I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling lately. The stories our clothes tell us, specifically. The end of the year compelled me to clean and curate my closet with an obsessiveness I usually only reserve for eBay sniping and when I’m working on art projects at 3am. I was left with a room full of impeccably curated clothes if I do say so myself, and bags and bags of things I’m leaving for someone else. I counted five. Trash bags, dead body sized. This is a new, scary thing for me. Getting rid of things.
How often do you get rid of clothes? I don’t know anyone who actually does the whole “spring cleaning” thing with any sort of regularity; I don’t know anyone who has a capsule collection wardrobe of 10 pieces, something we’re always told to aspire to, the essentials. Even people who seemingly wear the same uniform have a rack of things just because. I have a strong fascination bordering on distrust for people who can edit their life down into a rack of pristine minimalism. I know it’s not fair; I think it might be because I was raised always with the mentality of “just-in-case” class dynamics.
My family hoardes, hoardes to the point we’ve given away storage units full of furniture and art and random knickknacks only when we wouldn’t walk from the kitchen to the front door anymore. We’re not on that A&E level of dead rats everywhere–I think we’re a bit more glamorous about it. We’re snobby hoarders who watch Antiques Road Show together to bond and then go around the house appraising our own accumulation of antique junk. Not only because they’re pretty, but because if something goes bad we can sell something. Nothing gets thrown away, just in case. We’ve paid for family phones by selling things we’ve hoarded “just in case.”
That kind of hoarding family dynamic bleeds into my closet a lot. Yeah, this t-shirt I’ve had since I was 10 may be ugly, stained, and I haven’t worn it in 3 years, but I’m sure I’ll figure out a reason to wear it, someday. This sequin dress that’s clearly 4 sizes too big but has a piano embroidered on it? I could sell this probably. Maybe I’ll fit into it when I’m 40. I know I haven’t worn this jacket since I was 15, but I was wearing it when I first got felt up and I feel a connection to it now, you’ll rip it from my cold dead hands. I bought this Vivienne Westwood dress on consignment because I want to wear it when I win some major award and have to go to a gala. I know it’s impractical, but it’s just in case. Everything has a memory or a possibility of a memory and I’m addicted to both.
One of the reasons I’m so interested in fashion is the endless connections and memories that go into making every garment even before it ends up in your closet. Even a t-shirt, arguably the most nondescript item you will put in your wardrobe, it travels the world to get made. The cotton is grown in the U.S, it’s typically shipped to Indonesia to be spun into yarn, then it’s likely finished in Bangladesh or India or somewhere where the wages are low and the supply pool of unemployed workers is never dry. Three countries, three entirely different circumstances, went into that $10 for 3 T-Shirt. This is the simplest process breakdown I can give, it gets more complicated when you consider the Proenza Schouler leather woven twill jacket of Fall 2014, or the Miu Miu suits, where they went back and forth in no less than six countries and factories for the perfect swatch. Think of all the time that went into everyhing you’re wearing, however nondescript. Now think of the possibilities and context of the lives of the people who were involved. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? The memories that are just out of reach, the evidence they happened and exist are right in your closet. That’s why I want more, and everything, and I want to know how it happened. That’s why I’m always on the pursuit of a new, shiny thing in my closet, even if it doesn’t fit….for now.
I can’t actually keep everything though, even (especially) the shiny big things that don’t fit. So off they go. I just put all these trash bags full of what ifs and it-happened-to-me’s near the door, I’m dropping them off at Goodwill tomorrow. I spent years accumulating so many things, they all mostly have memories or a lot of anticipation leading up to a moment that never happened. Some of them never debuted on my body. Some of them carried me through my first relationship, my first job, my first airplane ride, my first drunken night. I keep staring at these trash bags like they’re full of dead bodies and I suppose they are in their own way. So much time went into making all of those things, and none of it was new to me when I bought them — so there are three lifetimes, at least, in every garment. They’re going to be so fucking heavy when I dump them off at Goodwill, but I figure they’ll be new and light with possibilities to whoever picks them up next. I left a note with a memory wearing them pinned on the inside of my favorite pieces for whoever buys them next. Just in case someone is curious about the stories clothing can tell. I hope they’re curious. I hope they find a good home.
*You can learn more about the life of a t-shirt through NPR’s T-Shirt Project. It’s awesome.