On wearing clothes

Wardrobe essentials

“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” — Virginia Woolf, Orlando

At the turn of each new year, I apparently expend a good deal of mental space thinking about clothes. What can I discard and donate now? What did I not wear in the past year? What, in Kondo’s life-changing phrase, sparks joy?

If anything, the simple act of tidying my wardrobe sparks joy for me. (I unashamedly admit that I love folding my underwear.) Last night, I edited my closet and came up with armful of things, once more, that I ought not hold onto. It thrilled me. I am so much happier with less.

Wardrobe essentials

But. I am struggling with a new desire. I do not want a pile of new things, but I want but fewer, far more expensive, and well-made things. Gobs of cheap garments from Target and Old Navy no longer appeal to me, as they did when I was younger. I just want one ludicrously expensive pair of jeans. Or a luxurious, sustainably made handbag. Which is a different (fiscal) problem altogether.

My style aspirations haven’t changed at all since I last wrote about them. I still want to dress like a Parisienne, however that is within my power in Central Virginia. I have successfully edited out most colors and prints, except for stripes. I wear rather plain things now, and I love it.

Simply put, people who say they “don’t care about clothes” are not truthful. Everyone cares about clothes. Everyone makes deliberate choices about what they buy and how they wear it. Our wardrobes are not happy accidents.

What people mean when they say this is that they don’t care about fashion or trends. Which is fine. But everyone cares about clothes.

And that is why I like thinking about clothes and observing what people wear and why. What we say to the world through what we wear. Is the image that I think I’m projecting through my clothes what the world actually receives? It is something to ponder.

Next: Perhaps some thoughts on uniforms and minimalism.

House tidying, copy editing, letter writing

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How I spent all of my free time in college: Reading for pleasure. (Here, The Portrait of a Lady!) Circa October 2008.

Recent realization: I have a very consistent personality. Since I was a small child, I have been this way. Here’s the progression, as best I can chart it.

1. WORDS, READING THEM

It starts with words. When I was two, I would sit on my grandfather’s lap while he read the newspaper and identify letters that I knew. Letters were intrinsically interesting to me, as a baby, and I’m not sure why. I was read to continually by my family. I began memorizing full books when I was very little, but soon, by the age of three, I had taught myself how to read. (Mom says I pulled a random, unfamiliar book off the shelf while we were in the library and sat down and read it to her.) And so, naturally, I have surrounded myself with books ever since. Mom realized, when I was young, that time-out was an ineffective punishment for me. When she came in to let me out of my room, she was greeted by my solemn face as I pored over a book. “Oh, I’m not done yet, thank you,” I said dismissively. Words have always held a deep, deep pull for me. For whatever inexplicable reason.

 2. WORDS, WRITING THEM

Once I learned how to read, I then devoted myself to learning how to write. From the age of 7 until the present, I have kept a journal, mostly in handwritten form. As a child, I acquired scads of pen pals all over the country and the globe (some of whom I am still in touch with). I have always been fanatic about high-quality writing instruments and would hoard my good pens from the rest of the family. I took up calligraphy in middle school, and I am presently a calligrapher on the side. Loving words as much as I do, it has made sense to me that I should also love the process of physically writing them.

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Recent calligraphy on wedding invitation envelopes. Bluestocking Calligraphy.

3. WORDS, EDITING THEM

I was a persnickety child who loved rules. Applying this legalistic devotion to my love of reading, I cared tremendously for words and it hurt me when others did not equally care for them. (It still does. The large majority of writers on the internet, especially in the comments section, are constantly hurting my feelings, in a grammatical sense.) As a young girl, I was naturally good at spelling and at picking up the dictates of grammar (primarily through the natural osmosis of excessive reading).

I eventually went to college and got a dual degree in English (dreamy and fun) and journalism (practical and cut-throat). I thought I was going to be a reporter, because I loved print media and writing, but reporting made me extremely anxious, and I swiftly realized that I was not cut out for the competitive, high-energy demands of the job.

Around that time, I had an aggressive but insightful journalism professor who encouraged me to try copy editing. He goaded me to apply for a nationwide copy editing internship program, and I did. I got accepted and got to spend a glorious summer at the Denver Post copy editing and hiking. I had found my calling.

Copy editing, as I’ve written about before, brings me a lot of joy, and I’m really happy to be in this odd little profession. It’s a career for rule-loving introverts and jubilant nerds, and I’m delighted to be one of their number.

Quiet, simple home

4. SPACES, EDITING THEM

The leap that this personality bent takes is this: I seem to have a parallel approach to both words and spaces. I like to edit sentences. I also like to edit rooms. Or my wardrobe. Or other people’s junk drawers. Reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was a revelation. I spent about eight hours over the Christmas holiday cleaning out and organizing my parents’ closet, and it was fun for me. I loved it. The fastest route to my domestic happiness is a clean kitchen. I cannot abide visual clutter (even though I can get very lax about some things, like sweeping or dusting or vacuuming curtains, ever, in their lifetimes).

The epiphany was that my deep need for a tidy home maps perfectly onto my deep need for a tidy sentence. There’s a reason why I am this weird, obdurate person! It’s all very consistent. I understand that the reason I insist on Inbox Zero … is the reason that I can’t read a restaurant menu without itching for a red pen… is the reason that I compulsively make lists for everything I want to accomplish… is the reason that I read voraciously still… is the reason that I have to fold my shirts in a particular way… is the reason that an un-alphabetized bookshelf is anathema to me…

So. This is a poorly articulated question, but here it is: Do you find, like me, that your interests and hobbies converge into this seamless presentation of your (rather uniform) personality? In other words, the reason that you love X is because it’s really a very similar thing to your other great love, Y.

I’m sincerely curious to hear from you. I don’t think I’m alone in this…

Closet visit

One of my 2015 resolutions is to simplify my life, particularly my wardrobe. I’m far from declaring that I have achieved a streamlined, minimalist wardrobe, but I think I’ve made progress. It’s a start, at least.

Closet visit
Tapestry by Laura Dillon Rogers.

A physical benefit of attempting a pared-down wardrobe is that we have TINY closets. Simply, there is no space to have an expansive collection of clothes. When we moved in a year ago, I begrudged this seeming limitation and envied women with those luxurious walk-in closets. But now I feel grateful for this small space. It has forced me to become a conscientious and ruthless editor over time.

Closet visit

Closet visit
Shaker dictum calligraphy print, by me.

This is it:

Closet visit

Closet visit

And then I have three drawers (grunders not pictured).

Closet visit

Closet visit
Shirts, transformed by the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (a la Marie Kondo).

My shoes live on a little shelf outside the closet.

Closet visit

The surrounding goals are to (1) discard/donate more, (2) reduce colors, (3) refine what I consider to be my personal style, (4) buy less, and (5) buy better-made clothes when I do buy.

Closet visit
Silk blouse from Everlane.

I still have lots of progress to make, but I am feeling refreshed and inspired with this small start. An added benefit is that my mom and sisters (and some of Grace’s friends) are joining in this goal to simplify our closets, and so I have a good deal of peripheral, personal support. I am thankful for them, and for this year of new beginnings, even if it is starting with something as ordinary as a collection of clothes.

“Through housewifely care a house recovers not so much its originality as its origin. And what a great life it would be if, every morning, every object in the house could be made anew by our hands, could ‘issue’ from our hands. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh tells him that we should ‘retain something of the original character of a Robinson Crusoe.’ Make and remake everything oneself, make a ‘supplementary gesture’ toward each object, give another facet to the polished reflections, all of which are so many boons the imagination confers upon us by making us aware of the house’s inner growth.”

— The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

Inspiration