Out of the Closet

Some people are naturally pack-rats, saving everything, dragging it with them from home to home throughout their lives. Others though, are purgers, overcome with the need to be free of the stuff they no longer use, need or love.

I’ve never seen the point of keeping “stuff”. Sure, I have a few items that I keep for sentimental reasons, but the overall quantity is small, and the pieces have real meaning. When we moved a few years ago, I took the opportunity to get rid of piles of things I knew I’d never use again – moving to a significantly smaller space, I didn’t have much choice – but I got rid of furniture and CDs and books without regret.

The only thing I sometimes regret purging with such strident rules is clothing.

Moreso than any other item we own, clothing has the power to tug at heartstrings and provoke memories. The dress you wore on a first date, a boyfriend’s favourite comfy sweater. I assume this is why brides spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding dress they’ll wear for a few hours and then save it in a special box, long after the marriage has dissolved.

I think of this because I was cleaning out my closets recently – a semi-annual purge where I look at each item with a critical eye. Do I still wear this? If not, why? Does it need mending or is it beyond repair? Has it become too big or too small as my weight fluctuates? Is it something that I bought because it caught my eye but never really made me feel comfortable?

This recent clean-out was soul-revealing. In the pile was the last item from my goth days, a black carwash dress that I certainly got my money’s worth out of. But while most of my wardrobe is still black, this just wasn’t me anymore and I hadn’t worn it in a few years. A green paisley skirt – what made me think I’d ever wear that? A couple of linen blouses, picked up at Winners, that never quite fit right, pooching across the upper chest in an excess of fabric. Remember ladies – Winners might be a great deal, but there’s usually a reason stuff ends up on the racks there and it’s seldom because of overstock. And that comfy beige cotton hoodie sweater that made my boobs look enormous and drained all the colour out of my face.

No regrets.

Of the things I do regret giving away, there are a few. I spent the 80s running a vintage clothing store and for years my wardrobe was comprised mostly of stuff from olden times. Two fabulous 1940s jackets that made me look quite fierce, eventually got too snug around the middle for my “maturing” frame. A black silk velvet opera cloak with a rabbit fur hood that made me feel like Snow White’s stepmother – it was always tight across the shoulders and when a petite friend admired it I was happy to pass it on, until I watched her traipse up the street in the rain, splattering the hem with mud. Nooo… you must love it, you must take care of it… it’s not just a coat – it’s a piece of art, saved from the raggers shredding machines by someone who cares about keeping history alive.

Also, the 1950s leopard print swing coat with the huge collar and the cropped sleeves. Some things do come back into fashion after all. Oops! And my little leather biker jacket with the spiderweb made out of chain across the back – most memorable for the subway ride when some douch got his Rolex caught on it. I especially regret not taking better care of a rare monkey fur muff. Rescued from the shop when a group of rabid animal rights fanatics started harassing vintage store clerks in Kensington about the fur coats we carried, it became mine simply because we couldn’t sell it to anyone but a collector. After years of storing it improperly, the skin split and couldn’t be repaired.

Watching shows like What Not to Wear and seeing people my age or older who still dress they way they did on their youth, I am glad that I’m a purger, and not someone who hangs on to every little thing. I’m happy not to dress the way I did 20 years ago, whether that was the styles of the time or more vintage gear. Those looks only works to a point and once you become “of a certain age” (or a certain size), it’s more seemly and appropriate to dress in a more current style. And that ballgown collection I had in the 80s was never a very practical thing to move around with – all those damned crinolines.

But I have fond memories of many of my lovely vintage pieces, and I can’t help but wonder if they’re still out there, being enjoyed by someone else who cares for and appreciates them. Or if they ended up back at the raggers to be made into mattress stuffing, or even across the world at a street stall in some third world country where people pick through “dead man’s clothes” for something to wear.

It wouldn’t have made sense to keep all those things – opera cloaks and corsets, or that pink balloon skirt… they’re from another lifetime, and in giving them away they hopefully created fond memories for someone else. But every now and again, I can’t help wishing I still had them, even if it’s just so I could rub my cheek against the soft fabric, or inhale the smell of long-ago perfume.