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My body has changed so much over the past decade, my attic is full of bags and boxes from my former selves. My Weight Watchers self, my Whole30 self, my broken arm lying on the couch self, my broken arm power walking every morning self… you get the picture. And here I am, year and a half lifting weights self and I think I may be able to fit into some of my past lives.
I specifically want to fit into one past life – the one that wore my My Morning Jacket fan club t-shirt, perfectly cut to be just off the shoulder with well-worn and well-distressed denim shorts I lovingly frayed and patched from Target of all places. I’m going to a My Morning Jacket show this weekend, it would feel so damn good to wear that same shirt I wore a decade ago.
My husband goes up in the attic for me. His legs and arms are longer, he can reach over the Christmas ornaments and camping equipment we shove right on the perimeter of the ladder opening to the bags and boxes we don’t access as often. He brings down three large contractor bags. Instead of having to carry them down, my new self can grab them from him hanging them above my head and carefully carry them to the ground. This makes me more excited to open the bags, find past stylish selves I can wear again.
The first bag is a bag that probably should have gone straight to the donation center. Overly worn work pants with pills on the inner thighs, polyester silk shells with oil stains, so many blazers with cuffed sleeves. I try a few on, and then decide to donate the whole lot. Even if this past self fits clothing-wise, I am no longer Corporate America Allie and it doesn’t make sense to fill my closet with these pieces anymore.
The second bag is pre-gym Allie. It is like opening a rainbow. Sequins, florals, brocade. Gorgeous dresses from ELOQUII and CityChic, fun going out tops, printed blazers… all two sizes too large. Anything corporate or not pristine I add to the donation pile, the rest I start a bag to Poshmark. I try a few on… I may only be 10 pounds lighter but I swim in these pieces. It feels just like yesterday, but I am no longer that person either physically or style-wise.
The third bag is the one I was looking for. Denim shorts, perfectly cut t-shirts, vintage dresses, funky jackets, several pairs of white jeans. This is a bag from maybe three summers ago. It was one of those big black bags and stuffed to the gills, full of pieces I bagged up because they no longer fit me and therefore didn’t fit my life.
I dug through and found the t-shirt. It fits again, and not like the time I put it on, took it right off and threw it in that bag. And it doesn’t fit the way it did when I wore it to Merriweather Post Pavillion to see My Morning Jacket with Band of Horses as their opener. The one where the weather was perfect, we bumped into my friend Amanda. We hung out on the lawn with friends, then when the show was about to start, thanks to being in the fan club we walked down to our second-row pavilion seats, bumping into a coworker and seeing a few folks we knew from festival-related message boards. Strangers complimented me on my t-shirt, and I proceeded to become a Band of Horses fan and have my face melted off by my favorite band. It’s not the same.
However, unlike the majority of that bag, it works for the current life I am wearing. One that is strong, and sexy, and confident, and comfortable in her skin and age. Instead of being a wide neckline that hangs a bit off one shoulder, it is more of a u-neck. The sleeves I cut to a shorter length seem longer, but looser. The top which used to end just below the waistband of those perfectly worn and distressed denim shorts hangs a bit lower. But I like the changes.
The shorts work too, and like the t-shirt in a different way. They hang differently thanks to firmer thighs and a rounder rear. The tear I held together with safety pins and thought looked cool back then looks pitiful now; I’m going to properly patch it up. While they won’t be ready for this weekend, they will return to regular rotation. They fit the current me, both in size and in lifestyle.
I used to believe in staples, investment pieces. The items every woman needed in her closet that were so universal, so timeless. And sure, they’re a good base if you are starting your style from zero. But most people change. Our bodies change with age, health, food, and activity. We change our haircut or color and suddenly our feelings on scarves, earrings, lipstick, collars, and more switches. And our lives change; I left Corporate America at the end of 2017 and no longer need a closet full of blazers, trousers, blouses, and wrap dresses. But beyond that, I am no longer the same person. Life experiences, beliefs, even books I have read color my views and alter my personal style.
I went through the bag and found this floral off the shoulder maxi. I bought it to wear to the rewardStyle conference in 2017, and even I was terrified to attend but forced myself to do so anyway. I was so nervous about attending (I just KNEW I’d be the biggest body in attendance and one of the oldest) I hired a personal stylist. She picked out this dress, and as soon as I put it on I felt confident. She suggested an orange-red shoe with it, off-white statement earrings and an off-white fringey clutch. I wore it to the last night, the formal evening and felt fantastic. I was comfortable, stylish, my body was made for the dress, I danced all night. I wore that dress again many more times, including when I spoke at the TCF Style Expo. I was excited to find this dress, I have a trip coming up where it will be hot and I need to dress up and it would be a perfect choice.
The dress still fit. It was still comfortable, though a hair too long. But it just didn’t look right. It felt like a costume – too full, too bold a print, too garish of colors. My closet currently holds plenty of printed maxi dresses, some that are off the shoulder, but this one, one I adored so much, it was no longer right. Off to Poshmark.
And this jumpsuit, oh this jumpsuit was sublime. I put it on and felt tall and sophisticated and like I could take on the world. I also wore it to the rewardStyle conference and had people asking where it was from, shocked it was Eliza J and not say DvF. I had so many readers ask if I’d sell it to them; no this is mine, and I know I’ll wear it for years. Until it became too snug, and then now, when it became too much. Before, it gave me curves, was alluring without showing a lot of skin. Now, it feels like I’m wearing a curtain. The print too busy for the current me.
The same with this vintage dress, this silk maxi, this shift dress, and this dress that I rented from Gwynnie Bee and didn’t give back for over a year and finally ended up trying to buy but because I had a gifted membership I couldn’t charge it and it took three weeks of emails and finally they just gave me the dress and I wore it to weddings and even to a Gwynnie Bee event that I hosted in DC. None of them work on the current me.
I could try to make them work. Hell, that’s a lot of money in that pile and there’s no way I’ll recoup even half on Poshmark. Maybe if I shorten the ruffle, have a tailor nip it in here, maybe if it’s knee-length? What if I add a belt? But I know I can put in plenty of money with the tailor and still never wear these things because they’re not me anymore. And if they’re in my closet, I won’t buy the things that are right because I feel I have enough. I will sacrifice my style holding onto my past.
I could be sad about all that wasted money. Why did I buy so many things that now I can’t wear? But the thing is, these pieces worked so well when they did. They gave me confidence, they made me feel sexy, they helped me get to the point of loving my current body for the first time in my life, and that confidence is what inspired me to join a gym and become the person I am now. I look back at photos of me at conferences, at weddings, and here on the blog and am proud of how good I look. I rocked the hell out of these pieces, I proved you can be plus-size and short and over 40 and look like a million bucks. Now that’s an investment piece.
My closet is called a walk-in, but essentially you can walk in, spin in a circle with your arms to your sides, and walk out. It’s a box with three sides having a single rail, which means two sides have half a rail and there’s one long rail in back. That long rail is my wardrobe, and three years ago it was a continuous line of black velvet flocked hangers holding a rainbow. I had to force my way between the hangers to get out a jacket or dress. Now, my closet holds a third of the clothes. My life is so different, and with it my style. I wasn’t wrong then, and I am not wrong now. Neither self was bad, both are beautiful and strong and making her wardrobe the book jacket for the novel of her life.
I took out three bags, but kept only a handful of pieces. And that sounds about right for a life that is constantly evolving. Take part of your past with you on your journey, but keep room for new memories and future experiences. I’m excited to take this t-shirt from my past with me this weekend to make new memories in it.
It’s been a while since I’ve visited here, but Alison you are still amazing! I’m going to have to go back and read a bunch of posts to catch up on your journey – you continue to inspire late-40s, short, unstylish me. Thank you.
Now about this gym fella…
Alison Gary says
Thank you so much, Melanie I’m glad you stopped by again! <3
Tina YB says
This blog is EVERYTHING. So beautifully written, grounded, thoughtful, deep, essential. Thank you, Allie!!
I also have the bags of clothes of various sizes sitting in the wardrobe. I agree that even if it fits, it doesn’t mean its “you”. I also find that even though I love(d) a piece, and it fits etc etc, sometimes I just get over it and don’t want to wear it any more. Sometimes those pieces can go for a rest and come back the following year, but most of the time they don’t – maybe one jacket and one top has made the grade?
Re the larger sized stuff, I have made a rule that I only keep clothing that I would want to wear now if it fitted. That seems to deal with the desire to keep wardrobes at various sizes. I figure if I get up to size (or down to a size) I probably won’t want to wear most of what fits at that sizes. I’ve donated quite a bit lately, finally.
I ran a beer booth at Forecastle from 2014-2016!
What a fun read! I loved all of these outfits on you, especially the jumpsuit with the orange pumps. Your evolving style is inspirational and I’ve learned so much following your posts.
-applause- Such a thoughtful piece, so well written. And there’s other questions to unpack here: what’s the best way to update? Does all this mean capsule wardrobes for who-we-are-now are the way to go?
Nihongo Dame Desu says
I remember that hot pink wrap dress when it first appeared. I was obsessed. I still am. Off to Poshmark…
Nihongo Dame Desu says
Ah, I thought the links might be to the Poshmark listings, but I see they aren’t. Is it possible for you ti give those links? Or at least some search terms I might be able to use to find that dress (and maybe all your items?) on Poshmark?
I haven’t listed yet I am on a trip it won’t be for a couple of weeks. I’ll share on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when I’ve updated the shop!
Another great post Allie. This one really resonated as I’ve got several boxes of the former me just hanging around in my closet (no attics here in Florida, well a tiny space with a pull down ladder where it’s probably 200 degrees right now). You’ve given me food for thought as I need to do a purge. I know I’m holding on to things that have no hope of fitting again or that will be out of style/no longer my style if they ever did. I did notice though that a good accessory stands the test of time. I’ve got some bags and jewelry that I still use and I’ve had them before my daughter was born (and she’s 23!). Seriously….when will you be writing that book??
Enjoy the concert and wearing your t-shirt this weekend.
Great read! I can so relate to having favorite clothes that I save and save, and then one day I have to admit the current me is never going to wear them. My life has changed, and like you, I’m no longer in corporate America. My closet has a lot of space now, and that’s OK. I love most everything I own and wear most of it. And I go through it seasonally and admit to myself that this item or that is history.
As an aside, I love that I am the third “Laurel” to comment. This NEVER happens to me. Hi, Laurels! 🙂
Here here…totally agree with everyone. You write like we’re are just sitting and talking and so down to earth.
When are you writing a book. You really need to do one. No sugar coating for you (which I like) but life’s honesty with just a little icing! I’m with you kiddo!
Susan L says
This article really spoke to me- the past versions of me leading to the me that I am now. I have been slowly letting go of the clothing that speaks of past life. Thank goodness for me that Eileen Fisher recycles her clothes because it made the parting a little easier. Thanks for putting all of these feels into words.
What a fantastic post, but I was hoping for a “grand finale” photo of you today! No matter, I completely agree re investment pieces — those I spent a lot of money on, were stylish for a year or two, and now look hopelessly dated, even if they still fit. It’s amazing how color or print or the cut of a lapel can make a “classic” and expensive item suddenly look frumpy.
I loved your comment on being able to hold the bags coming from the attic over your head! Yay!
MD Smith says
Good morning, and THANK YOU for this column! Like some of the other commenters, I sold my house and everything in it and have lived out of two suitcases for the past two years. Deciding what clothing I could keep was even harder than deciding what kitchen toys I could store! It was not entirely that I no longer needed a corporate wardrobe, or that my measurements changed drastically. I had a lot of things because I loved the fabric. Harris Tweed, cashmere sweaters, the prettiest peachy-pink silk dress, etc., etc. I’ve worn the pink silk twice in the last 15 years, but it paid for itself just hanging in the closet where I could touch it and smile with pleasure. All those things had to go to new homes, and I miss them for the pleasure they brought me. Now that I am settled again (for at least a year), I will no doubt acquire clothing and kitchen toys again, but the pile will not get so big (never say never). I am unlikely to have china/crystal/silver enough to serve 12 for dinner, or a dozen cashmere sweaters, or four (count them! FOUR!) Irish “fisherman” sweaters, but we’ll see what’s there in a year.
This wonderful post is a great example of why I always read your blog. Your thoughtful, positive attitude toward past purchases as they relate to how life evolves, for all of us, is very refreshing. Thanks Allie!
Ann Marie says
Thanks for the post. There is so much on the Internet and Youtube today about “sustainability” and how you should have a capsule wardrobe of investment pieces you wear over and over again for years. While I don’t believe in buying cheap clothes you wear once, I always wonder whether people pushing what they call “sustainability” realize that our bodies change, careers change, styles change, tastes change, and that clothes just don’t last forever when you have to wear them to work every day. I am proud that 95% of the clothes and shoes I get rid of are clothes and shoes that are worn out and therefore go straight to textile recycling. Therefore, I don’t feel bad when I have to get rid of that 5% of clothing and shoes that are still in good shape but just aren’t my style anymore or are something I used to love but don’t anymore. Those go straight to Goodwill. Life is too short to be wearing clothes and shoes that no longer fit your style, life, or body.
Linda B says
Inspiring post, Alison ! I am traveling for a few weeks, but when I go home I am going to face my closet in a new way, based on what you shared here!
Laughing about the “curtain” jumpsuit….you really look bad ass confident in that outfit. You are right, we’d use it in our firm quickly! However, I use the one in one out rule for clothing and when something is snug (happens more as we mature) those items go out quickly. Comfort and style can be the same and you show us that every week.
I love this post, too. I have all the boxes of too-small clothes in my attic, and so many dreams tied up in someday being able to wear them again — all the while knowing that my life and my style have changed to the extent that most of them wouldn’t work even if they did fit. What I love about this though is that this post didn’t mourn the loss of the clothes or the missed opportunity to wear them – it celebrated the growth and evolution and the years of life and progress that happened since the last time they were worn. Remembering how happy they once made you, and then lovingly letting them go – it’s a lesson that’s much bigger than clothes or style. Thank you!
Ooooooooh, good, good post. I settled in with a cup of decaf, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Thumbs up!
Love this post. It’s a great reminder to me at least to think about the fact that 90% of the clothes you buy today, even things you love, probably won’t work in two or three years. Could be because of weight gain/loss but more likely just because of evolved styles, tastes, and attitudes. I have stuck with Gwynnie Bee all the time partly because I buy less clothes – but I certainly still buy some.
I am taking this post and it’s replies down into the basement with me to inspire the purge I know I need to make. We are remodeling and need the space. While it is hard to say goodbye to the evidence of all the mes I used to be, I am ready to celebrate the current me.
Deb Heinler says
I thought it was just me. One year ago, we made the decision to sell our business and our home and travel the US. At the time, I had at least 10 totes full of clothing. I sorted through it, eliminating the office wear and things too stuffy for our life on the road. I kept the things I loved- but I still had 4 totes of clothing. So some went to storage. I went back to find Summer things and most of what I saved no longer held the same appeal. I wear clothing that is more free spirited as I don’t feel the need to fit into a box anymore. Most of what I saved, while it still fit, felt like it belonged to someone else- after reading your story, I guess actually it did. It belongs to “me” that no longer exists.
I did my major downsizing two years ago; five trips to vintage shop, seven trips to consignment, bags to family and friends and bags to Goodwill and still have a lot of stuff! But everything I own fits in one closet except coats. No bins of mystery tucked away in the condo storage locker.
I still have too many clothes. I have bought very little the last two years after we moved … right next to a mall! And when I do buy something, the equivalent item has to be given away or donated … i.e. I bought three pairs of NYDJ jeans when I decided to buy the most flattering I could. I’ve donated four pair of old jeans and gave a friend another four pair.
I’m trying to do better about buying and/or keeping clothes that fit the life I actually live, not the fantasy life in my head. Hence the leopard print faux suede trench I bought at the Nordstrom sale went back to the store, along with the long black Barefoot dreams cardigan. I did keep a pair of pajamas I’m loving and a twist front sweater I’m looking forward to wearing this fall. Those I’ll wear and enjoy.
It was a lot of fun reading your post. And Jane’s comments echoed what I’m thinking ….
This past year I have been editing my wardrobe like crazy. Clothes that I used to love but haven’t worn are going. A year or two ago I wasn’t ready to let them go but now I am . I have a bag full of stuff in my trunk to take to the thrift. I could easily do another round and get rid of more. Some are things that just never really worked well to begin with, others are things I wore alot but 8 years ago and that stuff just isn’t me anymore. And I am ok with that. More than ok I am happy with where I am in life and I am ok with letting go of who I was 10 years ago when I was having babies. Letting go might be the wrong word, I look back fondly but I don’t necessarily want to dress like her any more.