The Sartorial Security Blanket

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Fall has officially arrived in the DC area. Last week I came home from work and went upstairs to change out of my work clothes. I slipped on some boyfriend jeans and fuzzy socks (I know, the fashion quotient going on is THROUGH THE ROOF), but it was so chilly I needed another layer. To add to the high fashion of the look, I went to the closet to grab an oversized cardigan or shawl. I first reached for my ivory crocheted fringed shawl, a $12 special from Ross. A mix between something boho cool and something that smells like cat pee and sits on the back of your Great Aunt’s floral sofa, I wore the heck out of it last winter with distressed jeans, boots, and band tees.


The shawl, worn last winter, and then a selfie after leaving the emergency room in February.

But then I remembered how I wore this shawl so much of the time my arm was broken because it didn’t have sleeves and I could throw it on even when in a sling. Almost every day I wore that shawl as a cardigan, a coat, a napping blanket. I grabbed the hanger and could smell that very specific smell of hospital, even though I’ve laundered the shawl several times since that day in the emergency room, the day of my first surgery, and so many appointments after.  But it's so cozy, and the fringe is so fun, and it's so easy to throw on…

my fathers sweater2005, wearing my dad's sweater

I have a sweater that I haven’t worn for years, but will never get rid of. It’s a blue and magenta marled ribbed turtleneck without any labels; I don’t even know what is the front and what is the back. The sweater belonged to my father, and I have many Instamatic photos of him wearing this sweater in New York, Russia, London, and my childhood home. Come high school, my dad let me wear the sweater and I eventually took it over as my own. I remember one of the last few days my dad was alive, he was in an out of consciousness and clarity in the ICU and I came to visit him. I took his hand, he opened his eyes, looked at me, said, “Nice sweater, kid,” winked, and then closed his eyes. I was wearing his turtleneck and that was the last time the two of us connected.

When I used to do closet clean-outs, the biggest disagreement would come with the “Security Blanket” garments. Clients would tell me that they wouldn’t, they COULDN'T get rid of ugly, unflattering, damaged, wrong-size and dust-covered unworn clothing because of the memories associated with them. Threadbare flannel shirts, stained sweatpants with holes in the crotch, dated too-small suits from their first job interview, ugly ill-fitting dresses from a first date or courtroom appearance, grandma’s quilted floral bathrobe. I thought it was ridiculous, clothing is just clothing. Memories come from experiences, not from their ex-husband’s Grateful Dead tee shirt or their mother’s Christmas sweater.

But what a hypocrite I was, asking people to toss sartorial memories when I had my dad’s sweater in my wardrobe. So maybe at the time the sweater fit well and looked cool and relatively classic, would I toss it if it wasn’t? Now several sizes larger and trends very different I haven’t tossed the sweater and I never would. But my “Broken Arm Shawl,” that’s another story.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely because you care about clothing in an emotional way. It may be a certain designer, or how it your clothes help express your passion or personality, or because it can transform your figure or your career, or because it represents your faith, your culture, your community. Maybe you find style a mystery and are trying to figure it out. Clothing has energy, clothing can change your mood, clothing can change your life. And if you feel this way, you likely have a sartorial security blanket or two in your wardrobe.

I’m not going to suggest you toss these security blankets, but ask you to think about what memories, and what energy is associated with the garments. If the memories associated with a garment are good, well maybe it’s worth to keep it. Honestly, it’s not so bad to have a dust collector in the back of the closet if they make you feel good and remind you of good times and good people. But be honest with yourself regarding those memories, and why you’re holding on to the item. Don’t let the negative energy of a garment hold you in the past and hold you back.  I'm getting rid of the “Broken Arm Shawl,” coziness isn't worth the illness, pain, and sadness associated with it.  Life’s too short to wear things that make you miserable or remind you of misery.

I encourage you to join me and get rid of any clothes associated with heartbreak, injury, illness, death, pain, or sadness. Donate it or ceremonially burn it, just get it gone from your life. Quality, not quantity, even when it comes to the emotional hold-ons collecting dust in the very back of your closet. You deserve a wardrobe that makes you feel, as well as look beautiful.

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I loved reading this! I can think of three things in my closet that I probably won’t ever part with – a pair of jeans, a pair of sweats, and a swimsuit cover up. The jeans are a pair of Levi’s that belonged to my stepdad (not a very large guy, so they fit me). I distressed them in junior high and wore them all the time. Grunge was huge and he never cared that I hijacked them. I still love to look at them, even though I could never wear them now.
    The sweats were my mom’s. They are hideous, from the 80’s, but the most comfortable sweats in the world. They just don’t make them the same way! I call them my teddy sweats (because of the nice little 80’s bear on the hip) and I hope they make it another decade so I can wear them when my kids are teenagers and embarrass them.
    The cover up is from just a few years ago. I was pregnant with my first child, due in a month, and huge. I had outgrown all of my maternity clothes so I bought the biggest thing I could find, an XXXL swimsuit cover up at Target. I wore it every day. It still makes me smile every time I see it.
    Clothes can be so sentimental. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  2. I’m a big believer in tossing things with bad energy. One summer when I was in my 20s, several relatives and close family friends died, and I only had one outfit that was both weather-appropriate and dressed up enough to wear to funerals. I was working two jobs and had dropped out of college (family crisis), and there was no money to spare, but when a friend’s wedding came up I burst into tears at the thought of wearing my “funeral” blouse. Between the two of us, my mom and I scraped up enough to buy something else. She completely understood that that top needed to go.

    1. That reminds me of what I wore for my dad’s memorial service. It was from Limited, a matte jersey jacket, tank, and skirt and I felt it was so versatile and perfect for work, etc. but after wearing it that day I could never stomach wearing it again. I wonder if it’s still in my childhood closet at my mom’s house… I’m so glad your mom understood and helped you in that situation <3

  3. What a lovely post. I love how you start with the superficial then head into something deep and meaningful. I’m slowly managing to get rid of my mum’s clothes. I was aware of not keeping everything out of sentiment when she died but I will keep a few particularly significant things ‘cos I think you need to.

  4. Such a great post! I will never get rid of the sock monkey sweatshirt I was wearing when my water broke only 27 weeks into my pregnancy. Even though it was one of the scariest nights of my life it resulted in my happy, healthy almost 6 year old twin sons (who happen to love sock monkeys) ! Unfortunately for DH, I still wear it sometimes, and my boys love hearing that I wore it back when they were in my belly.

  5. I appreciate your need to give away the shawl. I gave away the clothing I was wearing when I was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago at age 39. I liked that sweater, but I would never have been able to wear it again without awful associations.

  6. This reminds me of 13 years ago. My father had just finished treatment for brain cancer and he had a short period of feeling well before everything went downhill. During this time he and my mother, my aunt and uncle took him to Branson, MO. A place he loved to go and watch the performers he loved.

    He decided he wanted to bring a shirt back for me that he found in a “boutique” there. One that he specifically picked out just for me since he knew I loved cats (and still do!). It is a black t-shirt that is tunic like on a shorty like me. It has 5 figures of cat silhouettes on it that are made from fuzzy cheetah print material. The cat figures are outlined in gold, puffy, glitter glue. There are also little random designs around the shirt made with this same glitter glue. Oh boy. Believe it or not, I actually wore it once or twice so that he could see it on me! Needless to say, I just can’t get rid of this shirt. My daughter, who was 5 at the time of all this, saw it and asked why I don’t throw something like that out. But I just can’t and won’t do it. He was so happy to pick that shirt out.

    Now if you can figure out how to make a shirt like that work……. LOL! Just kidding, it’s got a special place in the closet!

  7. Allie,

    Please keep your Dad’s sweater. It’s a good looking sweater even apart from the memories attached. I have my Dad’s silk scarf and my Mom’s velvet cape. I will never get rid of them.

    Besides, turtlenecks and pencil skirts never go completely out of style, do they?


  8. Great post! I just spent a week cleaning out all the drawers (takes me longer cause of my disabilities) and I feel fresher & like a big weight is off! Closet is next – I think I’ll wait a week first though!!!! 🙂

  9. You were going to wear the shawl, and wanted to, till you smelled the hanger.

    You need to clean that hanger. Or toss it.

  10. You don’t need to tell me that!

    A few years back, actually more like 5-6 years back, I had a new Spring work outfit. Pants and jacket, I bought it to go to meetings to signify a position I occupied, to give me dignity as a senior staff member. About the second time I wore it I ended up in a meeting with a woman to whom the word that rhymes with witch is inadequate. That day she decided to take out her wrath on me for a minor infraction – I’d sent a design document to someone our area without asking her.

    Oh Lord, it was awful. She lit into me, I got upset and could hardly breath, only had one Kleenex in my pocket (I always take Kleenex into meetings) and had to sit through the rest of the meeting attempting to participate with all the other people looking down at their notepads to avoid me.

    By the way, that project proceeded with my design and was delivered, as usual, on time and in full working order. So her wrath did nothing but humiliate me. Note to self: why didn’t I quit?

    That outfit, new that very season, was never worn again and left my home in the Goodwill bag the next time they picked up.

    In the should-have-would-have-could-have category. If that ever happens to me again I will stand up and excuse myself. She was the client from hell.

  11. I have to declutter my closet as well, but there are a few things I refuse to get rid of: the long embroidered dress my dear departed mother gave me from the Holy Land theme park. It’s two sizes too small, but it was one of the last things she gave me and I could never part it. My departed dad’s worn fatigue hat that he wore in Vietnam remains in my hat collection as well; need I say more? My satin jacket from Universal Studios Orlando with my name embroidered on it is a souvenir from a job long ago. I feel a strong connection to my former employer and recall the days when it was nothing more than an open field and swamp. I am proud to have been one of the original 225 employees back then.

  12. What a beautiful post, Allie.
    I throw things away ruthlessly these days but we still hang on to my husband’s satin KISS jacket and a shirt that my grandmother bought me for no special reason, close to 30 years ago now.
    I am thinking that maybe your new poncho from Ann Taylor can kind of take the place of your shawl? I like the shawl and can understand how you got lots of use out of it but that hospital smell is apparently there for good, and it’s a memory of pain for you.

  13. I feel like I can declutter every room except the closet. I have barely touched it. I guess there’s a lot of items that make me feel guilty. Working on that 😉 A friend once told me to toss the guilt and only keep the happy. It’s tough for sure!

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