Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ten things I learned from clearing out my wardrobe

I cleaned out my wardrobe in the 32° heat this weekend and it was horrible and melancholy and stifling, but never mind, because I have managed to turn this trivial process into an excuse for lengthy, tedious introspection!

Ten things I learned while clearing out my wardrobe:

1. When, for any reason - heartbreak, anxiety, illness, infatuation - you become unexpectedly, dramatically thin, you will be tempted to go out and buy heaps of new clothes. Suddenly everything looks good on you, things you couldn't have imagined buying before, tiny skirts and bright colours and fitted shirts, make sense. You feel like a small child in front of the mind-blowing plenty of Woolworth's pick 'n' mix: you must have everything. Resist this temptation. This is not the time to buy £600 Temperley dresses, or supertight designer jeans. Remember, you're thin. Surely you can enjoy this short-lived phenomenon without serious new clothes? It won't last and when it's over, you aren't going to want horribly expensive reminders of how thin you used to be. (If you ever get thin again, you probably won't remember, or care, about this but it needs saying anyway).

2. Made-to-measure bras: this seemed like such a brilliant idea at the time - you're a funny shape! Finally something will fit! You can choose the colour and the shape and stuff! Well guess what: it really, really wasn't a brilliant idea. It turns out breasts change size constantly with pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss, contraception.. Short of some kind of supernatural shapeshifting Avengers style bra, or surgery to replace your tits with that memory foam they use for pillows, this is a hiding to nothing. No one needs an extravagant hand-stitched memento of the time, in a long distant life, in a far-off country, when they were once a 30D (Ha. Hahahahahaha). Never do that again.

3. As you clear and excavate, some things will shine through with the reassuring weight of perennial truth. You really, really like stripes. You will never give up on black opaques. You look good in a boat neck and three quarter length sleeves. Forgiving dark dresses with all the fit and shape of refuse sacks make you happy.

4. Your wardrobe is where all your mistakes and vanities come to die, that's why clearing it out is so miserable. All the times you tried on another identity: avant-garde gallerista (that pointy shouldered Issey Miyake cardi, like a Klingon uniform on you), your innately, brilliantly stylish friend Kate (almost everything bought in 2005-6. She looked so great though), Katherine Hepburn (all those Margaret Howell wide legged trousers! Katherine Hepburn was tall, you forgot). All the times you bought fancy underwear for a rendezvous that never happened (that ludicrous Coco de Mer bra that made you look like a bag of giblets wrapped in duct tape still has a price tag on), or it did happen and now you kind of wish it hadn't. All the lacklustre garments you convinced yourself you absolutely, positively, couldn't live without (those two Max and Co dresses: what kind of spell does that shop cast over you, making you buy things you'll never wear?). Don't feel bad, or at least, don't just feel bad and don't cast them swiftly aside, embarrassed, declaring to yourself that that part of your life is over. Force yourself to look at them a little tenderly. All those mistakes brought you here. You'll make more. Loads more.

5. Related to the above: you know all the things you regret buying, the ones that got away, like that Joseph dress you nearly bought in Liberty twelve years ago but couldn't quite afford and still think about? Well, most of them would have ended up like that too. Dated, dusty, boxy, their former appeal utterly, unimaginably distant. Let them float away. It was 2001, for god's sake. You wouldn't fit into the bloody dress now anyway.

6. It's harder to forget the things that you've loved and lost. Their absence haunts your wardrobe: that kitten soft cashmere oatmeal cardie, like a hug in garment form, where on earth did it go? The heavy slubbed silk blouse that had just the right Gillian-Anderson-in-The-Fall vibe. Dad's ancient cricket jumper. The fallen soldiers of the 2007-2008 Moth Wars (dark days, comrades). In memory they're all perfect.

7. Sometimes a thing not fitting any more is devastating, a betrayal; it feels personal. How could you, you think, tearfully, fighting with a zip or a button then throwing the offending loved one across the floor. Not you. I trusted you. Sometimes when this happens, it's ok to tell yourself it shrunk in the wash. Sometimes it's even true.

8. The hardest clothes to deal with are the ones that are just slightly, maybe just 5 or 10%, too small. The trousers you can still button up, just, as long as you don't breathe. The tops that pull slightly across your chest, or the shirts that gape. The hem that sits funny because now the dress it's attached to is taut over your hips. You stand in front of the mirror and pull appraisingly at it. You wouldn't have to lose much weight, you think. A couple of weeks with no booze and no pudding might do it?

Think about the shape you are now and what it means. It means you wake up in the morning with a (relatively) clear head and (relatively) good skin, without that iron band of a headache and that hollow feeling in your chest that used to mark your mornings. Think about your energy, your libido, your health. Think, more than anything, of how much mental energy, how much time used to be taken up with losing weight; dodging carbs, refusing cake, choosing the absolute perfect time to weigh yourself each day or finding a discreet loo to throw up what you "shouldn't" have eaten, avoiding the next social event where you might have to eat a potato. You've freed up all that space on your hard drive now for normal things, better things. Eat a biscuit, don't eat a biscuit. Whatever. Nothing hangs on it any more. Isn't that amazing? Isn't it, actually, wonderful?

Now think about the Pringle dress again. It's a bit formal, really; something you'd wear in the kind of city office you never have occasion to visit any more, or for a graduation. If you slimmed down that crucial 8%, that half kilo, you might get to wear it twice a year at most. But if you step back on the weight loss treadmill, all the space in your head, for writing and cakes and jokes about lipstick and nights out and even kindness (it's hard not to be very selfish when you're constantly starving), will be eaten away with the dreary repetitive mumble of disordered eating. There's no competition. Fuck the dress. Give it away. If you really can't do that, hide it away on the highest shelf and try to forget it's there, and if, for any reason, you end up thin again after some catastrophe or sadness (because usually, you know, that's how you get dramatically thin; something awful happens) you can get it out again and, I don't know, pretend to be an accountant for a day or something.

That doesn't mean give up and eat all the crisps. There's a fine line between healthy acceptance and giving up and this is the one you have to negotiate now. Still, it's a better line than the one between morbidly enjoyable deprivation and wigged out osteoporotic psycho.

9. You get a free pass for some things. The ones that remind you of people, or the ones that the mere idea of makes you happy. Your mum's stuff, if it does that. That paper fine Indian cotton blue dressing gown you thought was a great idea to take into hospital to have your first baby (um, not so much), even though it's ripped all along the seam, as fragile and transparent as antique lace. That one shouldered bright red Jaeger party dress you couldn't resist, even though you haven't actually ever dared wear it. You still might. It's hanging there, like a dare you haven't turned down yet.

10. Once it's done, you're going to be drunk on the glory of your new, pure wardrobe. The colour-coded bras. The neatly rolled paint-chart-perfect vest tops. The jumpers, clean and lavender bagged and hung on padded hangers. You'll want it to stay like that forever. Enjoy it for a moment, keep it nice for a moment, but accept that sooner or later (the smart money's on sooner) you're going to be tired one evening and you'll leave your jeans on the floor with the pants still down the leg. You'll shove balled-up jumpers with soup on the sleeves back into the cupboard unfolded, and give up on the boring business of pairing your socks. Because your wardrobe is like your life, messy and cluttered and dotted with mistakes and incredible memories. You wouldn't want it any other way really, would you?


Unknown said...

Very entertaining post, I nodded in agreement all the way through. Oour wardrobes absolutely tell the story of lives in so many ways!!

I still can't get over the 7 items I left in a Hampstead dry cleaners years & years ago....lost the ticket, moved, life happened. I wonder if they're still there, I LOVED that green jacket even though there isn't a chance in a million it would still fit me today :)

That's Not My Age said...

Excellent and very true. I've started leaving my shoes in piles in the bathroom again - what does it mean?

Merisi said...

A true cleansing act, bravissima!

I tend to get into wardrobe cleaning up mood every time I'm packing my suitcase. Bad timing. ;-)

Helen said...

Wonderful, wonderful post. And apt timing for me - I'm about to clear out my wardrobe for the move to Belgiumland...

I'll never get rid of my commoner's gown, even though I'll never wear it again. And, oh, I completely understand that 'extra half an inch' mentality. But the beautiful beautiful shoes that are too big and have always been too big and should never have been bought? They should probably go, I can see that. They just never quite leave.

Unknown said...

A genuinely interesting insight into feelings I've never had, and just don't quite understand. I sort of envy people for whom clothes are more than just stuff you wear because public nakedness is socially unacceptable, illegal and freezing

Unknown said...

Bag of giblets! Comedy genius.

Patience_Crabstick said...

I love this post! Every word is wonderful, especially what you say about the connection between our clothes and our attempts to be thin.

Anonymous said...

This is incredible.

Z said...

It is a timely warning for me because I'm relatively thin at present and in the happy position of wearing clothes that are decades old. I have clothes in three sizes in the wardrobe, but a lot of them are too big for me. Luckily, I'm too old (and yet too young, because at 80 anything goes) to wear supertight jeans and too cautious to blue thousands on clothes I'll never wear. Just the occasional huh? moment.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant and wonderful.

nice n tidy said...

Everyone looks good in a boat neck and three quarter length sleeves. Just a shame it takes us so long to learn this.

blackbird said...

This just may be the smartest thing you've ever written.

I do hope you don't find that depressing.

Oh, and, I do not look good in a boat neck with three quarter length sleeves.

Anonymous said...

And this is why I keep reading; that was a stunning piece of writing. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this beautifully expressed piece of introspective writing. Off to fetch some Haagen Dazs after clearing out the boys' cupboards while they're away on vacation:-)Lucy

Sarah said...

Splendid post, makes me feel better about my own wardrobe craziness and its inherent nostalgia. And we should always rember the words of the lovely Nora Ephron - 'If only one third of your clothes are mistakes, you’re ahead of the game'.

Flora Fauna Dinner said...

I love, love, love when you talk about ED recovery.

Youe-hut said...

well written. like it.

Terese said...

You just told the story of every wardrobe Ive ever had. Thanks for the laughs and comraderie.

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