Clothes and courage have so much to do with each other.
--Sara Jeannette Duncan (1900)
Personally, I would add closets to that observation. Clothes, closets and courage have so much to do with each other and each of us. In fact, clothes, closets and courage are the holy trinity of a woman; expressing precisely her current state of being—body, mind and spirit—while dramatically demonstrating all her unmet wants and unfulfilled desires.
As the fabulous Hollywood costume designer Edith Head so succinctly put it in 1963: “Marlene Dietrich and Roy Rogers are the only two living humans who should be allowed to wear black leather pants.” Sadly, those two legends are no longer with us, but there seems to be whole lot of leather (faux though it may be) walking around in search of a closet.
After seven years of "temporarily" living in the small apartment next to my sister, it's time for me to create a real home in California. So it's moving time at Chez Moi and the bulging closets have become feral. I’m currently in the thick of it, so it’s been necessary to begin each day’s task with a chair, a whip and “Back, Simba, Back.” I thought I’d take a break and just riff on the fabric of our lives and the sifting, sorting, selecting, giving away or selling on eBay thereof. Or not. How about keeping? How about “Are you crazy, you’ll never see another one like it for the rest of your life” or “Absolutely not, Babe, we’re going to the mat for this one.” Of course, I know it’s close to heresy to even mention “holding on to” when the square footage facing you is the size of a hamster’s cage. Still, I’ll try.
Is there a woman alive with as much storage space as she really needs, or as many closets as she truly wants? “There is nothing like fixing up closets to give you a feeling of complete satisfaction,” Mrs. Henrietta Ripperger wrote in A Home of Your Own and How to Run It, published in 1940. Likewise, few things are as frustrating as searching for something you know is in there but can’t find because it shares a hanger with something else. “The real waste in clothing comes not in the buying, but not in the using,” Mrs. Ripperger reminds us, and we know she speaks the truth.
We think that it’s dresses, skirts, and pants hanging in our closets, but really it’s our past, for most items of clothing are associated, for good or ill, with people, places, and periods in our lives. I can’t open a Laura Ashley email without “seeing” the wife and daughter of a small-town mayor identically dressed in white sailor dresses, red-ribbon straw boaters and parasols for the Independence Day parade. It doesn’t matter how removed the Laura Ashley brand or I have become from cottage-sprig— it’s our emotional memories which turn out to be the threads that truly bind. But I love those memories and want to hold them close. It surprises my daughter that I keep asking her if she’s found “our outfits” when she’s visiting her father’s house, considering we’ve been divorced for twenty years.
And while it’s true that the past asks only to be remembered (no doubt so that we’ll not continue making mistakes), this doesn’t mean you have to entomb your regrets or savage remembrances. I once fell in love with a black lace cocktail dress that cost me more than I’d ever thought I’d earn, but I envisioned wearing it for a special, hopefully romantic occasion of great importance. It was my “once in a lifetime” dress and I was willing to pay the price for both fantasies. I looked gorgeous in it. I felt exquisite and beautiful. I felt like the woman I had always aspired to become. Long after I parted from the man, the dress remained on its hanger. For a few years every time I cleaned the closet I convinced myself that it had cost too much to give away. But what was really so hard to abandon was all the pent up and unexpressed emotion, frustration, disappointment, and anger that hadn’t been voiced all those many years ago. Finally, I reluctantly gave the dress away but you know what? I still miss that dress because I still mourn that dream.
It’s easy for us to get rid of clothes we’ve physically outgrown, but severing the emotional threads that bind us, whether the fibers are silk, linen, wool, gossamer, haute couture or prêt-à-porter requires an unconditional commitment to our future happiness and sometimes that desire and determination takes longer than we can imagine to make its way down to our souls and up again through the soil of our lives. In other words, I wish I’d kept that black lace dress. I outgrew the painful memories and grew wise enough to know that romances will come and romances will go, but dreams and vintage Elsa Schiaparelli lasts forever. I’m probably the only one on earth who’s going to tell you to hold on to what you really love, especially if you feel emotional about it, but there you have it. But no, if you’ve divorced her father, your daughter is probably not going to want your wedding dress.
So this week seems as good time to start making the connection between what we stow away and what we stew over. They’re probably in the same box or stuffed in the back of one of those closets. Although I can’t prove this beyond the shadow of a doubt, I believe that there is a direct correlation between the amount of discontent and discomfort we may be experiencing right now and the unacknowledged emotional attachments with clothing or possessions we’re holding onto and storing.
“She knew someday she would find the exact right outfit that would make her life work. Maybe not her whole life, she thought, as she got back in bed but at least the parts she had to dress for,” the sorely missed Swell Dame Carrie Fisher wrote in Postcards from the Edge. And one of those outfits and days will come again, Babe. I’ve lived to tell the tale. How thrilling it will be for you to reach into your closet and pull out something just perfect for your splendid tomorrow.
So much love to you as you sift, sort and save. And always, always blessings on your courage.