My Year Of No Clothing

Nov 23, 2018

Eileen Fisher New York store
Credit Eileen Fisher

“I wonder if I could do that?” Maybe you have had that thought when you have heard or read of some challenge that someone else has embraced. Well, I have. About this time last year I read Ann Patchett’s op/ed in the not-yet-failed New York Times concerning her going for a year without making clothing purchases: and not just clothing purchases, but anything that she deemed to be unneeded items.

Being a little unsure about this project—way more difficult than giving up swearing or even alcohol consumption for Lent—I decided to limit my verboten purchases just to garments; I wouldn’t be as stringent. The occasional shoes, handbag or jewelry would be allowable. Nonetheless, I was apprehensive.

Major deprivation could be looming!

Understand, I have clothing—actually, lots of clothing. Having been approximately the same size for years, I even have a good bit of wearable clothing. Love of fabric, color and texture is one of the roots of this.

Possibly another, to paraphrase David Sedaris when he is speaking of consumerism, “filling some unknown hole in my soul” could be there too. Whatever—I’m just an easy mark for a nice piece of fabric—preferably in a natural fiber.

What I viewed as the first hurdle was when that social-maven, Larry, and I received an invitation to a wedding where the requested dress was semi-formal. Pre, determination to buy no clothing, this invitation would have prompted trips to purveyors of fashion for just the right thing. This year though, it prompted a trip to the cedar closet for just the right thing. Rats! No weaseling out of the pact with myself; there was something: a choice even. At least two acceptable things were “on-file.”

Now, let’s dance backward to my youth for what, only this summer, became clear to me as one root of this neediness: my Aunt Rose. As a child (A period where I can remember many of my garments), Aunt Rose made some delightful clothing for me (Among others, there was this red dress with appliquéd snowballs and a snowman down near the hemline.), and she gave me my first sewing machine (Yes, I still have that too.). In short, she made a poster-child for the saying about “Give me a child before the age of seven and that child is mine for life” (saying modified slightly to be gender-correct). I was hooked on fabric.  A tour through the closet is personal history; the clothing there is tightly-bound with life-memories.

So, sadly, this summer when my Aunt Rose died and, as the beloved niece, I was deputized to remove her belongings from her home. She lived alone, and had lots of closets. It came to me that when you live alone, almost your whole house can be a closet if you wish. Working through her home, it seemed as though most of the clothing from her entire life must have been contained there. To resort to an adage, “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.” Even the densest could see a role-modeling pattern here. Or, maybe it’s genetics.

That would be a handier explanation since genetics is inescapable. (Why would one be a so-called “science-denier? It’s such a convenient excuse!) Genetics being what it is, Aunt Rose and I were of similar size. Even so, I dutifully bagged her clothing rather than dragging it home, although technically, it would not have been shopping, and sent the many, many bagsful of wonderful things off to a charity.

Now, eleven months into my experiment, I know now that I can do this buy-no-clothes-for-a-year thing.

I’m just am not sure that I want to do it again; that unknown hole remains in my soul.  So, after the first of the year, it’s off for an Eileen Fisher binge, then, we’ll see.

Music: "Put on Your Red Dress" by Captain Luke