Why I Donated a Flattering Dress

Let’s talk about that silver dress. If you’re not sure what silver dress I’m talking about, it’s the one above, first seen in this blog post from 2015, but re-shared in this Weekend Reads and this Instagram post where I received several comments saying I should keep the dress because it’s so flattering, could prove useful, and in general, should not be purged in the recent closet cleanout I performed.

Let’s talk about why such a dress SHOULD be purged, and why pieces like this gorgeous, flattering, and fabulous dress should not be in my closet or yours.

 
 
 
 
 
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Happy New Year, bitches! Here's to a year being damn proud of whoever and whatever you are! Love you!!!! ❤️ #wo2nye

A post shared by Alison Gary | Wardrobe Oxygen (@wardrobe_oxygen) on

I purchased this dress in 2015 for New Year’s Eve. I already had plans, a party at my sister’s house. She hosted a New Year’s Eve party every year and it was always a blast. She had multiple disco balls, would drape her walls in twinkle lights, play the best music. Her small rowhome would be so full of friends the party would spill out to the front step, the back deck, and the backyard, even if it was freezing, snowing, or raining. There would be a firepit, plenty of cocktails, plenty of laughter, and as the night progressed, there would be dancing. I knew that a good portion of the night would be spent outside in the cold, and I would be on my feet the entire time, yet I purchased a sleeveless knee-length dress that looked best with a pair of heels. I felt the dress was so fabulous, it was worth it.

A photo from the night with my beautiful friends all dressed for the weather while I froze for fashion

Worth it how? The night before the party, I had a mild panic attack trying to figure out how to style this to work on a freezing cold night. I ended up wearing black fleece tights with black flats, which totally ruined the look of the dress but it was a necessity. The sequins snagged the tights making them unwearable ever again. The sequins rubbed against my arms as I danced, leaving scratches and a rash.  I didn’t want to hide the dress under a coat, but eventually, I was too cold to function and put one on, though I took it off for any photos. Yeah, this dress made me THAT person at a party.

Despite this experience, I kept the dress. Such a classic and flattering silhouette it wouldn’t go out of style and work if I gained or lost a few pounds. Because it was matte, not sparkly sequins, it wouldn’t be too outlandish for a more formal evening wedding and would be great for cocktail parties or theme parties. It really didn’t look good with any shoes I owned, the silver pumps from the original post ended up breaking a couple of months later, but whatever, if the situation arose I’d find a solution.

I was invited to an event where the dress code was sequins. I didn’t wear the dress, I instead wore a sparkly top I also owned with pants which I felt looked fierce, fun, and didn’t require me to buy new shoes.

Many times I've worn a “lady tux”: for a sponsored post in 2017, to a blogger event in 2018, for a blog post in January 2019, a blog post in December 2019, a gala in November 2019, and another blog post in November 2019. I realized I had no need for two lady tuxes and gave away the one in the bottom three photos and kept the one from 2017 seen in the top three photos.

I was invited to a formal evening event. I didn’t wear the dress, instead, I wore a black “lady tux.”

I was invited to another event where the dress code was “sparkle.” Yet again, I didn’t choose the dress but instead wore a very sparkly and more festive feeling piece I borrowed from Rent the Runway.

When I had a chance to wear the sequined dress, I instead wore a black jumpsuit I had worn many times before. Seen in 2017 for a sponsored post, 2018 heading to a blogger event, in 2019 for an outfit post, and 2018 for the gala.

I got invited to a gala, a place where such a dress would be perfect, but instead, I wore a simple black jumpsuit in my closet that I had worn and loved many times over the years, this time with my most sparkly statement jewelry.

Point is, situations arose over the past five years, yet I never reached for this dress, nor did I buy anything new to wear in its place. It is beautiful, it is flattering, it could be worn for a variety of situations, but it is not right for me and my life.

When performing a proper closet cleanout, it is imperative to take everything out of your closet and try it all on. This seems like such a pain in the rear; you KNOW that suit fits, you just wore that dress last month, some things are a given, right? But by trying on each item and looking in the mirror, you’re given a chance for a reality check. Sure that suit fits, but come on when was the last time you wore it? And more importantly, were there situations between that time and now where it could have been an appropriate outfit choice yet you chose something else to wear? Why did you make that decision and why do you think that suit may miraculously be chosen next time?

Unless you have two dresses in your closet and nothing else, you likely have more clothing than you will ever need. There is no need to wear a brand new thing for every event you attend. There is no need to have backup pieces if you have a core wardrobe of items that fit and flatter not only you but your lifestyle. A functional closet is not an art gallery. More clothing does not equal more style.

In 2017, I saw this jumpsuit on a blogger and found her LikeToKnow.it profile to get the information. It was on clearance at Lord & Taylor, only available in my size. It has never been featured on the blog but was worn in 2017 to a blog conference (seen with Patrice from Afrobella), to an event at the Four Seasons Washington (with my friends Anina, Hilary, and Sylvia), to a Soma event in Florida last year (with SheShe, Tanya, Shauna, and Cathy), and to Chico's 35th anniversary trip in 2018 (here with Nikki from Nikki Free Style). I again wore this jumpsuit last weekend at home to watch the Zoom stream of a friend's wedding.

When trying on everything in my closet, it had me run through the past few years of my life. The events I attended, what I wore, and how I felt in them. I thought about the pieces that repeatedly were worn without concern that they were repeatedly worn because they were so great – my black jumpsuit from Kohl’s, my Talbots lady tux, my printed one-shoulder jumpsuit from Lauren Ralph Lauren, my pink Banana Republic pantsuit, my black silk MYNE LA dress… these are pieces that I feel are easy, stylish, fierce, and feel good even if I am under the weather or bloated. They are pieces that have multiple shoes, multiple bags, and multiple accessories already in my closet to style them and switch them up based on the occasion. They don't require a lot of effort but always make me look like I put forth effort.

I couldn’t say the same for the silver sequined dress. And that is why it was purged during the closet cleanout.

Removing items from a closet doesn’t mean replacements need to be purchased; quite the contrary. I removed so much from my closet that I stuffed multiple contractor bags that are hiding in my office closet and my attic for when thrift stores reopen and/or I can host a shop my closet to fundraise for an organization. It was scary to remove that much, but I found by doing so I could more clearly see my personal style along with what I owned. I began wearing pieces that were collecting dust; the try-on made me realize how well it fit my body as well as my current life. I saw how pieces could be styled differently, how I could achieve more fun looks with fewer garments. Having a closet with space made it more enjoyable to enter it, made it easier to keep it organized, made me actually look forward to putting away clean laundry.

When I decided to do a closet cleanout, I started thinking about how my closet was full of suits and cocktail dresses and heels; these are things I don’t see myself wearing anytime soon considering what is going on in the world. I was thinking I’d pack these things up until later and just have my closet be things I can wear now. Rosana from DC Style Factory, who guided me through my closet cleanout, expressly said to NOT do that. My closet should be now and my future. By trying on the items, it wasn’t upsetting, it actually made me feel positive about the future and the ability to wear these items again. It made me think of how I would wear them once I could; would I still wear that pantsuit with pumps, or would I maybe want to get the pants hemmed to work with flats? Why keep a clutch if my current phone is too big to fit in it; do I really think I’ll ever have a smaller screen? Does that dress have to be reserved for dressy occasions, or could I boho it up with some Birkenstocks and hoop earrings? If those shoes hurt me now, imagine how they will feel after months of only wearing flats; do I want to break my feet into such shoes again or am I ready to move forward with my footwear? That dress was expensive and the fabric is amazing but it’s always snug across the shoulders, am I keeping it because I’ll wear it or because I feel guilty for buying it in the first place?

Other questions were asked like why do I own 22 pairs of jeans when I wear the same three pairs over and over? I know I love a leopard belt but why do I own five with two the same exact width with the same metal tone of belt?

Embrace what you love and loves you back, break up with that which doesn’t deserve you. Something can be beautiful and practical and flatter without being right for you. It’s not you that is the problem, it’s the clothes. Just like most people benefit from a therapist, most clothes benefit from a tailor. Once you have a great closet, it needs regular attention and respect to remain great. Sounds a lot like advice for relationships? Well, your closet is an extension of the relationship with yourself. And I realized there is no place in this relationship for my silver sequined dress. I hope in the future it makes another person very happy.

34 Comments

  1. Alex
    May 14, 2020 / 12:13 pm

    Alison I would love to give a new home to one of your leopard belts:) thank you for a great blog!

  2. Nihongo Dame Desu
    May 12, 2020 / 8:56 pm

    Fantastic post, and lots of great direction as I tackle bits and pieces of my closet. (Doing it all is overwhelming, but I can handle a section every couple weeks.

    I do go to fancy cocktail parties often and love wearing different dresses. So, would you mind sharing what you are doing with the silver sequin number? I do think it might get some love from my closet…

  3. Terrylee
    May 12, 2020 / 8:52 pm

    Great post! I have been purging but your example of the flattering dress has really made me see the light ..ha! I also keep stuff just in case but when the occasion to wear it comes up for some reason it just isn’t right. This makes so much sense to me and comes at the perfect time when I am bringing out my spring/summer clothes from storage. When I pack up the winter/fall I will only keep the things I actually wear and love. I will get rid of the Loft sweaters that I really loved and are so cute and my style but after washing the fabric/fit looks terrible but I have kept them out of guilt…out they go! I do love the black jumpsuit especially with the sparkly bow belt, I would love to have that in my closet and I agree it was perfect for those occasions. Also, Love your Lord and Taylor jumpsuit it was meant for you!

  4. Linda B
    May 12, 2020 / 8:00 pm

    Great advice here! It makes me want to do another closet clean out. I did one before the pandemic lock down, but I think this experience has actually clarified what I love to wear, and what I don’t. And what I won’t wear again most likely, even if I like it still, now that I am retired–that is clearer from all this home time too.

  5. Anne
    May 12, 2020 / 7:33 pm

    Thanks for this! I think I know how to tackle my closet now. It’s long overdue and has been so overwhelming but the advice here makes me really feel like it will be the way I can get it done.

  6. Marlise
    May 12, 2020 / 7:28 pm

    Wow, this was a fantastic post! I have a few things I’m holding on to but I need to reevaluate. Thank you for the inspiration. Also, did you do a jewelry purge as well? That is harder for me in some ways.

  7. Kim
    May 12, 2020 / 6:22 pm

    Wow Alison, what a fantastic post. Reading your blog over the last few years has really changed how I approach shopping, but this post in particular spoke to me. I constantly wrestle with the person I wish I were clothing-wise, versus the person I actually am. Who I actually am hates synthetic fabrics and anything too restrictive (even though I love vintage-inspired fashion and the look of tailored clothes), and as much as I love bright colors I rarely reach for those items in my closet because I am introverted and don’t want to call attention to myself. At 40, I am finally ok with who I am as a person, but when shopping I lose myself in the fantasy of the person I could be if I only had that….dress/skirt/blazer whatever. Posts like this help to remind me that acting on the fantasy only leads to guilt about spending money on things that don’t fit my actual life – the life I am quite happy with, thank you very much!

  8. Emily
    May 12, 2020 / 12:46 pm

    It’s like you knew what I needed to read today! I’ve been putting off a closet purge but I know what I’ll be tackling this weekend 🙂

  9. Anne Pape
    May 12, 2020 / 12:45 pm

    Loved reading this. As I am prepping myself for a closet purge, this really helped me realize what I need to let go of. All of the dressy dresses that I haven’t worn in 5 years…holding onto for “just in case”… that I know deep down they all don’t fit me anymore. And, the rack of clothes in the guest room that are for when I loose the weight…. that hasn’t changed in a few years. The relationship with myself / closet really hit home on this post.

  10. Candice
    May 12, 2020 / 12:07 pm

    I love your lady tux! Any recommendations for getting one for a plus-size petite lady in 2020?

    • May 12, 2020 / 2:40 pm

      The two I own/owned are both from Talbots and they seem to carry one every year just before the holidays. It comes in misses, petite, plus, and plus petite sizes and I sure hope they have another one this year.

  11. Aleta Hong
    May 12, 2020 / 12:03 pm

    Excellent piece. I have been working for so long to create a closet that has multifunctional pieces that can be dressed up or down. This past year I had to buy several pieces for specific weddings events (4 day long Indian wedding in India, and a black tie wedding when I really don’t have formalwear). I was able to reuse the black tie gown at a different formal party later in the year, which made me feel good, but I really am working on not buying clothes for a specific occasion. It’s so easy to be sucked into I’m going to a wedding and need something to wear ignoring what is already in our closet. I have to say the dress that has gotten me the furthest for semi-formal events was like $25 at Target in 2010. It always gets compliments. While I don’t really buy fast fashion any more I have no regrets about that dress.

    • May 12, 2020 / 2:42 pm

      I can so relate to your Target dress, I had a similar one from Old Navy that did me well, worked for so many occasions for years. I found it on the clearance rack for $19.99. Our stories are proof that money doesn’t equal quality, and great items can be found at all retailers and pricepoints!

  12. Cynthia
    May 12, 2020 / 11:30 am

    This is such a great read. Over the years, I’ve heard this advice in various ways, but your example with the sequence dress is the best by far. I hadn’t really thought about it that way and it just clicked with this post. Thank you.

    • May 12, 2020 / 2:42 pm

      My pleasure, I am glad it resonated with you!

  13. Lainey
    May 12, 2020 / 10:33 am

    This is such a great post. Over the past 10 years, I’ve switched jobs twice to offices with progressively less formal dress codes. Oh, and I’ve also had two kids and gained about 20 lbs. Yet, until recently, I still found myself gravitating toward styles that would have suited my lifestyle and body in 2010. A closet purge helped me realize that I was doing this and break that habit.

    • May 12, 2020 / 2:43 pm

      It’s amazing how… therapeutic a closet cleanout can be!

  14. Susan
    May 12, 2020 / 9:27 am

    Thanks for this. I had a gorgeous black silk dress I bought almost 15 years ago for a formal event. I think I wore it twice. My mom borrowed it and wore it once. Otherwise it hung in my closet for ten years. When I first started experimenting with apps like Poshmark, it was one of the first things I sold. Because it just didn’t fit my life and I consistently reached for other things when I had the occasion to dress up. But I started second guessing myself and missed the dress. But I know if I had kept it, it would have hung in the closet unworn.

    • Shannon
      May 12, 2020 / 1:44 pm

      Thank you for this! You just simplified my closet cleaning. I have been cleaning out my closet in small bits based on the time I have. And, I don’t have an extensive wardrobe. (I only have one pair of jeans.) I have some blouses I was going to try on but now will only try on 2 or 3 of them, if that. I haven’t thought about them for quite awhile. My dresser drawers are done.

    • May 12, 2020 / 2:43 pm

      Exactly. We can’t regret that which we let go. We’re seeing it through rose-colored glasses. We let it go for a reason and need to trust we made the right decision.

  15. Lee
    May 12, 2020 / 9:27 am

    Such great advice! My closet still needs to be purged but I haven’t gotten to that (yet?) during this quarantine time. There is something to be said for letting go of clothes & shoes that are uncomfortable, don’t fit well, etc. In the past few years, I’ve really tried to buy things that I “love” as opposed to things that are just ok. Still a work in progress so it’s helpful to read a post like this.

    • May 12, 2020 / 2:45 pm

      It’s hard, I still catch myself justifying an “okay” thing because it’s cheaper or easier. I need to remember I don’t need more, I don’t need now. I can go slowly, and by shopping slowly I am less likely to have panicked moments of nothing to wear!

  16. Krista
    May 12, 2020 / 9:08 am

    This reinforced the decisions I made during my own closet clean out. Namely a black cocktail dress. Worn for a gala and in the closet ever since. Our lifestyle will change again very soon (our son is graduating). It no longer has a place in my lifestyle. Yes it’s really nice. But it never quite hit in just the right place and that little pucker at the bottom of the zipper annoys me. So off it went. If I truly need another black cocktail dress, I’ll shop for one that will fill my needs better.

  17. May 12, 2020 / 8:24 am

    I do a closet clean twice a year. I hate looking in the closet and seeing clothes I purchased that 1) don’t fit 2) never looked good on me but I bought because it was a bargain, and 3) clothes that no longer fit my lifestyle. Since putting on weight, I have gotten rid of tons of clothes that no longer make me feel good about myself. Who hasn’t thought to themselves, well, if I lose those ten pounds that item will fit better?? I totally understand about the sequin dress. Sequins and beading are scratchy on the underarms.

    • May 12, 2020 / 2:46 pm

      Such cleanouts are not easy but they are so freeing!

  18. RoseAG
    May 12, 2020 / 7:56 am

    Someone else can enjoy it now.

  19. Dee
    May 12, 2020 / 6:28 am

    Agree. Sometimes when I am trying to decide about a piece of clothing, I ask myself “Would I wear this to X? or Would I wear something else?”

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