Wardrobe Wisdom: What We Wear

Collections Series from Women in Clothes | My Contents Have Shifted
Collections: Miranda Purves’s shirts with Peter Pan collars as published in Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 Others. Available in the US through Amazon.

The clothes we wear build up a story of who we are, even for those who think of themselves as “anti-style”.  Every day when we we get dressed, we decide what to wear or equally important what not to wear. What we choose is part of how we communicate to ourselves and to the rest of the world. The fact that our choices are interpreted through other people’s lenses and the meanings they attach to their filters doesn’t take away from the meanings that we attach to ours.

And as we women navigate through life and and the many roles we inhabit, these decisions are not always straightforward. In my case, it has often seemed like once I thought I had my wardrobe figured out, a whole new set of circumstances would make me question my choices all over again. Dressing the way you envision yourself is a constant balancing act between aspiration (for me it has always been the two Hepburns, Audrey and Katharine) and reality (budget, availability and the translation of size and scale from them to me).

Collections Series from Women in Clothes | My Contents Have Shifted
Collections: Molly Murray’s vintage 3-inch heels as published in Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 Others. Available in the US through Amazon.

As an eager young architect in New York, I strove to systematize my wardrobe and boiled it down to black tailored trousers, black A-line skirts, black cardigans and white or striped shirts with crisp collars during the week. Our move to London eight years later coincided with becoming a mother and the clarity my wardrobe had achieved as a young professional no longer worked. Black was a bit harsh for London life and its soft, diffused light and the effort required to retain crispness through pregnancy, post natal physical changes and young toddler demands meant things had to change. But it took awhile for me to realise (admit?) this and so I muddled through trying to make a former vision work while juggling motherhood and working. Before I figured that one out, I stopped working and found myself having to put together another wardrobe at the same time as resolving who I was or no longer was as a full-time mother. I rode those years out in jeans, t-shirts, cardigans and various questionable items from e-Bay. And throughout, my body was changing slowly and my image of myself was changing with it. Who was I now and where was my story going?

Collections Series from Women in Clothes | My Contents Have Shifted
Collections: Lydia Burkhalter’s collection of gray sweatshirts as published in Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton & 639 Others. Available in the US through Amazon.

Over the past few years, I have been working out my sartorial story of a fifty-something, designer, writer, artist, digital content creator, wife and soon to be, empty nester mother with a post-menopausal body. I feel like it’s almost there — slightly less clear than my young architect days. I like it that way though because it means I can now acknowledge change. One key difference is that instead of trying to dress myself from the outside looking in and compromising comfort for style, I now dress from the inside looking out. These days, it’s all about me and my comfort. Like marble steps that have worn a groove from frequent footfall, I am now interested in clothes that speak a similar language — the pocket edges that are frayed from so much use, the jeans that are threadbare in the seat, the leather bag that has developed a well oiled patina.  Guardian environmental journalist Lucy Siegle and executive producer of True Cost, the documentary that explores the human and environmental costs of cheap throwaway clothing, advocates the following, “Only buy (items of clothing) if you can commit to wearing the item at least 30 times.” The comfortable pieces that make you feel good — the ones you will keep reaching for time and again — are the only ones that occupy real estate in my wardrobe. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it is only now that I have gathered a collection of a few well-loved, comfortable staples that I am finally fully confident about what my style and story are.

Stay tuned as I embark on dissecting my wardrobe and share my clothing staples. And in the spirit of a clothing swap between girlfriends, it would be wonderful to hear your comfort clothes stories, the things you wear that make you feel most like you.

How my mother influenced my style, RIGHT HERE.

4 responses to “Wardrobe Wisdom: What We Wear”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful and timely post. It’s not just our age and the accompanying quest to be truer to our maturing selves and bodies which is slowing down our buying habits . Hopefully we are growing more aware too of the exploitative and enviromental aspects of fast fashion.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, I think about all the mistake purchases I have made in the past and cringe. Trying to impart this message onto No. 1 and No. 2 sons who both seem to survive quite well on a minimal amount of clothing. The more threadbare and holey the better as far as they are concerned. All the best, Xtine.

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