By Barbara Sibbald
I’ve got nothing to wear. It’s a common-enough complaint that women (primarily) utter, especially at the end of a long season (i.e., winter). Of course, it’s hyperbolic. There are lots of things I could wear, just nothing I want to wear. The usual solution is a shopping trip and a big VISA bill. But that’s against my New Year’s resolution to go without buying clothes for a year. So instead of turning outward to the shops, I turn inward and take a closer look at the contents of my cupboard. And not just my bedroom clothes closet, but also the overflow in the spare room.
I was under the illusion that I had the clothes volume under control. I’d done that trick where you turn everything inside out at the start of the year and whatever is still inside out at the end of the year is tossed. Yeah, right. Except I couldn’t part with those close-fitting black pants that would certainly look terrific if I lost five or ten pounds. Or that lovely silver lamé halter dress that looked so fetching on my 50th. Or that funky square-dancing skirt that twirls so beautifully, even if it does accentuate my already naturally accented hips. I looked at these things with a critical eye. Was there something among all those things that I could wear?
Er, not really. After fingering fabrics and spending a fruitless hour or two trying on some of these outfits, I came to a startling conclusion: most of these were souvenirs of a time or place. I had a magical 50th, but the dress doesn’t fit, never will fit and, furthermore, repulsive fatty bits now stick out at the top of my arms. The skirt still twirls and is fun as all get-out, but I realized a decade ago that with my figure, A-line skirts are de rigeur. And as for those pants: I may fit into them someday but in the meantime they’re a reminder of my failure to lose those pounds. Who needs that?
I decide to act. I have lovely photos of myself in that gorgeous dress and I take a close-up image of my twirling skirt’s fabric. I’m on a roll. I resume my wardrobe critique. (Note: if this is too onerous, ask a friend to help. Never ask your partner; he or she knows better and will lie: “Do my hips look big in this?” “You look terrific, honey.” Invite a friend whose taste you admire and who is similar in age. Tell her to be honest: the clothes must feel and look good and have a place in your life.)
I didn’t get rid of everything I could have. I fully realize it’s a cyclical process. You don’t want to regret your decisions. My spare-room closet holds off-season clothes, and now there’s a small section of things I considered jettisoning but wasn’t quite ready to part with. I’ll consider them in the fall. But this spring I packed up two dresses, three skirts, four pants, two jackets and eight tops that I will never wear again. Out, out they go. To St. Vinnie’s.
(Can I just break here for a minute to talk about charity donations. Donate, please. Other people can use your gear. But not all second-hand stores are purely charities. I’m talking primarily about Value Village. Yes, they pay the charities a bulk fee for the donated items, but they are a business. They make a lot of profit from your donations. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a profit, but I’d prefer to donate to a charity that sells my stuff and keeps all the profit for their good work, places like the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul.)
In a year of not buying clothes, culling your closet might seem a bit reckless. You aren’t buying anything new AND you’re going to get rid of things? Actually, it was the best thing I could have done, because what’s left looks good and feels good on me, and I know what I have. That lovely blue jacket was previously buried behind a green thingy that never fit properly. Suddenly, whole ensembles emerge. I see now that the blue jacket looks great with the patterned skirt and a black cowl-neck shell. I’ve increased my wardrobe options by about twenty per cent, which effectively silences my nothing-to-wear mantra.
But here’s what you probably really want to know: Have I bought any clothes since my New Year’s vow to go without for a year? I confess that I did look for black capris. I convinced myself that my once-black, now green-tinged work capris really needed replacing so I went shopping. I began my search at one of my favourite stores where the helpful clerk went downstairs to look for my size. I tried on eight pairs in a stuffy fitting room with an anxiety-provoking inadequate curtain. Nothing I tried on compared to the lovely back-zip pair I already had. The fabric didn’t breathe, the capris rested too high on the waist or too low, the zip in the front was unflattering or the legs were tight: nothing worked. I walked out without buying anything — much to the chagrin of the exhausted clerk. I felt a lightness of spirit and a renewed determination to make do. So I dodged that temptation, but I have bought one thing: a pair of walking socks for my spring vacation. I needed a lighter, short pair and I found just what I needed at MEC: comfortable and practical, though a bit pricey at $12.99. That should keep me going for a while.
Look for part three of “A clothes-free year” in September.
See part one here