Friday, February 15, 2008

The ghost of closets past

At the Goodwill store I am haunted by the ghost of closets past: between a slinky psychedelic mini-dress and a dress-for-success suit with shoulder pads the size of dinner plates hangs a drab, boxy drop-waist jumper everyone was wearing in the 80s. I owned that dress! I wore that dress!

I loathe that dress.

The Goodwill store makes no distinctions among sizes, styles, or even decades. Clothes are sorted in the most rudimentary fashion: a long row labeled "Tops" over here, and beyond it another labeled "Bottoms." Pastel silk blouses with bows as the neckline rub shoulders with tattered T-shirts advertising the wearer's devotion to the Grateful Dead. (Good color for me, but can I wear it in the classroom?)

I'm at the Goodwill store because my wardrobe budget can't keep up with my weight loss. In the past year I have lost the equivalent of a person--a small person, but a person all the same--and I have nothing to wear. My colleagues are not inclined to sympathize with this problem. "Not a bad problem to have!" is the way they put it, but I get up every morning and look in my closet and wonder what I can wear today that looks professional enough to carry me through a meeting with college Trustees: pants so baggy in the back I look like I have diaper-butt, or purple corduroys a little too casual for the classroom, or a skirt that fits topped by a blouse that doesn't? That's too much stress first thing in the morning.

A few weeks ago I tried to address the problem by buying a chunk of wool and making a skirt, just to see whether my sewing skills might still be useful. They might. Then again, it was a straight skirt with no frills, a pattern so easy a trained monkey could have made it, and it took only about three hours of focused work. But I can't do that every weekend, especially with papers to grade, so I've been trying to patch together a professional wardrobe wherever I can find one, which is how I ended up at the Goodwill store.

I head toward "Bottoms" to look for a skirt. No problem finding skirts: here's a plaid wool mini-skirt wider than it is long, and right next to it a swirly confection in floral chiffon, then a pencil skirt with kick-pleats, size 6 petite (dream on!). I find home-made skirts with uneven hems next to skirts with designer labels, spotless skirts next to torn and ragged skirts, long wool wrap skirts next to the merest of minis, but everything in my size looks faded and matronly.

In fact, the only thing I find in the whole store that might fit me is that hideous boxy drop-waist jumper. I wore that dress when I flew to Florida with my two-year-old daughter, who was wearing a matching dress I had made from the leftover fabric. I'm sure we looked just darling, but that was 20 years ago and I'm not going back there.

I leave the store empty-handed. I'd rather muddle through with what I have than haunt campus dressed as the ghost of closets past.

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