Last week I went to a fashion event for work. One of the classes I went to was all about the evolution of black tie dressing and the history of the Little Black Dress. Our presenter detailed how Coco Chanel coined the phrase Little Black Dress in the twenties and admitted that in order to prepare for the class she had looked through her closet at all her black dresses.
I went through my closet with a critical eye, not a negative eye.
She spoke of how her son had helped her inventory her collection of Little Black Dresses and decide that one of them had good bones and should be altered. The rest, she shamefully admitted, she decided to donate.
I moved last week. The entire process from conception to moving truck took less than two weeks so I had very little time to pack. I ended up donating a lot of clothes. Not everything that I need to donate, certainly, but as much as I could without getting severely overwhelmed.
When I heard our presenter speak of her need to donate the black dresses in her closet that didn’t fit or were suddenly too short or too dated I thought about how fortunate we both are to be in a position to give clothes away.
The first time I went to Africa we visited tribes in Southern Ethiopia. It takes almost three days on really rough roads to see these tribes so five years ago when we went to see them they were relatively unscathed by the consumerism and greed we are used to in the west.
In one tribe a few women kept pinching at the animal skins covering their shoulders. I had no idea what they were trying to tell me so our guide explained that they were literally asking for the shirt off my back. Now, I was in Africa for the first time. I was not wearing a shirt that could even remotely be considered fashionable. I bought severely practical clothes to take to Africa. One of my sisters is a very accomplished mountaineer and she taught me long ago the value of good gear. The shirt I was wearing is a technical outdoor shirt with SPF and insect repellent built into the fabric. It is NOT flattering. It has pockets in the front, roll up sleeves with tabs to keep them rolled up, absolutely NO waistline, and a rather horrific men’s tie print.
I was flabbergasted. I was so taken with the women in that tribe. They wore traditional animal skins. They made their own jewelry from keys and shells they found at the market. In my artistic fashion designer brain they were fabulous. But they wanted what they didn’t have. They wanted my ugly high tech button down shirt.
I didn’t give them my shirt that day but I know that they would have loved some of the shirts I donated last weekend preparing for my move. I’ve known that I needed to move for almost a year but I kept putting it off and making excuses as to why I needed more time based solely on the fact that I didn’t want to face my closet. I didn’t want to come face to face with jackets and pants that were still, as people so often advertise on eBay, New with Tags!
I didn’t want to try on the dozen or so pairs of pants that I have in various sizes- for the Just In Case scenario that I gain or lose the same 10 or 15 pounds that I’ve been gaining and losing my entire life.
I didn’t want to admit to myself that I have more clothes than I could ever wear, that I could be a clothes hoarder, that people who have much less than myself might be incredibly grateful for the t-shirt at the bottom of my drawer that they gave me at the one and only mud run I will ever participate in. The shirt that is kind of cute and makes me look really curvy even though I’m not and is a blue that makes everyone comment on how they’ve never noticed my blue eyes before. The shirt that I’ve worn exactly twice but I can’t convince myself to get rid of because it’s a perfectly good shirt.
In hearing another human speak with shame about the black dresses in her closet she needed to donate I realized that my problem is rampant in our society. I’m not the only one embarrassed of my closet. Other women also pore over their closets every day, flipping through items one by one feeling not just like they have nothing to wear but knowing perfectly well that their closets are too full, that they’ve devoted too many of their resources to buying clothes they neither love nor wear.
I intend to follow the example set by the presenter last week and look at my closet with a critical eye so that I can start to simplify my wardrobe. This may take some time but I know that it’s one more step towards gaining control of my life. I do know that the 5 or 6 black cashmere sweaters in my closet don’t define me. I’m defined by the way I treat others and the beauty and honesty I put out into the world.