So, how big is yours? I’m sorry to be impertinent, but it’s an important question and, for most of us, it does matter.
Obviously, I am talking about the size of your wardrobe.
How many times have you uttered the words, ‘I have nothing to wear’ while standing in front of a bulging closet of clothes? The curse of never having quite the right outfit is a regular complaint of two thirds of women and one third of men in the UK, according to recent research. And sadly, as a conscious consumer, I am in no way immune.
During lockdown, one of my goals was tidy and sort my wardrobe – a rather large task as I have a lot of clothes. So, I sorted, and I counted, and I was horrified. I had 72 dresses, 131 tops, 28 pairs of trousers and 67 pairs of shoes. I was mortified by these numbers – clearly, that’s far too much clothing. How on earth could I ever justify feeling like I have nothing to wear?
Guilt is not a feeling I want to associate with my wardrobe, so I decided to transform the process of sorting it out into a positive challenge. The plan was to wear a different outfit every day of lockdown, to fall back in love with my wardrobe and re-engage with the value of every item. In the end, I managed to do 80 days – and I was only able to wear about a third my wardrobe.
Reconnecting with clothes
Overall, this ended up being a beautiful experience, largely because a huge part of the process was considering the nostalgia inherent in each item. Some were treasures from amazing visits to Italy and Japan, others from shopping trips to London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I was also remembering the wonderful people who shared the buying experience with me, the days out spent with friends and family, or pushing my pram with a newborn asleep inside. So many items were also treasured gifts – like the jumper my aunt literally gave me off her back when I told her I loved it.
Then there were the memories linked to the occasions I wore things. The black shirt dress that I was wearing when my now-husband got down on one knee. The T-shirt I was lounging in when I found out I was pregnant. Amongst my absolute favourites were the carefully selected outfits I wore for my bucket list trip on the Orient Express. I wanted to write it all down, to capture the memories linked to the clothes – and while I haven’t managed it yet, I will get to it!
The downside to these emotional links, though, is that they make it incredibly hard to clear anything out. Any time I want to get rid of something, it feels like I am discarding a memory, and I quickly learned that Marie Kondo is most unwelcome in my wardrobe. Sadly, though, I have to acknowledge that the clothes I wore when I was 17 don’t even get close to zipping up today.
So, what to do with these incredible investment pieces, full of memories but three sizes too small? I took inspiration from a friend – or, to be precise, her grandmother.
I was always so incredibly jealous of my lovely Italian friend who was gifted her grandmother’s very small but carefully curated wardrobe – think Missoni knitwear, Armani loungewear and Chanel suits.
“She bought quality instead of quantity”, my friend boasted one day, looking unspeakably elegant in her beautiful, pristine, 50-year-old Chanel suit. Her very stylish Grandmother – who it should be said was middle-class, not rich – saved up and only went clothes shopping a few times a year. When she did shop, she’d purchase a few very classic pieces, which she then took meticulous care of, loving them every time she wore them.
Initially, I was jealous of my friend, who always looked so beautiful and expensive in her hand-me-downs. Then I realised, I actually wanted to be her grandmother. I wanted to pass on the love and value of my clothes.
The conversation has stuck with me for many years and, as a result, instead of donating the important pieces from my wardrobe that no longer fit, I carefully washed and packaged them to place in storage, with the intention of bequeathing them to my two daughters and, hopefully, future grandchildren.
Fashion for the future
I adore the romantic notion that clothes are layered in meanings and can act as very powerful memory prompts, the traces of past experience beautifully woven into their fabric, the links to people we’ve loved and have lost stitched into the seams. Yet on the flip side, fast fashion has made our clothes worthless, introduced the idea of throw away commodities destined for landfill.
I don’t want that to be my legacy. I want my children and grandchildren to benefit from the investment I am making in my wardrobe, and I certainly don’t want to add to the climate disaster we are leaving them to address. I’m not perfect, but I have been making better choices for my wardrobe the last four years.
I’m building a fashion business based on these principles and when I buy a new item, I try to invest in the best quality I can afford, avoiding unethical practices and selecting pieces that will stand the test of time. I imagine my daughters and future grandchildren excitedly telling their friends about my curated wardrobe they have inherited. But most of all, I get a wonderful warm feeling about the very idea of my treasures becoming their treasures. I hope they will love my garments, look fabulous in them, care for them and value them. Most importantly, I hope that they weave their own wonderful new memories into the fabric of these cherished clothes.