We buy shoes we don’t wear, wear shoes we don’t like and have — buried at the bottom of a drawer — a cute bra that no longer fits.
This is true even if we are men. Well, some men.
If we are other men, what we have at the bottom of the drawer, usually an upper-drawer or the one in the nightstand, is a pair of cufflinks and a tie clip, none of which have been worn since the first Bush administration.
Men also have a number of ties — accessories so unruly they needed clips to keep them in place — but given that so few occasions demand ties these days, they remain, like old Playboy magazines from the 1980s and sweaters hand-knit by old girlfriends, tucked behind something else. They are not quite hidden, not at all valuable, but not quite rubbish. Not yet.
Women have hosiery, not that we ever use the term, with one run near the top or one small hole near the big toe, fixed with either nail polish or hair spray, tucked away so that we can use them in an “emergency.” We have bathing suits that have lost their elasticity, T-shirts that have been washed so many times they’ve lost their shape as well as their design and Capri pants that have lost all hope of being worn by a person declared legally sane.
We might even have a poofy-sleeved Laura Ashley dress stashed somewhere. When I was in college, I saved up for month to purchase a deeply flowered Laura Ashley corduroy peasant dress only to discover that it made me look like a peasant. I looked like I should be picking escarole. All I needed was a basket tucked under one arm.
I gave that Laura Ashley to my tall, thin sister-in-law when she got pregnant and then it perfectly suited its wearer. She looked elegant enough to be taking tea in an English garden. She didn’t look like she should be on a Contadina can. (“Contadina” actually means “Italian peasant woman.”)
Over the years, my spouse and I have given to friends, donated to thrift shops or bagged then shoved into charity bins hundreds of items of clothing. Having bought most of my clothes secondhand when I was a kid, I know that these items usually go to good homes.
But there are still some old relics that haunt me. Even knowing better, I have trouble letting them go. For example, I have beautiful blue suede cowboy boots from wilder days that now press on the single most painful part of my third metatarsal. I might as well use them as matching vases. Yet every time I think “just donate them already,” I dig in my heels, metaphorically of course, and refuse.
Maybe I don’t need an organizer. Maybe I need an exorcist. It’s not that I need mothballs or Hefty bags; I need somebody with salt for the corners of the closet and sage to disperse the clinging memories.
At the very back of the closet, there’s an aggressively unattractive, lace, high-necked jacket that I won’t relinquish. I’ve never worn it. It is the only garment I possess that still has tags.
Nevertheless, I fantasize about the time this will be the absolutely perfect thing to throw over my shoulders and make an entrance. All eyes will turn my way. And although it will be the obvious comment, no one will whisper, “Is she wearing a doily?”
(No kidding: I’ve just gone to look at the jacket again. I think the entrance I’ll be making is onto a stage where I’ll be playing Miss Havisham. Maybe I’ll wear it with Capri pants for the full effect.)
I know I should keep only what fits, flatters and feels comfortable but I might have to hold onto the boots and the lace.
My new motto when it comes to dealing with what’s in my closet it this: Some things you keep for sentimental reasons; when that’s the case, you need to take care of them; most of the time, however, you should let them go.
Basically you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to give ‘em away.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com.