Category: My Closet

My Closet: Flea Market bracelets + Sorting through the junk

This I Wear | Flea Market Bracelets

I’m a Pisces. This fact doesn’t matter to me but now everyone knows it. Why? Because I fell in love with some amazing vintage cuffs at a flea market, though you might just call them junk.

A few blocks from my old Manhattan apartment, there was a flea market that would take over the cafeteria and grounds of a school every Sunday. It was filled with exotic African beads and drums, fancy reupholstered furniture, old prints, and tons of junk. Occasionally, after I’d done some damage at the farmers’ market across the street, I’d walk through the flea market. Yet I never have much luck in finding things to wear at flea markets. I’ll pick up a few things, put them back down, and then pull out the hand sanitizer. My adventurous spirit is limited by the perceived grubbiness of such moments.

During one visit, however, a vendor, whose stall typically consisted of a heap of unappealing clothes on a table, had a little basket filled with enamel cuffs. The mound of clothing was the last thing I wanted to touch, but this tidy basket of bracelets was intriguing. I found myself surprised to be exchanging my ten-dollar bill for a red owl cuff and a Pisces one as well. I am not particularly impressed with owls, and I don’t read horoscopes often or seriously. While I tend to have quite a lot of friends born around my birth date, I don’t think the zodiac sign is responsible for these friendships. These bracelets were cheap, their origins unknown, and their future with me curious. Yet something about them stood out to me from the minefields of junk surrounding them.

Sometimes, I see something I love or find inspiring, and it just happens to be junk. In the case of these bracelets, it is not uncommon for my wrist to be slightly green when I take off one at the end of the day. I’ve also stabbed myself with the owl’s feet one too many times. But how can you control what you love? You can’t.

Something is only “junk” if it means nothing to you. If it’s special to you personally, then price and quality are irrelevant.

And more often, it is hard to discover the special things or predict what we’ll grow to love when the surrounding junk is so overwhelming and noisy, whether you are in a flea market or a shopping mall. But at these moments, I tune out the noise, sometimes by stepping away to think, and then go with my gut. My motto always has been that if you don’t absolutely love something, don’t buy it.

Once I took these bracelets home and out of the clutter, often pairing the red owl with a simple neutral outfit and some red lipstick, the “specialness” was clear. Today, I love wearing them, they frequently start conversations, and I have never seen anything like them since. I could have negotiated the $10 price down, but they’ve grown to be worth more to me than the price paid. The value in the items is personal to me, not inherent in the bracelets themselves. They might be junk, but they are my junk.

But maybe that’s just the poetic Pisces in me talking.

My Closet: The Oldest Thing I still wear

This I Wear | The oldest thing I still wear

My mom has always had a bountiful wardrobe. When I was growing up, I’d sit on the laundry hamper in her closet as she was picking out her clothes, and I’d say things like “You have a lot of shoes!” or “Why do you have so many clothes!?” And she would say something to the extent of “Because once you stop growing, your things will fit you for a longtime.” My concern, of course, was that it was already the mid to late 1990s, and she still owned way too many blazers with shoulder pads, but I understood what she meant.

My closet is not like my mom’s yet. I reached my final height (“short”) around 8th grade, but my weight has fluctuated by a size or two and my taste has as well. As I’ve moved from place to place, my style tends to adapt to each city’s new dress code and my latest lifestyle needs. I am not yet at a place where I am keeping clothes “forever.”

But I do have one really old shirt that I am confident is the oldest thing I own and still wear regularly. In fact, I believe it was purchased the same year I stopped getting any taller, which means the shirt is at least 13 years old. I’m not old, so it is scary to think anything in my closet has been with me that long, even if there was no planned long-term commitment.

The shirt is from Gap’s golden age, when it was the place to go for dancing khakis, logo t-shirts, and things we saw as distinctly American basics: polos, white t-shirts, jeans, and, of course, khaki everything. It was during this era that I bought this shrunken Oxford shirt with a little hint of stretch and three-quarter length sleeves. In college, I wore it to class with jeans. Post-college, I’d wear it to work with a pencil or mini skirt or even layered under a dress. And in laid-back New Orleans, it is perfect with a pair of dressy shorts or colored denim.

With every closet clean-out, this shirt slipped by undetected. I never thought about how old it was or questioned if it was still in style. Every once in awhile, I forget it exists until I rediscover it in my closet and wear it again. But the shirt looks the same as it did the day I bought it 13 years ago and possibly fits me even better today, so it hangs on in my closet and does its job when required. It has proven to me that age doesn’t determine the wearability of a piece and that the perfect basic in your wardrobe doesn’t have to be particularly special or memorable, it just needs to be made right to last. So as tempting as it is to clear out the old, some pieces should be allowed to stick around.

What is the oldest thing in your closet? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your story.

My Closet: New Jeans + Old Ways

New Jeans + Old Mistakes | This I Wear

I had already been living out of a suitcase for weeks. I returned from India to a suitcase of nice clothes, having put the rest of my wardrobe into storage before the two month-long trip. But because I had no idea what I would be doing upon return, the suitcase contents (54 pieces including workout clothes, pajamas, and other items not to be worn out but not including shoes, accessories, or under things) were proving insufficient.

I have lived out a suitcase many times in my life. Most recently, when I was moving from New York to New Orleans, I lived solely out of a suitcase for two months while still working full-time in an image-conscious city. I know how to be resourceful, and I know how to live minimally. But what I am still struggling with is how to live with discomfort.

That discomfort and sense of uncertainty led to a moment of desperation in a (fancy) strip mall in Mandeville, LA, where I purchased this pair of stretch denim jeans from a chain store that I haven’t shopped at in years. I had only one reliable pair of pants in my suitcase: a pair of fantastic 100% cotton jeans whose days have been numbered for a while. Not wanting to risk not having a pair of pants one day, I knew I had to find a backup pair fast. Denim is something I just can’t shop online for, especially when legging jeans are constantly out to trick us into buying them, so my options were limited. My mom graciously bought these jeans for me, almost certainly out of sympathy for the sob story of how uncomfortable it is to be in a state of life limbo that requires living out a suitcase.

I have worn these jeans once so far, and while I plan to wear them again in future, I’m not really sure how I feel about them. Just as clothing can take on wonderful memories of experiences, places and people, they can bring us back to moments of weakness, sadness, regret and all those other negative memories too: the dress you wore to a funeral, the bracelet you were wearing during the epic fight with your best friend, or the sweater that was a gift from an ex. In this instance, these jeans remind me of the time where I didn’t go with my gut and hold out to buy something that would I would love and that would make me feel at my best. They remind me of getting emotional in a Banana Republic dressing room as my mom tried to console me by telling me I looked great. And they remind me of why I write and believe in this blog in the first place.

The things we own and wear can have such a powerful influence over us. They become part of us and the moments in our lives if we let them. Often they even become external manifestations of how we’re feeling on the inside. And just as every person has flaws, our closets have flaws too. In this season of gratitude and giving and as we get ready to start a new year, my hope is that all of us, myself included, will be grateful for our own (and our closet’s or our suitcase’s) imperfections, knowing that without them, we wouldn’t have the chance to grow.

Do you have an item you wear (or don’t wear) that reminds you of a mistake or a bad experience? Have you kept the item? And if so, why? Share your stories by commenting below or tweeting @ThisIWear.

My Closet: Ruby Earrings + remembering your favorite gifts

Favorite Gift: Ruby Earrings | This I Wear

What is the best gift you’ve ever received? I’m collecting responses for an upcoming holiday-themed This I Wear post and I’d love to share your story. If you already know exactly what your answer is, comment below or email me to share your story and include who gave it to you and why you love it.

We remember certain gifts for lots of reasons: the gift was useful or was something we absolutely love, or perhaps we remember the gift because of our relationship to the giver. In thinking about what to give this holiday season, I started to look to the best gifts I’ve ever received for inspiration. Immediately, I thought of the pair of gold and ruby earrings I’ve worn at least once a week for the 4+ years I’ve had them. These little bits of bling were given to me as a college graduation gift by my employer at the time. While it was a gift from the whole office (of three women), I could tell by the style that my boss Aimee made the ultimate decision.

I was 21 years old when I first started working for Aimee. She had just started her event planning business, and I was the first paid employee. I was still in college, but Aimee trusted me like no one had ever trusted me before. By the end of my year and a half, I had planned a wedding in Mexico for one of our clients, and I was barely over the legal drinking age. I remember the job as stressful, thrilling, challenging, and, most of all, one of the best experiences of my life. In fact, I’m convinced that my work experience with Aimee has not only helped me get every other job I’ve had since, but it has made me successful in all of them too. I was naïve and stubborn at the time, but Aimee helped me grow up. And now, as I inch closer to the age Aimee was when she started her business, I continue to see her as a model for who I want to be and the life that I want to have, even if event planning is not my career focus.

To receive such a thoughtful and beautiful gift from someone I respect so greatly felt more like I had received an award than a gift. Aimee was more than my boss; she had become my role model. And every single time I wear them, I think of her and the gratitude I have for the chance she took on me.

What if each gift we gave this holiday could have that same effect? It’s easy to get absorbed into the culturally-imposed chaos of the holiday season and forget the reason we give gifts in the first place: to show love and appreciation to the people who are important to us. Before you buy a last-minute gift card from the drugstore, think about what that person truly means to you, what they need and/or love, and how a gift might even remind them of your relationship with each other. It might still feel like a lot of pressure to find the right gift, but a little thoughtfulness can ensure that the recipient will continue to love the gift long after the holidays are over.

Feeling inspired now? Comment below or send the story of your favorite gift, whether it’s something you can wear or not, along with who gave it to you and why you love it. Just a few sentences will do! Your story might be featured in an upcoming post.

My Closet: Strangers with Woven Handbags

Kenyan Woven Bag | This I Wear
I never felt comfortable engaging strangers in conversation when I was growing up. Living in the South, everyone inexplicably wants to talk to everyone. If you are shy, every stranger in the grocery store, every grandma in a restaurant, and even the mailman on the street become the enemy. I was always considered shy, especially in school, and somehow I believed it. During college, I became a resident assistant to alleviate the burdensome expenses of private education. It was a job that made me incredibly uncomfortable, but it also broke me of any habit of not opening my mouth when I had something to say.

Not too long ago, I spent a few days with a college friend who lived near Eastern Market, an historic farmers and craft market I had shockingly never visited while I lived in DC. It was a gorgeous day, and the market was full of locals stocking up on vegetables for the week and tourists shopping for crafts. As we strolled along, a tent overflowing with colorful woven handbags caught my eye. Unsure if I even could squeeze a souvenir into my luggage, I reasoned I’d at least keep the vendor company until another customer came along.

The bags and the salesman turned out to be from Kenya. At the time, I was considering a visit to friends in Nairobi, so my questions naturally poured out: When is a good time to visit? What is the weather like? What is your opinion of Nairobi? Where did you grow up? The man answered all of my questions willingly, though he seemed surprised by my interest. Then we talked about the bags. His mother, who still lived in Kenya, was his sourcing agent. She placed orders with a local women’s group that would weave the bags and decorate the leather, which she then shipped to him in DC. Each bag had a small hand-cut leather label, “Made in Kenya.” I chose a small bag in my favorite color, green, and asked if in future, he’d request the bags to be made in stripes too. I thanked him for the conversation and left.

Whenever I talk with strangers, I am extremely conscious of the conversation, as if I’ve just accepted a challenge: can I successfully balance asking questions with listening and avoiding awkward silences and perhaps even elicit a smile? It is practice for me, helping to make up for my younger years of letting others do the talking. Whenever the conversation is successful, I feel a small sense of accomplishment, as well as gratitude to that person for sharing a few words with me. I learned a lot about him, Kenya, and the bags in our 10-minute chat, yet I also got an added benefit. Had I not been willing to ask the questions I did, it would have just been another handbag. Luckily, the conversation and the person brought the bag to life, and now my bag is a conversation-starter in itself.

Have a story of getting to know the person behind the product? Share by tweeting @ThisIWear or email me at rebecca@thisiwear.com.

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