Tales From the Back of the Closet

The calendar says spring and my thoughts have turned to cleaning out my closet. In my case, plenty of  thinking = no actual doing. How exciting (let alone easy to get dressed) would life be if I could just locate half the clothing stored in there somewhere; not that my closet aspirations rise anywhere near the level of something seen in The Coveteur.

I’ve sadly become a silent stalker of The Real Real (high-end consignment which will send an actual human to amass a collection of valued castoffs) and Fitz (yourfitz.com) which dispatches two organizer/stylists to your house for several hours to weed out/ prune/cultivate your overgrown closet and even (time allowing) make wardrobe suggestions. I have not actually been able to click here to challenge either of these sites to make good on their claims. I’m pretty sure it would take the wielding of a weed whacker to machete through this turf of overgrown, over burgeoned and overburdened closet acreage.

They say the average person wears only 20% of their wardrobe with any regularity. My numbers may be even lower lately as I live off a fairly steady winter diet consisting of a rotating stack of skinny jeans. All of that changes drastically once warmer weather arrives. If my closet had an eating disorder it would be gluttony: I need it to binge and purge. A Freudian’s diagnosis: anal retentive. Many ill advised purchases have taken up residence due to TFW you spy something, be it at a sample sale; an exotic locale; or from SUI (Shopping Under the Influence). For sure, drunk shopping is regrettable but couple it with the exotic locale and you’ve got real potential for trouble. Unfortunately, I know firsthand.

Once, after a wine-soaked lunch at The Ivy, I ventured over to Rodeo Drive and purchased a very expensive, somewhat heinous silver cocktail dress, oddly enough from the short-lived line of (see book cover) Chris Benz — that almost fit.  Of course by the time I had a possible occasion to wear it, it didn’t come close to fitting. (I don’t know about your experiences but in my closet resides an evil genie with magically unwanted powers. How else to explain clothing that’s been shrunken in the hip area)!

Annabella Hochschild
Crayola dress bought for $8 at St. Marks Place

Since misery loves company, imagine my glee in finding this delightful little diversion entitled “I Actually Wore This: Clothes We Can’t Believe We Bought” (out next Tuesday — preorder here ). This is the brainchild of Emmy-nominated writer and filmmaker Tom Coleman with photos by fashion, portrait and celebrity photographer Jerome Jakubiec. I was intrigued the minute I laid eyes on the cover photo: the aforementioned Bill Blass Creative Director Chris Benz in a Comme des Garcons leather rabbit-eared baseball cap purchased in Tokyo. “If I was invited to an Easter Egg Hunt at a leather bar, I’d have just the thing.” If Rei Kawakubo had anything to do with it perhaps he can drag it out for the upcoming Met Gala, although Madonna already did those Louis Vuitton rabbit ears). Hmmm…your thoughts?

Linda Fargo

Inside the book are 80 photos with brief narrative accounts, emulating the form of street-style chronicles like The Sartorialist but with a twist, from a varied group (no word on how they were selected) of normally style conscious individuals. Perhaps most notably is Bergdorf’s Linda Fargo — a hot pink Philip Lim suit “the color of strawberry Twizzlers” worn, unforgivably in a sea of black is the worst she can come up with? I noticed that many of the items of questionable taste were those deemed an unflattering or obnoxious color, those that culturally appropriated (there’s that exotic locale for you), are too costume-y,  or those that just didn’t suit the occasion or the lifestyle they were purchased for. Here’s how Coleman explains it:

While working on the book, some common themes arose in terms of why and how the regrettable items ended up in people’s closets. Sample sales were the culprit more than once, as it seems people are willing to buy Misfit-Toy fashion if it’s drastically reduced and slapped with the name of a designer they recognize. “Who knows, I might wear a Chanel gas mask someday.” Vintage boutiques, resale shops, and secondhand stores, no matter what you call them,they too supplied a handful of items for our pantheon of regrettable garments. This proves that bad taste, much like the German measles, needs to be eradicated quickly so that it cannot spread to future generations.

Molly Shannon

From SNL alumni Molly Shannon’s floral jumpsuit bought for a girls weekend at a fancy ranch in Carmel (her Southern friend said it screamed “resoooort” prompting her into a quick change),to a twice worn Cheeto-orange cocktail dress purchased by art dealer Lee Potter, to apparel entrepreneur Tim Convery’s Yeti suit (yeah it’s a costume he actually wore 20 times!), the idea is that these items appeared in public (for the most part) and the wearer tells the where, why, how and how much the offending item set them back.

Rachel Antonoff
1980’s dress by Geoffrey Beene bought at a Vermont thrift store
for a New Year’s Eve party

The consistently humorous tone taken here is no doubt edited by Coleman. Most of the items are really not that bad — the fact that they were held onto oftentimes for years is also occasionally addressed here. Case in point: the pink embroidered sample sale coat purchased by The New Yorker’s deputy fiction editor Cressida Leyshon and worn once, which somehow followed her through several office moves (she says you can have it if you stop by her office) and of course, the “sweaty” Yeti.

Chip Kidd

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book. Chip Kidd, cover designer and co-author of True Prep, on his $250 rugby shirt bought for a sailing trip finds out that “real sailors wear faded Phish t-shirts and old Patagonia shorts covered in linseed oil, not shirts that make you look like you’re in the chorus of Godspell.” Book editor Ira Silverberg on his Hermes smoking jacket picked up at a 1998 sample sale: “Sample sales make you do crazy things. Items you would normally never buy become must-haves when their prices have been chopped more times than Lizzie Borden’s parents.”

Brooklyn tattoo artist Virginia Elwood on her Ralph Lauren fringed buckskin pants: ” I bought the pants at Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren is a very good place to find clothes for fantasy you, as Ralph deals in all sorts of fantasies. He can transform you into a Park Avenue princess, a prairie settler, a downhill racer — whomever you want to be, chances are Ralph has what you need to get there. He doesn’t mess around.”

Claire Distenfeld

Of course, not all items worn once are a mistake in retrospect. Fivestory boutique owner Claire Distenfeld models her $475 Comme des Garcons sheer top “sunburst” dress bought in 2012, although she considered it out-of-character, as an expression of her post breakup “new me.” She wore the vintage store purchase to meet friends at a bar where she was tapped on the shoulder by — wait for it — her ex-boyfriend. “As for the epilogue of this tale, the dress is now officially retired, and my boyfriend is now my husband. Good work, sunbursts.”

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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