Everyone cares about clothes
Even my dad, who holds his shoes together with tape
I’ve been listening to season 3 of the lauded podcast Articles of Interest, which focuses on the endurance of “American Ivy” style and all of the unusual confluences that made it so long-lasting.
Even though it’s not my world at all, I’ve found the season to be surprisingly engaging, many thanks to the vivid reporting of its host, Avery Trufelman, formerly a producer at 99% Invisible.
I have never been fashionable nor aspired to be known as such, but I am very interested in clothes and the decisions that people make about them. Fashion, as the exercise and pursuit of sartorial trends, is not interesting to me, but clothing and all of its attendant worldviews intrigue me to no end.
People who say they “don’t care about clothes” are trying to say that they’re not fussy or trendy or materialistic, but they’re fundamentally not telling the truth. Everyone cares about clothes. Everyone makes daily choices about clothes. Everyone is expressing something about themselves in what they choose to wear. Wearing ripped cargo shorts with Dri-Fit T-shirts and Adidas slides held together with duct tape is a deliberate style, Jak Farson, and I know you don’t want to admit it.
I’m fascinated by clothes as an outward-facing practice of personal philosophy—and all of the sticky ways what we wear intersects with class, consumerism, and culture.
Style is elusive
I admire people who consistently dress well, just like I admire those who can surf or do handstands. I admire them because I know I’ll never be like them.
I am not stylish. I treat dressing like an intellectual exercise. I think, and have long thought: Perhaps if I study stylish people long enough, if I examine what choices they make, I too will become stylish, through great academic effort. This, of course, is not at all how it works, but I persist in my false thinking all the same. My sister Grace is very stylish and can pull absurd garments out of a pile of clothes at Goodwill and look like a million bucks. If you told me you’d give me a million bucks to do the same, I couldn’t do it. I’d look like a deranged humanities professor the morning after learning they didn’t get tenure.
I can perceive when someone has great style, but I’ll never be able to replicate it.
Personal taste changes
I wore genuinely abominable things in high school and college, and my “style” was all over the map. I had no idea what suited me. In college, I would vacillate wildly between garish prep (a hot-pink cable-knit sweater especially haunts my memory) and dull middle-aged office worker (think Pam in The Office). This is the benefit and curse of being a homeschooled girl. No one was shaming me for not wearing cool clothes, and also, no one was shaming me for not wearing cool clothes. I had no idea how to dress myself.
It wasn’t until after I married that I started to think about what I wanted to wear and start applying some mental energy to choosing clothes. For the first decade of our marriage, I wanted to look like a Franco-Japanese schoolboy. I dreamed of a closet full of tiny blazers and tiny black pants. I loved loafers and Oxford shoes. I acquired many blouses and button-downs. I don’t think I ever really achieved this look, but it was clear in my head at least.
Motherhood changed my style dramatically, as I think it does for many women. Now I’m all about Sexy Little House on the Prairie, and I’ve acquired many giant floral dresses toward that end. I want to look and feel persuasive, fertile, and productive, like I just hung up a line of laundry to dry in a field and I’m about to go make some bread and another baby. Other reasons:
Wearing a dress requires exactly one decision, and then you’re done for the day.
Prairie/boho is far more suitable for me than preppy, which I wanted to emulate when I was younger. Having curly/wavy hair, I always felt like I had to have straight hair to pull off Ivy style. It never looked right on me.
I feel good in a dress, and always have, ever since I was tiny. My mother says she used to try to put me in shorts and pants when I was a toddler, and I’d take them off and demand to be put back in a dress.
I dislike having a full closet
It stresses me to have a packed wardrobe (even though I do have an ungodly number of dresses now, for all the aforementioned reasons).
Part of growing up has meant rejecting fast fashion and trying to hold on to things, get great at laundry, and improve my mending skills. (After my last sad post, Mary gave me her sewing machine, which I am determined to learn how to use, even if only to sew my rags!)
Getting good at laundry and garment care has been a real game-changer for me in this respect. It makes me appreciate what I have and remain invested in keeping it for a long time (and then it further reinforces the desire to buy well-made, durable clothes).
Admit that you also think about what you are wearing
Everyone has to make some decisions about what to put on each day. I love hearing about how people make those decisions.
If you also find clothes intellectually interesting, one of my favorite books on the subject is Women in Clothes, edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton. I re-read it every other year or so because it continues to hold my interest deeply. It’s a very strange book, and I think a lot of people hate it, but I come back to it all the time.
When we host dinner guests, Guion is very busy. He spends 50% of the evening making the extravagant food and intoxicating cocktails, and then the other 50% of the evening making sure I don’t say something mortifying. I always have a great time and am responsible for setting the table, lighting a few candles, and then running my mouth. He’s exceptionally accommodating to my bad personality.
The boys have been sick with another virus from school, and I’m sure this is why, but they have been real jagweeds lately. We still love them and all that, but they have been so unpleasant for a week or more. The whining and shrieking have been at all-time highs. Bedtime cannot come soon enough.
Yesterday they were both screaming in separate rooms for separate unremarkable reasons, and I heard Guion say under his breath: “Everyone in this family needs therapy.” He’s probably not wrong!
Washi tape: The unsung hero of home organization
Everyone has some little add-on that makes home organization better. For me, it’s washi tape, the Japanese paper-masking tape.
Its uses are manifold:
Labeling everything (jars in the pantry and freezer, storage boxes, etc.)
Taping things to the wall without damage
Decorating mail and packages
Entertaining the children
I use a fine-tip Sharpie to write on the tape, which works like a dream and doesn’t smudge. It’s much more charming to use this than a label-maker, which smacks of insensibility and coldness. Far better to see your handwriting on some cute tape.
Don’t buy American-made knock-off washi tape (from, say, Target or elsewhere). You’ll regret it, as I have. It does not adhere as well, it’s thinner, and it’s less beautiful. I stick exclusively to the Japanese brand MT, which you can find on Amazon in this basic set of 10, and other places, such as Etsy and JetPens, for the prettier and more decorative patterns.
Now go forth and label.