feel the need for some reserve of strength, power and forthrightness to draw upon. I have things to do, accomplish, reinvent; I need solid footing and the armor to shake off criticism and be brave!

But I realized as I was transferring my fall/winter wardrobe into my closet that I had only two blazers remaining in my repertoire — a thin silk boyfriend-y one for evening, and a very old Armani Exchange one that was like a shrunken, cropped swingy peacoat. Both are nice in their ways, but don’t exactly give me that feeling of decisive power I like and want. It’s time to tap into my powers of elegant bad-assness again! So I decided, this fall, that some new jackets were going on the shopping list.

Jackets, though, are tricky to buy. They are not easily or cheaply tailored items; they have to fit very precisely and perfectly to look right, especially on my short frame. While I can usually adjust sleeve length, I am very picky about their overall length, as well as with what I call the “bra lines” area — the horizontal line from right underneath your armpit to the middle of your chest, and the one from where your bra strap would be to the middle of your ribcage. Essentially, anything going over your boobs! This area has to fit absolutely right with no excess material and hang open perfectly. Otherwise it can make you look much stockier and thicker than you really are, and that’s no fun. Oh, and an overly low armpit is also usually a disaster. I often tend to buy jackets that are a size smaller and just make peace with the fact that I’m never going to close them. But usually I just don’t buy it if it doesn’t work right on me.

So you see, I’ve only been able to find two blazers…and I’ve tried on a great many in my search so far! One is black crepe-like material short with a curved, shapely waist, collarless with nice, shorter sleeves. (I always end up shortening sleeves on a jacket.) It’s much more formal and structured. Oddly, I like wearing it with shirts with really long sleeves, and let them flop out goofily, because it feels Dickensian to me.

The other is a navy blue knit, much more of a classic blazer, and the knit lets me push up the sleeves in the way that I like. At first I was a little wary of the knit, but it's very soft and warm, so I think of this as my cardigan replacement. Because it's nice to feel both soft and strong in the same garment, right? Anyway, I wear it here with a shirt I got last year and can't decide if I want to keep. I was in a polka dot quirky mood last year, but this year not so much. The jacket gives it a bit more groundedness, which is what a good blazer does well.

I’m thinking of going kind of Bianca Jagger and trying to find a cream-colored jacket. That might just be a tad beyond my comfort level, though it might look nice with my coloring and hair. But eek, so impractical! We shall see. You can take a girl out of a practical jacket, but you cannot take the practical out of the girl.

Look of the Week: In Which I Wear a Fedora

So I finally gave HBO show “Girls” a chance. I had seen probably half of the first season when it came out, but didn’t really keep up with it, so I forced myself to watch the first two seasons in their entirety. It was okay, just another case of struggling between liking the secondary characters and not being able to stand the main one — similar, interestingly enough, to my relationship to that other iconic woman-centered HBO show “Sex and the City,” which I wrote about in my All Things Glorious and True and admitted how much I hated Carrie Bradshaw. Overall, though, Girls is amusing and it makes me glad that I’m not in my 20s anymore. I like the problems and issues I’m reckoning with now better.

It’s so weird because Lena Dunham herself can be so adorable (when she’s not conflating veiling with fundamentalism in poor jokes about Middle Eastern women’s sartorial traditions.) And yet when she’s acting as Hannah Horvath, I’m like, Noooooo. So I’ll watch Girls, but I’ll get up and do something else a scene is Hannah-dominant (unless she’s with Adam Driver, who I think is kind of a genius actor, along with Zosia Mamet.) Oh, and I love how Jenna, the British bohemian party girl, dresses. Particularly how she wears a hat. And so I got inspired to break mine out.

I’m not a British bohemian party girl, though, and I would never look good in the billowy silhouettes that Jenna wears on “Girls” that form a lovely counterpoint to the structure of the hat. (Ah, the travails of being short.) So I just wear it with plain clothes, like a simple sweater and jeans and boots, or a denim button-down, leggings and Frye motorcycle boots. (Boots, boots, boots!) It’s kind of a roll-up-your-sleeves look, really solid and practical. I’m like “This feels like a Jane Goodall look!” even though I know she never wore clothes like this — but she’s kind of my paragon of beautifully contributing to the world, and I like to facilitate that.

It’s also funny how people sometimes look at you funny when you wear hats that aren’t baseball caps, at least in my town. It either scares people and they keep their distance, or makes people want to have conversations about it with you. Even the security guard at the grocery store was like, “Nice fedora, lady!” and we talked about how men don’t wear hats anymore, and that’s kind of a bummer because they’re generally pretty sharp. (It made me think about codes of masculinity and class and how they’ve changed, but we didn’t talk about that, sadly.) We also agreed I have a good “hat face” because my face is round-y/oval-shaped, and I thought such fashion analysis was pretty sharp for a middle-aged guy working in a grocery store — but then again, he must see a lot of people all day. He had a very good eye for detail overall. All I know is, I’m gonna wear this hat more often. It gets me into all kinds of minor adventures!