Playing Dress-up For My New Life

Too much? Lose the sword, maybe?

The toughest part of packing for my upcoming move to Santa Fe, the part I kept putting off for weeks because of the enormity of it, the sheer complexity, was – nope, not my perfume.  That was easy. I bought and filled a giant hard-side party cooler with those bottles, all carefully sealed and individually wrapped for transit, cooler taped shut and covered in FRAGILE stickers.  They’re going to need a dolly (or maybe a forklift) to shift that thing.

Nope, the hardest part was my clothes.

I’ve always viewed clothing as costume; anyone looking at the array of stuff in my closets would logically assume it’s the clothing of several very different people, or possibly the costume department of a local theater troupe.  I’ve never been particularly interested in keeping up with fashion trends, but I’m small enough (and weird enough) to own and wear a lot of vintage clothes, along with random shirts and dresses and skirts in eye-popping prints or odd shapes that amuse me.  Whether they amuse or entice other people is not something I spend much time thinking about; outside of work, I dress to please myself.

In my other closet, there’s my extensive “work uniform” of conservative clothes in dark neutrals appropriate for my job and my local, professional-business-dress standards.  During the pandemic, I spend most of my time teleworking in sweatpants or literal pajama bottoms and whatever top would pass for acceptable on Zoom.  We cycled through an entire four seasons – hot, humid mid-Atlantic summer through cold, miserable, damp winter – while 97% of my work clothes sat in the closet, gathering dust. Working from home during the pandemic, I’ve also lost the weight I’d gained over the past six years sidling up to the bagel/brownie trays at our numerous work events.  A fair amount of my work-wear didn’t even fit me any more.

Now I’m moving to an artsy/resort town that’s extremely casual (which I love) and of course I already own numerous cotton kaftans and kurtis which I mostly confined to our stifling summer weekends here to avoid side-eye from my boss on “casual” Friday.  So, the larger question I was trying to answer, clothing-wise, is: who am I now, and who do I want to be in Santa Fe?

Anyway, I just … could not deal with solving the problem of my massive wardrobe.  And then, magically, things changed one night.  All alone in my house for the first time in centuries, I grabbed a few things from the closet, put some music on, closed the blinds, and treated my son’s now-vacant bedroom with its floor-length mirror as a giant dressing room.  The modest goal I’d set for myself was to go through one small section of clothing, but then I realized: hey, this is fun!  So I just kept going – through racks and boxes and bags of clothing, improbably matching separates up for grins and giggles, because I wasn’t looking for an outfit for an interview or going to a formal event, I was just … playing.  Playing dress-up.

You know what I’m not taking?  All the garments (mostly dresses) tightly structured to create the illusion of a waist, which disappeared somewhere after my second child.  All the clothes built to minimize/contain my formerly-ample boobage, a problem I fixed a couple of years ago with a breast reduction, which by the way is the greatest thing I ever bought myself.  (I picked my plastic surgeon because he was the only one who took me seriously when I pointed to his “before” photos of tiny, perky tits and said, I want those, I’ve been lugging these melons around for forty years, I’m over it.  All the other doctors presumed what I really wanted was a small reduction and a lift, which is what most women my age/shape sign up for.  I went from a 34DDD to a 32A and could not be more thrilled.)

A friend with similar tastes came over to help me cull the work-wear; I donated the nicest professional clothing to one of those help-women-dress-for-success programs, and I hope someone out there will be wearing one of my tailored dresses or fancy tweed blazers this fall and feeling like a million bucks.  I’m hauling my favorite jeans and boots and my boho-clown-wear (okay, and a few things if I have to dress like a normal grownup) out to Santa Fe, in a much smaller pile of boxes than I expected.  Feels good.

Move update: movers allegedly coming Thursday for my car and all my possessions.  With luck, the next time I’m on here posting it’ll be from Santa Fe.  I’ve found a place (toured by a friend via FaceTime) that I think will be great, and I’ll be staying with another friend until my moving truck shows up.  This has been a slow, interminable march forward over the past few months, first getting the kids packed and moved to Maine a couple of weeks ago and now myself sorted and packed, and I’m really looking forward to stepping into the future, dressed in something quirky.

What about you?  Has the pandemic changed your outlook on clothing?  Are you going back to same-old-same-old or is something going to change?

  • Valerie says:

    March, I so enjoyed reading this post! You sound like such a cool and fun person!!

    My retirement journey is 2 years away and I, too, have a closet crammed full of stodgy, tailored business clothes alongside beautiful party/casual clothes I’m going to have to deal with before moving back up to New England from here in Central VA. Spent 17 years in Monterey, CA & had one year-round wardrobe. Moving back to the East Coast forced me to create two wardrobes & I dread putting one away & dragging the other out every spring ‘n fall. (In fact I’m looking at all my winter coats still hanging in my front hall.) As a mostly lifelong slender gal, I currently find myself in the “Covid 19 Club” (but it’s more like the “Covid 25 Club” for me). Now fully-vacc’d, I’ve gotten back on horse & have lost ~5 lbs but still have a ways to go, plus battling the phenomenon known as a “menopot” – – hard to conceal or work with when getting dressed every day.

    Thanks again for sharing your journey. I hope you have a wonderful time in awesum Santa Fe!!

  • rosarita says:

    I’m excited for you March, and I totally understand your closet. I’ve gained a lot of unneeded weight through the pandemic and bought myself some nice new clothes that are comfortable to relax in at home but ok to run errands in and take care of my mom. My general attitude is even more geared to doing whatever I want because there still aren’t a lot of places to go and things to do. Cocktail jewelry with sweatshirts? Sure. A full face of fancy makeup on Zoom, or totally bare? No problem either way. It goes along with mask or no mask. I did just get my hair cut into a modern shag and I love it, I can towel dry it and it looks fine.

  • Pattie says:

    Congratulations on your move – I’m sure its bittersweet with so many changes. Love Santa Fe. We go every September or October for a firm retreat – there is nothing like the smell of pinion in the fall. Plus the food….
    My work wardrobe has gotten more and more casual over the years, but I still have a closet full of dark suits for court. Who knows what fits over the last year!

    • March says:

      I LOVE Santa Fe in the fall (well, any time really except Feb – April which is cold and windy). And I am super excited about the food, I love all the options!

  • Dina C. says:

    How wonderfully freeing, March! Kudos for doing the whole Marie Kondo thing, but in a really fun way! I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for a long time, so my wardrobe stayed the same all through pandemic: jeans, tops, cashmere sweaters. I’ve lost weight surprisingly — probably because restaurants were closed — so my jeans need a belt right now. Hope your move goes really well and all your household goods arrive safely. Looking forward to posts from Santa Fe!

    • March says:

      Thank you! It’s the last minute insanity over here but I remind myself I will get through it; sooner or later, however messy, it will be done. Super excited.

  • Musette says:

    Keep the sword, mos’ def. Keep the gown, keep the crown. I’d say keep the attitude but that’s ingrained, so…

    xoxoxo

  • Queen-Cupcake says:

    March, this wonderful post has me considering yet another clothing purge. I retired in December 2019, just a few months before the pandemic began. My work clothes were all jeans, t-shirts, and super casual because I worked with machines and soldering torches. Finally, I get to wear sundresses, capris, harem pants, flowy hippie tunics! I’m still working on the new look, for which I will discard lots of makeup and jewelry (mostly vintage costume). Best wishes for a wonderful transition to your Santa Fe adventure!

    • March says:

      Thank you! I too parted with a lot of vintage jewelry, which I loved but MOSTLY wore to make my work-wear more interesting if there was an after-hours event or something. I ended up donating it to a shop that raises $ for charities I support. Still working through the makeup purge.

  • Cinnamon says:

    Love this. Especially how you ended up dealing with the excess clothes. Hoping for some pics once you’re settled in SF. In any case it’s all so exciting — a new direction. My dress sense hasn’t changed in a number of years (basically the WfH mantra of leggings and tunic or dress) and this makes me think it’s time to take another look. I have some of the clothes I wore to the office ages ago in one side of the closet. I’ve kept the beautiful stuff — divested all the totally blah suits. The other side has those tunics/dresses. I still have some high heels just because I think they are beautiful. But mostly it’s low-heeled boots and All Stars. Now, a serious question: how did you manage to lose weight over the past year??? I started pandemic at a reasonable weight and am now living in pudge city and having a lot of trouble shifting the stuff. It’s maddening.

    • March says:

      The “beautiful stuff” is the hardest to let go — I have a pair of shoes I’ll never wear again but I’m bringing them because they are ART haha. I lost weight because I lost my constant work access to delicious carbs — I don’t have them at home because of my son’s medical restrictions. And stress, of course. I didn’t even realize I was losing weight because I wasn’t putting proper clothes on for months. It seems to have gone one way or the other for friends — I’ve just seen two who lost a substantial amount of weight because they started walking/working out at home during the pandemic. Other friends have gained what they jokingly refer to as the “COVID 19”

  • SpringPansy says:

    I’ve been thinking about this, too — as I near retirement in a few months. Who do I want to be then? I’m looking forward to going through my wardrobe and making changes for my new life.

    • March says:

      I am SO GLAD to read this comment. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person who thinks, who am I, who do I want to be? I love clothes, so clothes are a big part of that expression for me.

  • Carolyn says:

    Can’t wait to see you here in NM March! Santa Fe has always been casual but it feels even more so after a year of many people working from home. I have a tiny closet (cause that’s what you typically have in these old adobe houses) which is jam packed with clothing. Time for another culling myself! Can’t wait to see what clothing you bring with you! You know quirky is appreciated here! Always been one of the draws for me. 🙂

    • March says:

      HAHA as you know that house only has one closet! I figure I’ll be paring down even what I brought, as I’m determined not to rent storage. But I won’t know what I want until I get there…

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    I did a mini clothes cull on Sunday and will be doing more of that during the summer. When I did a massive cull either last summer or the year before, I was amazed by how much I have in clothes. I think that I might be selling what perfume I don’t wear or want on Ebay.

    • March says:

      I’ve been selling perfume, high end clothing and cookware on eBay for ages — to recoup some money. Some things are better/easier sells than others, so my advice is to set a $ amount you decide is “worth it” for the hassle, and discard/donate the rest.

  • MMKinPA says:

    Jealous of your move. We have one more year of high school for my son, but realistically we won’t downsize/move while my husband’s elderly parents are still with us, so it’s an unknown amount of time before we can make major life changes. I really need to do the same with my closet – take everything out and decide what I actually like.

    • March says:

      This last year (of high school) felt like ten years, it was awful for the boys, and for me. At least culling and purging gave me a sense of accomplishment, something I can do now.

  • Portia says:

    Your move is so exciting to me March. I don’t know why. It’s filling me with reverse schadenfreude. Joy in your lack of misfortune, or joy in your exciting new fortune.
    Love that your wardrobe gave you such pleasure in packing, it sounds like a lot of fun.
    We are coming out of pandemic mode here. Really feel like we’ve dodged a bullet.
    Portia x

    • March says:

      Ooof, I wish we were closer to the finish line here, vaccinations have really fallen off, we’ll be having a resurgence if that doesn’t change. Fortunately NM has done a pretty good job.

  • Tara C says:

    After I retired I gave away most of my work/dress clothes, then gradually my other dressy casual clothes. Then all my high heels. I finally admitted to myself that I am a jeans, tshirt and boots girl. So that’s pretty much all I have left. Santa Fe sounds like my kind of town. 🙂

    I’m in the process of moving too, but clothes were not my problem, it was the crazy excess amount of perfume. I kid you not, my car was 4 inches off the ground after I loaded all those boxes in it (the movers said no liquids, no flammables, not that I would have trusted them with the precioussssses).

    So my next project is deciding what to do with all the gallons of perfume I cannot realistically wear in this lifetime. Keep it, store it, give it away, sell it? I have trouble with the idea of parting with it all. Hopefully it will get easier as I get closer to death.

    • March says:

      YUP. I’ve probably sold off …. 70% of my original collection over the past couple of years? On eBay and privately to perfume friends. Knowing I planned to move. And I still had one big cooler full. I was going to drive it but I chickened out on the cross-country drive, so I’m just hoping for the best on the truck.

  • filomena813 says:

    I pared down my wardrobe years ago after my closet collapsed. I decided to dress like I do (or did) when I am in Europe so why not to work? I am not allowed to wear blue jeans so my apparel consists of black jeans for winter and white ones for warm weather, along with assorted tops of many colors and lots of black ones as well along with jewelry and other accessories. Getting dressed has been much easier since.

    • March says:

      I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe — these are the things I wear, and I don’t have a million of them, so they all get worn. Where I get caught up is… well, I just love clothes so much, and I kept adding and not culling. I’m going to try REALLY HARD not to do that again, especially since I’m moving to a much smaller place.

  • Teresa says:

    Good for you! Sometimes we want to reinvent ourselves and a big move is a good time to do it….’who do I want to BE right now?’ Even as adults we can grow and change and we have that right.It feels good to let go of things we have dragged along just ‘because’…I’m actually doing that now with so many possessions and it’s doing me good!

    • March says:

      I had SO MUCH STUFF from my dad’s house (he lived nearby in the house I grew up in, he passed away in 2015.) There were many difficult hours over the past few months where I was opening boxes and being honest with myself: do I want to keep dragging this around? Things in boxes from six years ago, or more? All the way across the country, to keep in a storage unit? I did not. But those decisions (individually and big picture) were not easy ones.

      • Cinnamon says:

        Oh, March. It’s so hard. My dad died in 2017 and lived in Brooklyn. I had the job of clearing the apartment. I told my brother to take what he wanted. I went through most other stuff and managed to ‘only’ ship around 12 boxes and a chair over here. (Much of the stuff in the boxes was my mother’s china and glassware which survived Kristalnacht, so there was no way I was going to give that away, plus paperwork, which I knew I’d need for settling his estate and other stuff.)