Masks, but make it fashion.

Twice a year, I turn over my closet. In the spring, I pack away wool sweaters and attempt to iron the wrinkles out of linen pants and cotton dresses and hang them ready to wear. In the winter, I reverse the process. It’s a habit born from too many clothes and not enough closet space, and one with which I’ve grown tired. My closet isn’t going to get any bigger, but my wardrobe can be smaller and, like my life now, simpler.

When I had my corporate job, I would try on everything I owned, coordinating pants and tops, checking for fit and fashion. I’d perform the closet cleaning ritual in my robe and underwear, modeling outfits in the mirror as I went. I wonder now if I still had a job, and the day came when we returned to the office or traveled for an event, would I add a mask to complete each ensemble?

Keeping up with fashion, or just feeling comfortable and somewhat fashionable, is hard enough without the mask as a must-have accessory trend. Now, Vogue features where to shop for stylish masks. Nancy Pelosi has a wardrobe of them to match her colorful summer suits and dresses. And, you can buy masks bedazzled with sequins, your favorite sports team logos, or to match your shapewear, thanks to Kim Kardashian West’s Skims brand. Yup, just add a face mask to your cart along with your waist trainer and body tape—masks of a different sort for muffin tops and other imperfections.

            Hasn’t fashion always been about wearing a mask?

My spring closet cleaning came late this year as Vermont’s winter-like weather lasted well into May, but last weekend I tackled it with my usual twisted enthusiasm—part Marie Kondo, part Hoarders. In case you haven’t experienced The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo’s book and Netflix series on The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, her method of tidying closets includes gathering your clothing in one place, thoughtfully considering each piece, and keeping only those that “spark joy.”

I cleared the bed of pillows and pulled everything on hangers from my closet. Next, I tossed polar fleece, tank tops, shorts, sweaters, and pajamas on the pile. I added winter jackets that had been hanging in the mudroom. The heap of clothing teetered; a final addition of underwear brought it to eye-level. There was more. I wiped away the dust dragons that had collected on the plastic shoe storage bag I pulled from under the bed and added a mud-encrusted pile of boots and shoes that were sitting next to the door. Taking a break to survey the mountain of copious consumerism, I felt not an ounce of joy.

I tackled the pile by category rather than by individual piece. I returned the bras, barely touched since March anyway, back to the drawer in a tidy stack. I stored the bulky wool sweaters that I can’t wear on even the coldest days (thank you hot flashes) in the cedar chest, along with other winter gear. The stack of clothes to donate remained small, despite the lack of sparks flying. Hoarding feels better than minimalism these days.

Most of my yoga pants and leggings were in the wash, but I wouldn’t have given up a single pair. There is great joy to be found in their sympathetic waistbands now that stress-eating and wine-numbing have become rapaciously routine. I refolded and rehung the rest of my wardrobe staples—zip-up hoodies, t-shirts, jeans, and A-line knit dresses for warm summer days.  

The colors turned richer, and the fabrics finer as I reached the bottom of the pile. My former work wardrobe of silky blouses, tailored and tapered trousers, slim pencil skirts, and polished pumps awaited its fate. Wearing these pieces had helped me to feel safe, confident, and stylish even when I had felt entirely out of my depth. Is that why I’d kept my former work wardrobe through two previous seasonal shifts, despite no longer having a practical need for it?

I put everything sharp and tailored and shiny into the donate pile—trying on none of it. These pieces no longer fit my body or my mindset. Letting go of them felt like another turning point in my reinvention, no business wardrobe to fall back on or hide behind.

For years, I had procured my personal protective equipment in the form of mid-priced separates from Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. Now, I search Etsy for face masks, despite having a basketful of handmade versions downstairs.

I may have outgrown my need for fashion as a mask, but masks will be essential for quite a while, so why not make it fashion?

Published by Catherine H Palmer

I used to help big companies tell their stories, now it's time to tell my own. I blog about midlife reinvention and making a new life in rural Vermont. Follow me, I have no idea where I'm going.

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