Just because it fits doesn’t mean you should wear it


‘When everything in your closet is “vintage”‘

It’s getting to be Spring here (finally), so the other day I was participating in a seasonal ritual particular to New Yorkers (at least New Yorkers in apartments with small closets) — The Switching of The Clothes.

Which is when you dig your Spring/Summer stuff out of storage and switch it with the Fall/Winter stuff. In my case, “storage” is the second closet in The Child’s room. She has never realized that she has two closets; she grew up thinking it perfectly normal that Mommy’s out-of-season clothes lived in her room.

BTW, Switching The Clothes in Spring absolutely guarantees a cold snap. Today, the 9th of May, it is 48 degrees out, and where are my sweaters? Stowed away in The Child’s second closet. Sigh.

But back to the topic at hand, which, I suppose, is Age Comes Out of The Closet. See, in years gone by, The Switching was a pretty easy chore. I’d just grab everything — and switch. I wouldn’t even try things on to make sure they still fit; I’ve been basically the same size my entire Adult Life. Not because of anything I’ve done; I follow no annoyingly virtuous regimen or routine. It’s because I’m (mostly) a Swede. And it’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t get fat. We shrivel. As we age, we sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky.

And the past few years, yes, beef jerkiness has been quietly sneaking up on me. Except for the odd arthritic twinge now and then, I don’t feel all that different. And like most people, I don’t realize I look any different (er, older). Except when, say, I see my reflection in a store window and wonder “who is that old woman who looks just like me?” Then I realize — good grief — it is me! Oh, and The Dude once thoughtfully got me contact lenses (he’s an ophthalmologist) which I gave up wearing after I scared myself silly glimpsing myself bare-faced in the bathroom mirror. Blue glasses cover a multitude of sins. And eye bags.

But lately people have been offering me The Senior Discount. (Attention, those of you in the Service Professions: if someone wants the Senior Discount, trust me, she will ask for the Senior Discount.) Even worse, people have started offering me their seats on the bus. Sometimes, if I’m feeling frisky, I’ll look down, pat my stomach, and say “Oh! Am I showing already?” Then I smile. And remain standing.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. I’ve come to notice, if not embrace, my Older Self. So this time when I Switched, I paused and actually looked at my clothes. Some, like The Dress pictured below, I’ve had — and worn — for decades. These days I can definitely identify with one of my bosses, who once said to an uppity Whippersnapper Account Executive, “I’ve got belts older than you.”

But a belt — or even The Dress — is one thing. A pair of hot pink paisley pants (which I actually owned, until last week) is another. Before, the only risk in wearing a favorite item year after year was that people would recognize it instead of me. I was once introduced to a woman at a party who said, “Oh, I think I met you last year — I remember that dress.”

These days, the risk is that I might, as my gramma used to say, “scare the horses”. True, I live in New York, where pretty much anything goes. (See Betsy Johnson.) But, alas, I’m no Betsy. (See Much-Missed Role Model Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck.) I just don’t feel comfortable wearing hot pink paisley any more. At least not out of the house.

Interestingly, I picked the photo at the top of this post because, if I still had it that outfit (which, alas, I don’t) I think I could still get away with wearing it. Though maybe with a bra these days (not that I need one any more than I did then). And there’s a pleated skirt I remember from high school that I would kill to have saved. It was one of the few clothing items I owned that I did not sew.

I even sewed this dress for Homecoming: crushed velvet with blue satin sash. I no longer own it, though I do, in fact, own a similar crown

I saved up babysitting money and bought the skirt at Topper’s, which was sort of the Barney’s of Southern Illinois. It was lime green and hit just at the middle of the knee. I used to roll it up once I got to school so it would be super-short; now I could wear it as is and it would be perfect.

This proper Englishwoman and I are roughly the same age. Noticing the above-the-knee skirt, she asked ‘Aren’t your legs cold, Dear?’

So, this latest Clothes Switching Time, to avoid gathering unsolicited comments from Englishwomen — or appearing, as another Gramma saying would have it, like “mutton dressed as lamb”, I edited out the short skirts, the tight pants, the bare backs. Put them all aside for The Child and her friends.

What I wore to my first — and only — wedding rehearsal. No danger of your seeing it again. It’s long gone, as is the First Husband

Interestingly, it’s the stuff that I thought was really cool that she and her pals rejected. And the stuff that I think is dowdy that they wanted. The sober Joan and David nineties-era pantsuit? Grabbed. That short silver cocktail dress I bought on a shoot in Australia? In the Bargain Box pile.

And anything “vintage”? It used to be fun to scout thrift shops for choice vintage pieces. But it doesn’t work for me anymore. No one gets that I’m being ironic. They just think that I’ve owned that sixties jeans jacket or seventies wrap dress for a long time and haven’t gotten around to donating it yet. And they’d probably be right.

New York City. May 2017.

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17 thoughts on “Just because it fits doesn’t mean you should wear it

  1. Wow! Great post on a great (and timely, for us elderly folks) topic! As I’m sure you know, in homes outside of the big cities, one can often find multiple or large or even walk-in closets, which negates the need for closet switching. I myself now practice the fine and refined art of drawer switching, instead, since I don’t know of anyone who hangs pajamas or sweaters. These are the only drawer stored items I commonly use which are not all season, at least where I live now, in the land of light snow winters and sweltering sticky summers.

    I wish I, as a German, was more like you, as a Swede, and shriveled as I have aged instead of becoming more zaftig. If so, I’m sure I would have held on to the LBD you modeled on repeat occasions. I mean, a classic like that will remain a classic, right? So I have never had the luxury to offer my two daughters any vintage clothes since I had outgrown them long before they were even near the size that they might fit. On the other hand, I still stubbornly store, in my own not even full walk in closet, many hand me down items from my own children! They are bustier than I am, and I am hippier than they are so their shirts and their shoes sometimes fit me. If only I could fill out more of my closet with pants they don’t want to wear anymore. Maybe after they have kids, their hip sizes will catch up to mine? I guess I can dream, anyway.

    • Oooo! What a luxury to have multiple, large, and/or walk-in closets! (I’ve seen those in movies, but no one I know has one) Having to ‘switch the clothes’ does give one inspiration to give those items a fairly good looking-over. But I must admit that in years past I tended to shrug and switch rather blindly. But that was before the days of “mutton dressed as lamb”. Sigh. Even shriveled girls get the blues, clothes-wise!

  2. I hate getting rid of clothes. Like all great things, they come into fashion and go out of fashion. Then they come back in. I continue wearing it until it comes back in. I wish I still had those neon pink shorts with yellow stars that made in 7th grade home ec.

    • I love it that you made neon pink shorts with yellow stars in Home Ec. Come to think of it, I love it even more that you TOOK Home Ec! Thanks, as always, for being such an attentive — and fashionable — reader xo

      • HAHA Fashion wasn’t really my thing. I had less than 0 sense of coordination. I think when I was in 7th grade everyone took home ec. I love stopping by and getting caught up on what I missed over there!

  3. Oh yeah, I remember those New York apartment closets. We had a luxurious four–one for coats, one for sheets and towels and spare department store boxes that fell on your head when you opened the door (it probably only happened once, but I remember it happening all the time) and two for four people’s clothes. As I remember it, my father had one and my mother shared one with my brother and me. No, I’m not sure why either.

    • Wow! Four closets! What luxury! Well, except for the part where you mention four people sharing them. I’m always astounded by people (who no doubt live in suburbs in proper houses) who brag about the money they save shopping at stores like Costco where they can buy, like, 50 rolls of toilet paper in big cases. Where would a New Yorker stow these bargains?

  4. Cele

    I almost switched the clothes this past weekend; however, I looked at the weather forecast & realized I’d freeze to death (it’s truly nippy here now, and for the next few days…). I’ll do my annual spring purge this weekend.

  5. Ruth Meisenheimer

    “Just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it” applies to my closet more than vintage these days, sad to say. You have always looked just right, Alice!

    • Hah! Your ‘just because’ saying is even funnier than mine! But I like you anyway, (double hah!) Thank you, as always, for your readership and pithy commenting! xoxo

  6. Oh, yes, the switching out that goes on pretty constantly here with clothes that are never cool enough and jackets that wait for the cold that only comes a couple of times a year, if that. But, geez, some of those vintage clothes were well made, even by us. Thanks, dear Alice.

    • Thanks, Judy! Did you sew too? I bet, with your artist’s eye, you had some beautiful things. BTW, Autocorrect changed ‘sew’ to ‘see’. Guess sewing is a craft of the past (!)

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