Monday Roundtable: Still Holding On

feature image by aiony haust

We all have something — maybe several somethings! — in our closet that we don’t wear. And will never wear, if we’re being honest. Yet we’ve packed and unpacked these items through several apartments, hung them up with care, and regularly touch the sleeves contemplatively although today could be the day. Reader, it’s not going to be the day! The day is not coming. Yet we can’t let go of these garments. Why not! Well, these are our stories.

Heather Hogan, Senior Editor

This is the first shirt I bought after I came out. I bought it specifically because it looked gay, to wear to a place where I was hoping to talk to other gay people, on purpose, in real life, for the first time. It worked! I did talk to other gay people! And I felt real cute doing it! That was a thousand years ago, when I was in my 20s with a 20-year-old metabolism and a job that allowed me to exercise for hours every day and no endometriosis or birth control pills — by which I mean I was much smaller! I will never, ever fit into this shirt again for the rest of my life, but it represents something so special to me that I’ve carried it to every city I’ve ever moved to, and it still has a place in my closet (and probably always will).

Carrie Wade, Staff Writer

I cannot for the life of me figure out how to wear this shirt. I bought it during an early Peau de Loup binge a few years ago but, in hindsight, didn’t have the right companion pieces. Now it’s just sort of languishing. I’m always worried about black clothes not playing off each other correctly, and it also didn’t feel right with the jeans I had for a long time, or any of my other pants or shorts, so here we are. I recently bought new/better jeans in both standard wash and black that fit delightfully well, and also (finally) have a black belt to work with, so I really should take another run at this guy. I hold on in hopes that it will claim its rightful place in my rotation. (Suggestions/advice welcome.)

Carolyn Yates, NSFW Consultant

I don’t have anything like this! I’m ruthless about getting rid of things I don’t need or won’t wear or that aren’t right for me any more or remind me of things of which I don’t want reminders, and I’m not really buying clothes except to replace things I wear through right now, so everything seasonal is in frequent rotation. I don’t have childhood earrings because they make me feel safe or something and I don’t have my wedding ring from the divorce finalized a few weeks ago and I don’t have that one old supersoft pair of pyjama pants from my favorite ex’s grandma.

A.E. Osworth, Contributor

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My mother is a small woman and I’m a rather not-small not-woman! But I have her old concert tee shirts, two of them—The Police and David Bowie—and they sure do not fit me anymore, nor did they ever fit really well. My mother, incidentally, is and always has been a lot cooler than me. I can’t tell you how long I’ve had them. A long ass while. These are the ancient relics of my family’s taste in music. And if I’m being perfectly honest, I harbor a hope that after I have top surgery this coming January that I’ll at least be able to wear The Police one again. Cross your fingers for me!

Alexis Smithers, Staff Writer

THIS REALLY UGLY STRIPED SWEATER because the best time to wear a striped sweater is all the tiiiiiiiiiiiiime and also I thought I’d be invited to an ugly sweater party and I was but I was depressed and also I get hot really easily so I didn’t go and now I’m hoping that this doesn’t happen because I could only wear it for the pictures and then immediately need to strip so I don’t have a panic attack so there’s really no way this sweater will ever make an appearance outside my closet (there’s joke in there somewhere).

Archie Bongiovanni, Cartoonist

These matching homemade crop-tops that read “DON’T TOUCH ME” in pink glitter letters that were made in 2014. I’ll never actually wear the shirt again, I think I wore it maybe twice in my life? But I love it so much. It was made for me by a friend during our peak “just spray paint a shirt with a stencil” phase. These shirts are extra-fancy because the lettering wasn’t just a stencil or written in bleach pen. Plus it was glittery and pink! We used to go out a lot and haaaated the way folks would touch us when we were at clubs — actually this only happened at lesbian dance nights. So. My friend was especially objectified and we’d both get our asses patted by long-hair butches walking by. We also yelled a lot at these parties, specifically “I SEE YOU ASSHOLE” and “DON’T FUCKING TOUCH US.” Maybe we went (or kept going) because we just wanted to yell idk. Anyways, my friend made us these matching crop tops and I love the shirt for the sentiment of it.

Valerie Anne, Staff Writer

When I was a sophomore in college, my mother bought me a leather jacket for Christmas. I had been half a vegetarian since I was 12, and felt uncomfortable about owning real leather, but I knew it was more money than my mother should have been spending on a jacket, and I knew it was probably peer pressure from her friends she went on shopping trips with every year with her friends who had daughters my age, and she was so proud, so I just smiled and thanked her, saying it was very New York (not a lie), which is where I was going to school.

Cut to a few weeks later, a chilly night in January, my suitemates and I were getting ready to go out. I decided this was as good a night as any to try out my new jacket, so I put it on and walked to the spot in the hall where I could see in my mirror in my room. I asked, “Can I pull off a leather jacket?” and a head popped out of the doorway. “You look butch,” was the response. Then she disappeared again to finish getting ready.

It wasn’t said in an inherently bad (or good) way. It was just an observation she made. But I had tried to tiptoe out of the closet the year before and got scared back in, so my desperate battle to cling to heterosexuality was in full swing and anything that sounded remotely gay to me was DANGER ZONE so I hung that jacket up and didn’t pick it up for years and years. It was easily the most expensive piece of clothing I owned, and my mother would surely notice if she came to help me move from dorm to dorm and didn’t see it, so it came with me, ironically hanging in closet after closet.

I think to this day I only wore it once, a few years ago, long after I came out, when I dressed as Bo from Lost Girl for Halloween. It’s too small now, and I feel even weirder about owning leather now than I ever did. So maybe it’s time to let it go. Maybe it’s time to let go of the baggage I had around the word “butch,” let go of the idea that maybe I’ll “lose enough weight” to fit the things I owned in college, let go of the worry that my mother will be mad I donated something that she bought me over a decade ago. Maybe it’s time to let it come out of the closet.

KaeLyn Rich, Staff Writer

I wouldn’t say that I’m a minimalist. This topic is hard to respond to because I do tend to purge my closet periodically. I will for sure hold onto favorite items until they’re worn through and falling apart. But I ultimately throw them out after they’re very, very dead. (R.I.P. college sweatpants turned cut-off gym shorts turned cleaning rags) I honestly am not holding onto anything right now that I know I won’t wear again.

A couple years ago I got rid of pretty much all my blazers, because I find them really uncomfortable. I went through a period in my 20’s where I cared a LOT about how professional I looked and honestly I still stand by my choice as a young Korean woman attempting to be treated equitably. But now I mostly just wear sweaters and wraps at work and I don’t really care if people think I don’t look put-together enough. Respect me or don’t, but it’s not going to hinge on whether I’m sporting suiting separates! I’d been holding onto this blazer collection since I switched to a more comfortable work style a few years back. When I decided to get rid of them, I donated or rehomed all of them. If I do need a blazer in the future, I guess I’ll invest in a more comfortable one, ideally tailored to my short and round body. I haven’t needed one, though, in years, so…

Sarah Sarwar, Design Director

This “Life is a Beach” shirt, which is fraying and threadbare but I have carried it with me from San Jose to Miami to rural Illinois to Chicago to Ann Arbor to Portland.

Riese Bernard, CEO

I have never worn this “Free City” t-shirt. Well, I think I wore it exactly once, on an episode of the “Alexi’s Closet” vlog in 2008, which was probably the same year I got it — I had a friend who was pretending to be a rich person but was actually a huge liar, and she got it for me.

Basically this was circa the point in my life when I learned that there are lots of human beings who own “valuables” that they can sell when they are poor? Like “family heirlooms” or something? Jewelry? China? Silver? And I was like, wow I have nothing I could sell… and i remember thinking “but I do have this $150 t-shirt from Free City.”

That’s right. This t-shirt cost $150!

Free City is one of those leisurewear brands that celebrities love. It was on “The L Word” all the time because Leisha Hailey was dating the owner of Free City. You couldn’t even buy Free City stuff online back then. It only existed in like two Ron Herman stores (but not the whole line, just some of it) and in one of Free City’s three boutiques. Sometimes the aforementioned rich liar friend would give me old Free City shirts of hers to sell on eBay and I could get like $200 for them!

We bought this one at the Malibu store. I’ve owned other pieces of clothing that cost more than $150 — like a winter coat or a nice dress — but the fact that this T-SHIRT, this T-SHIRT! costs $150, just really blows my mind. Also, it’s white and I am certain I will spill something on it. However, I refuse to get rid of it because it costs $150 and I know that the lady at Buffalo Exchange is not going to understand that so I haven’t cashed it in yet.

I’m not sure if it gets more or less valuable with time. I hope more. Whatever I’m never wearing it. Even though whatever fabric it’s made out of is like the softest thing I have ever touched in my life and it would feel like an angel on my body.

Carmen Phillips, Associate Editor

That dress. Black. Above the knee. Shimmery even, in certain light. It’s soft, velvet, with intricate lace creeping up the color. It’s a simple dress by most standards, not much to look at. The thing about me is that I was what you might call a “late bloomer.” I was nerdy, uncomfortable in my body, awkward. As long as I can remember, I was desperate to be seen, but also terrified of looks that came in my direction. I self-sabotaged. I looked at my feet instead of someone’s eyes. I stood by the wall at a party, most comfortable talking with my platonic friends who already knew me. One night when I was out with a friend at a concert the guy she’d been flirting with described her as pretty and then glanced over at me, face full of make up and cute jewerely, wanting so badly to be noticed, and called me “… ugh, smart.” That’s who I am. The smart friend.

This dress though, it was magic. The first time I put it on, I felt confident. I was wearing it to some banquet event thing, and for the first time in my 23 year old life, I flirted. Actually flirted! I batted my eyelashes and didn’t turn my head away when someone locked eyes with me. I smiled! I bit my lip and smirked. It was as if nothing could break me. When I got home that night, I couldn’t stop twirling around or playing with the soft fabric underneath my fingertips. It was the first time I can remember feeling sexy, without any doubt or nagging voice lurking behind my ears.

Now the dress is out of style, or at least not something I’d wear anymore. I try to prune my closet and donate twice a year, but I’d never let go of this dress. It holds my secrets. It reminds me that when I want it, I can be someone that other people notices More importantly, it reminds me that sometimes, it’s ok to be noticed. That’s a lesson it feels like it took me a lifetime to learn.

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  1. Dresses.

    I haven’t worn a dress to anything other than a wedding in probably about 5 years. But yet, even after two moves in the last year, I have a garment bag with about 7-8 dresses in it still hanging in my closet, because I know I have two weddings to go to next summer. And I know I’m going to keep those dresses, at the very least, until I acquire appropriate masculine-of-center wedding attire.

    Oh, and my legal robes. They cost $600 and I have only worn them once, to my Call to the Bar ceremony, and the likelihood that I will ever need to wear them again is just about nil, and those robes are SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS and I could probably sell them pretty easily for at least half of what I paid for them. But still, selling them feels a little like giving up? Or giving in? Or something. So they’ll stay.

  2. Mine is this maroon plaid shirt I stole from my Dad when I was in high school. We had to do a project for AP US History where we dressed up like a historical person and answered questions on a panel as them. I picked Jack Kerouac (ugh, I know) and drank from a water bottle labelled “booze” and smoked fake cigarettes and said snarky things in a French-Canadian accent to my teacher.

    But I’ll never forget, I was still wearing the shirt after class and someone stopped me to say that this baggy plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up suited me. And it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I never gave it back. Years later I took it with me on this poetry/writing retreat where we climbed mountains and read Thoreau and I tore the hem climbing down a mountain. I’ve worn it as a sleep shirt, I’ve worn it out to parties. It was the first really queer piece of clothing I ever had and even though I never wear it anymore, I just can’t bring myself to get rid of it.

  3. I have this beat up off-white denim jacket that I bought over a decade ago when I was 13, it doesn’t even fit me anymore… As I’m writing this I realize that it was because I was shopping with my best friend and I maybe definitely had a huge repressed crush on her omg

  4. I have this tank I bought online that says “Wingaydium Lesbiosa” (even in the Harry Potter font!) and I was so excited to wear it to a pride but when I tried it on it was too small and and was an awkward fit. I haven’t gotten rid of it because I love the phrase and keep it on the chance I ever lose enough weight that it might fit better but until then, its going to keep moving with me and at least making me smile when I run see it in the closet, even if I never do.

  5. These are powerful stories in the Extreme ! Even the items you didn’t keep are ultra significant.

    I always seem to give the wrong stuff away, years later I hunt around for this or that tshirt and feel so lost when I don’t find it. Is that what I have to look forward to in a dozen years or so, about everything ??

    Wow the Monday blues seem to have snuck up on me, sorry (muffles sobs in clothing in this year’s goodwill bag)

  6. I’ve always got a white button down against wedding invitations, there’s not a single other reason I’d wear a white shirt on purpose, but finding clothes that fit my odd bod is such an adventure that e v e r y t h i n g s t a y s, right where I left it

  7. My 1991 Ramones’ t-shirt. My very first concert, the second concert of the Ramones in Argentina and a gift from a cousin that later died of an overdose.

    So, yeah, I was eleven years old, it used to be black and clearly doesn’t fit anymore, but it has all the sentimental values that you can think off. I had it for more than 37 years and I will never throw it away, probably will be with me on my grave.

  8. Honestly, this is making me feel like I’m turning into my dad due to the collection of shorts that are mostly worn-but-whole but with Unfortunately Placed Holes in them that I keep around “for yardwork”. I physically CAN’T DO most yardwork. I do not have any painting that needs to be done in the house, and even if I did I definitely wouldn’t need a half dozen junker pairs of shorts to do it in. But the shorts are MOSTLY WHOLE so it feels very wasteful to throw them away!!! And they have aforementioned Unfortunately Placed Holes so I can’t GIVE them away to anyone! So they languish in my closet.

    My only solace is I haven’t COMPLETELY turned into my dad and don’t wear those shorts around, and especially wouldn’t wear them in public.

    • You can maybe patch them? I did a really successful patch job as a teen with more enthusiasm than skill so I think it’s not that hard?

      (This does depend on how very unfortunate the placement of the hole is, though)

    • right? and then if somebody got you a white one WOULDN’T YOU BE AFRAID TO WEAR IT

      she also gave me a navy blue long-sleeve one that used to be hers, which i wear all the time and it is like my favorite possession. i had an ex try to steal it though! I feel less scared of it because it was already used so not worth as much and also is a dark color.

  9. “These are the ancient relics of my family’s taste in music.”

    Ouch, I had that t-shirt in high school, when the Police were popular.

    I don’t really hold on to stuff because I hate clutter. But there is something I have held on to that is really weird and I just wanted to acknowledge I know it’s weird. So I have been in psychiatric hospitals dozens of times, sometimes for months. I have really severe and chronic depression. Anyway, I have dozens of pairs of “institutional socks” sitting in the corner of my closet. They are all teal or beige with the grippers on the bottom. I never wear them and they are hidden, but despite ruthlessly throwing away other things, they sit in my closet. Maybe it’s because one time when I was in a state facility they took all my clothes including my socks. I wore scrubs, no shoes or socks, and freaking froze to death. Since then I wear two pairs of socks every day, even in summer. So maybe it’s just part of my obsession with not having cold feet.

  10. I’d don’t remember the Malibu location for free city but did last year for this sites queer girl guide to LA go to their Venice location. Yeah, the prices are a bit out of hand. It was something like $130 for sweatpants, and that same shirt was still over $100+ on sale too.

    I have a bunch of bootleg concert t’s(re: bought outside the venue) that I haven’t worn since like 2012-ish time frame. I have them in my closet for souvenir purpose.

  11. I go through phases of hoarding and purging, mostly with clothing but also all sorts of ephemera and bits and pieces from my life. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted ditching the ephemera, but I still wish I’d kept clothing that I got rid of four or five years back. My new policy is to keep everything unless it’s actively falling apart.

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