Thursday, October 22, 2015

We don't wear it but we can't give it away...

HALLIE EPHRON: With winter coming, it’s time to sort clothes. Sleeveless cottons to the back and the woolies to the front.  Sandals go up on a shelf and boots come down.

Every time I do this, I try to cull. Anything I haven’t worn in more than a year should go to Goodwill. And yet… and yet… each year there are certain items which, though I haven’t worn them in eons, I can’t bear to throw out.

The oldest item in my closet is a short coat made of thick dark mouton (sheepskin). I remember the day I pushed my two-year-old (she’s now 40) in a baby stroller into Anne Taylor after Christmas and found it on the sale rack marked 75% off. It is the warmest thing I’ve ever worn. Also the heaviest.  I wore it through a pregnancy and two linings, and if I could get into it I’d be wearing it still.

I have no idea why I cannot give it away but ever year I take it out, nuzzle my face into its soft fur, and hang it back up.

So share. What’s the oldest item of clothing in your closet and why can’t you throw it away?

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I still have my wedding dress, if you can believe! Which is a fairly dumb thing to keep in a "cozy" NYC apartment. I keep thinking I'll give it to a charity, but then I get sentimental..... And distracted..

LUCY BURDETTE: I have saved my wedding dress too, and also the flower girl dress that I sewed for my stepdaughter to wear in the wedding. But the oldest piece of clothing in my house belonged to my mother and her two sisters, Janet, Barbara, and Betty Burdette.

This was an evening dress studded with rhinestones that they shared. In the close-up, you might be able to see the seams where it was let in and out, depending on which sister was wearing it.

I wore it once at a Halloween party, dressed as Marilyn Monroe. I'm certain that I wouldn't fit into it now, and besides it's very very fragile. But I'm unable to give it up!

RHYS BOWEN: I have my wedding veil. I didn't wear a long wedding dress as John and I were in Australia and didn't have a big wedding--just a few friends in church, and we were leaving Australia the next day!

The oldest piece of clothing in our house is the family Christening gown that was hand made by John's great grandmother and has been used for every baby in the family since. It's quite fragile but so lovely with handsewn tucks and ribbons and lace.

I still have a silk dress that belonged to my
mother and fits me well. I wear it sometimes just to remember her.

I think my oldest piece of clothing (that I never wear) is a Scottish kilt. I always tell myself that it's such good quality and timeless. But I never wear it, so.perhaps it should go.......

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ha! I still have TWO wedding dresses! And I used to have three :-) until I spilled coffee on one of them, a really slinky white wool floor length racer back sheath. 

The dress I wore marrying my darling Jonathan is FABULOUS, strapless black
and gold tulle,  and when I get nominated for an Oscar (kidding) I will wear it to the awards ceremony. I really do wish there was someplace to wear it.

But the oldest article of clothing --two things. One, a lacy shawl that Jonathan's mother's father gave her in 1925, and she gave to me. I adore it, and it is still as gorgeous as can be.  Jonathan's mother also gave me a dress she wore to -some big event.   In the fifties. It is an amazingly chic little sheath, terrific, and I remember
she said (very Jonathan's mom): "Oh, I was so tiny, you'll never be able to wear it." HA.  Guess what. Isn't it great?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I didn't have a proper wedding dress for either wedding, so didn't save them. I'm not much of a clothes keeper--or at least so I thought before I did a major clear out this summer. I really did get rid of most of the stuff I never wore. (I think...) But I could not bear to give away my mom's silver mink jacket. I remember when she bought it, when I was in elementary
school. I thought it was so glamorous and sometimes she would let me wear it for dress up. I loved watching her get ready for parties and putting on the jacket at the very last. It always smelled of her perfume.

But even older than that is my christening dress. My daughter wore it, too. It's the finest white cotton, with lace. So sweet, but I don't have a photo as it's packed away in tissue in a box.

I'm determined to wear this gorgeous jacket this winter instead of letting it hang in the closet. Mink, jeans, and boots.

HALLIE: So what's lurking in the back of your closet, something you don't wear but can't bear to part with.


  1. I, too, have my wedding dress in the closet; it's probably the oldest thing I've saved. Other than that, I don't have too much trouble going through the clothes . . . .

  2. Hallie, I can't believe you wore a jacket through a pregnancy but can't fit into it now? You must have been a toothpick!

    I love all these beautiful old clothes. I have a Bedouin dress my sister brought me from her Mideast travels forty years ago - haven't worn in in thirty but I love it. I own a vintage (circa 1930s?) short black velvet jacket, also rarely worn, although I put it on for the Crime Bake Vampire Ball a few years ago. It's almost as hard for me to get rid of old cherished clothing as it is old photographs and letters. Just can't do it.

  3. and I'd say keep 'em all--letters, photos, and vintage clothes!

  4. Debs, I LOVE that jacket. You'll look great in it.

    I'm giving a lot of clothes to consignment now--I can never decide if that's a good thing to do. Is giving to charity better? Or just-giving them away to whoever wants them?

    I red that de-clutter book--did you? She says if a thing gives you joy, keep it. If not, say goodbye and thank you to it (sounds weird but it WORKS) and iet it go. SO brilliant.

  5. Hank, I read that de-clutter book too, until I reached the part about folding my underwear and tee shirts and standing them on end in the drawer. I threw it across the room in disgust.

    I have my mother's black wool boucle jacket with padded shoulders I wear instead of a coat in the winter, unless we're in the deep freeze.

  6. Margaret, it said WHAT? Life's too short to be folding underwear (or ironing pajamas, which I once had to explain to one of my dear daughters whose best friend's mother set the high bar for housekeeping).

  7. Keep them ALL, Lucy? When does clothing officially become "vintage"?

  8. Ooooh - my kind of blog this morning. I do love clothes. And even though I'm very good at culling at least once a year - sometimes twice - there are things I will never part with.

    Hallie, I have my mom's old mouton and you'e right - softest, warmest coat ever. I also have an old satin gown she wore to cotillions. It's pink ombre, strapless and just magnificent.

    Hank, I have two old wedding gowns in the closet also. There should be three, but. There was one wedding where I didn't wear a gown which confuses me. I don't know why I ever agreed to a small, simple afternoon ceremony. You kidding - the way I love white lacy long dresses? WHAT was I thinking? ;-) And yes, I agree - the black gown you wore when you and Jonathan married is deserving of another outing! Spectacular!

    The other thing I keep is a pair of suede bell bottoms with fringe hanging from the knees. I bought these at Sexy Sadie's on 14th and Peachtree Street in Atlanta in 1969 when that area was the hippie community similar to San Francisco's Haight Ashberry. I will never get into those pants again and that's okay. They are, in their own way, a time, a place, an era in my life that mas extraordinary and full of change for me. Not all good, but all things I need to remember at times. Anne Rivers Siddons captured Atlanta during this time in two books - Peachtree Road and Downtown and I can't recommend them highly enough.

  9. Oldest piece of clothing? Uh, I still have a couple turtlenecks from college and I do wear them. Oh wait, that's not what you mean.

    My wedding dress is... somewhere. My dad found it in my grandparents' house after my grandfather died. Maybe it's in my attic? Is it bad I don't know?

    I still have the dress my daughter made her first Communion in and the dress she wore as a flower girl to my brother's wedding. We will never use them again. I really should find someplace to give them away. Two beautiful white dresses that have each been worn once (well, she wore the First Communion dress twice, because she wore it to May Crowning. Still).

    I'm pretty ruthless when it comes to getting ride of clothes. My husband - not so much. He's still got a set of dress blues from the Army. Talk about something that will never be worn again! But what do you do with it?

  10. Kaye, I want those bell bottoms.

    Mary, not it's bad to have it 'somewhere' in the attic - I threw mine away. A beautiful (of course) short Mexican lace dress which I dripped chicken juices on and never cleaned until years later and then of course it wouldn't come out so I tried to wash (AAAAGH) the dress and of course it shriveled up and so I threw it out. What a sad story. I'm still married to the same guy, however.

  11. Old furs need care, dear friends. Check the leather to make sure it isn't cracking. If it is, take it to a reputable place to have conditioned. Eventually they disintegrate. My mom took my grandmother's lovely mink to a lady, who turned the still usable bits into teddy bears.

    I had my self-made wedding gown from 1970, with the intention to save it for my oldest daughter. But she would never wear that style, or polyester, or something that tiny. I was still a skinny Minnie back then. And I still have my emerald green silk day dress I got married in the second time, in 1982, but I couldn't fit half my self in it now. But I can't bear to part with it.

    Several years ago I started to clear everything out, and my middle daughter stopped me from doing so by asking me to "leave us something to discover" after we're gone. She loved the idea of finding old bits of our lives to share with her sisters.

    Probably the oldest garment I have is one of my sister-in-law's exquisite custom sheaths from the early 60's. She would be in her 70's now, but she passed away a dozen years ago. I rescued a couple of her most lovely things when we cleared out Steve's parents' home, just because they were so wonderful. And tiny! She must have been a size 0. Or it could be the silk brocade sheath from either the 50's or 60's that a wealthy friend of my mother-in-law had made for herself in Hong Kong. I keep it for reference, because the finish techniques are so unusual.

    It could very well be time to let this stuff go, now that I'm thinking about it.

  12. Hallie, I think your husband would agree that being married to the same guy is more important than having the dress. =) But Mexican lace - it was probably stunning.

  13. I have my wedding dress bagged and hanging in the attic. There's some sort of tea-colored streak on the skirt, and I suspect I may have spilled champagne on it 28 years ago. No, I didn't have it professionally dry cleaned and put in an archival box. I got it at JC Penny on sale - it didn't feel like a priceless family heirloom! Just as well - when I showed it to my daughters, both of them were aghast at the puffy-sleeves-giant-skirt-Princess-Di look.

    Oldest garment? Mostly some of my old suits from the eighties, when I was working in DC. Hopelessly outdated, and the huge shoulder pads beneath the lining mean tailoring the jackets would cost more than a new suit, which I don't wear anymore, since I'm neither a lawyer nor a non-profit development officer. But I spent a lot of money on them, and they're so beautifully made, that I can't just toss them out.

    My slim, fine-boned mother has been smaller than me since I was 14 years old; so I don't have any of her hand-me-downs. I am keeping one of her things in trust for my girls: a fabulously soignée hostess wrap hand-tailored for her in Saigon. It's full-length, meant to be worn over cigarette pants, made of a stunning gold-embroidered blue silk. Sometimes I take it out of its bag in the attic and just feel the heavy fabric. Sigh.

  14. I adore vintage clothing, and I have quite a collection. My favorites are clothing my grandmother made in the 30s and 40s, her mink bolero, a fox stole (head and feet attached!), and my wedding dress, which was vintage when I bought it (it's from the 1910s). Oh, and the most wonderful full-length, double-breasted, 40s fabric coat ever. Oh, and...I'll stop now! I think I have a problem.

    (I read the de-clutter book also and keep meaning to tackle my closet. Then I get to all this stuff with meaning or fabulousness.)

  15. LOL, Kaye and Mary, on the suede bellbottoms and college-era turtlenecks, respectively. I'll bet those pants were it, Kaye! And Mary, yup, some of my t-necks are threadbare but I wear 'em on when I clean house.

    I also have my wedding dress (but have only been married 10 years, so that's easy.)

    The absolutely oldest item in my closet is a pint-sized green dress with gold lining that I wore when I was four years old and part of an Irish step dancing troupe. When we kicked our tap-shoed feet, the gold lining would show. Very fancy. We danced jigs and reels in a line across the stage, tallest to shortest. On one end was my third cousin Cathy, who was maybe 16. I was the littlest at age 4. The performance I remember the most was a St. Patrick's Day party with Ted Kennedy as the guest of honor.

    I should hand this tiny dress over to my nephew, who has two young daughters, but I just cannot bring myself to part with it. And it certainly does not take up much room.

  16. Deb mentioned something that touched a nerve with me. The smell of her ,others perfume on clothing. I brought back a Snoopy night shirt that my mother slept in and I wore it until it fell to pieces. So comforting.

  17. Mary, I hear you — living in NYC, one has to be ruthless and pragmatic about "stuff." I get a kick out of watching these TV programs on small home living. In NY, we call those "apartments."

  18. I have the green silk skirt and jacket blouse I wore to my son's wedding 16 years ago. I've worn the jacket blouse a few times (after having it let out), but have never worn the skirt again. It still fits but my now permanent colostomy bag doesn't! And that's okay. This post has reminded me that I can still wear the jacket this holiday season, so thanks for that, Hallie.


  19. Life is too short to wait.
    Hank, make an excuse to wear the Jonathan wedding dress.
    A friend decided to wear her prom dress to the laundromat. It made washing much more fun!

  20. Hank, I read the de-cluttering book, too, or at least to the folding underwear part:-) But I do like her philosophy (only keep things that give you joy,) and it helped get rid of a bunch of stuff in my closet that I never wore but only kept because I felt guilty about discarding. And you know what? I haven't missed any of it. Not a bit.

    Karen, thanks for the tips about the fur. The mink jacket looks like it's in perfect condition but I should have it checked.

    Rhys, the funniest thing--I remember what my mom's perfume bottle looked like, and I remember how it smelled, but I have no idea what it was. So frustrating. The mystery perfume... But even if I knew I couldn't replicate it, because so many synthetics are used now that perfumes don't smell the way they did in the 50s.

  21. Before I say what the oldest clothing item in my possession is, I'd like to mention the oldest family clothing item we have in the family, and it's still being used. My mother had an old silky, satiny black dress that must have been from the 30s. Such an interesting little number, and, as many of you have commented on your mother's old clothes, tiny. My daughter has used that dress for a Halloween witch costume since she was a girl. It is perfect! Her older daughter has used it, too. It gives me great pleasure to know that my mother's dress is still living on, and I think my mother would be so pleased, too.

    For me, at my house, I have a few items of my baby clothes, but the more interesting items are my Annie Oakley outfit I got for one of my birthdays as a kid, and there is part of the costume my mother made for when I was Betsy Ross in the first grade. There was a silky dress that went under the part I have, but I gave that back to my sister, as it had been her dress as a child, and I thought she should have it. I do still have my wedding dress, but my daughter got married in Key West in a lovely short white dress bought there, so I'm not sure it will ever see any more use. Although, my almost daughter-in-law and I were talking, and she would like to incorporate some of it into her wedding dress. I'm all for that, not minding if it's taken apart. Oh, and I have my old cheerleading uniform and jacket from high school that I can't part with.

    I love to hear of all your items that the rest of you have. I am in agreement with others, Hank, that you should create an event to wear that beautiful wedding garment. Karen, what a special daughter you have to have said, "leave us something to discover" while you were weeding items. Rhys, don't get rid of the Scottish kilt! I think if I had one, I'd put it on a mannequin or something like to display it. Debs, oh I would definitely wear that beautiful coat this winter. Don't wait any longer. Lucy, I could never give up that lovely dress either. Way too much meaning! Hallie, the fact that you nuzzle your coat and it gives you such pleasure is all the reason you need to keep it. Julia, your puffy-sleeved wedding dress reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where he agrees to wear the puffy shirt on the Tonight Show when Kramer's low-talking girlfriend asks him to. Oh, and the wrap sounds amazing.

    One method of disposal of really old clothes, maybe vintage, is to see if your local theater can use them in plays. No, I haven't done this yet, but the idea has occurred to me, and it would be nice to think of old family clothing still having some life.

  22. I have all of my grandmother's detachable fur collars (5 total in different shades). They can be attached onto the collar of any coat/jacket that has button holes in the right places. It really doesn't get cold enough where we live to wear them, but I'm holding out for the day I get invited to a chic winter gathering in New York City to whip them out ;)

  23. I have a beautiful green and black poncho from 1969. It's in perfect condition!

  24. Particular favorites from the Sixties and Seventies, including a pair of button front, hip-hugger bell bottoms (white with dark blue pinstripes) in a ridiculously small size (maybe today it would be a zero? Back then, it was a seven) and the floor-length moss green velvet dress (accented with embroidered satin brocade ribbons) that I wore to the 1965 Inaugural Ball. Also in a ridiculously small size.

    And a drawer full of earrings-- hoops, dangles, gold, rhinestone, moonstone, filigree, etc.

  25. A favorite "old" item is a chocolate brown leather jacket -- only 25 years old -- but I wore it today. It has a new $425 lining of beautiful silk, and I hope to wear it forever.
    However, a true beauty in my closet is the outfit that my sister's mother-in-law created for her: purple and puce green rayon with a "gorgeous" bow pin right in the middle of the gathered "bosom." (quoting the said mother-in-law, of course). And it's a size 18, whereas my sister is barely a 10. She also gave her a ratty mink stole picked up for a bargain which she thought "added the right glamour to the outfit." (also quoting said MIL) So this outfit has been passed around from sister to sister, niece to niece for years because it is so awful, so horrid, so ugly that it is worn frequently when one of us feels it necessary to make a statement. I wish I could add a picture of it!

  26. Probably the oldest thing in my closet right now is a leather skirt I bought in Spain in 1999. Although I do have a Dior suit I got at a church rummage sale sometime in the 90s and it is probably older. From my grandmother I've got a couple of sunbonnets (necessary in west Texas) and a blouse or camisole from the early 1900's. Nothing I could fit into these days. I've gotten rid of most of my work clothes since I retired myself.Just remembered! I have an Irish tweed jacket I got in 1996. I do love useful and wearable souvenirs! I do need to weed out my closet. Too much stuff in there I do not wear.

  27. The oldest things in my closet are my father's dress Army Air Corps uniform jacket and his leather flight jacket. Both are WWII. I never knew he had the dress jacket (the proper name for it may be "blouse", but I'm not sure) until after my mother died in 2013. I remember him wearing the leather jacket when building snow men and sliding with me in 1950s...and the special days when he would let me see the silk square in the pocket. A square imprinted with a map of India/Burma and with the words "I am an American. I am your friend" in several languages. That square is still in the pocket, but it is too fragile to be unfolded. I think of donating them to a military museum in the area, but I can't bear to part with them.
    Thank you for letting me metaphorically remove them from the closet today.

  28. One of my favorite clothing items is a 1940s swing coat with 3/4 sleeves, a big cowl collar (what are those called anyhow?) and a big button at the top. I actually do wear it! In fact, it needs a new lining. I don't know what you call the weave, but it's multicolored, just gorgeous.

    I have some costume jewelry from my mom's heyday in the 60s too. I still have a pair of Doc Martin's and black cowboy boots (which I wear) that I wore in the 80s. I don't know why I can't give up the Doc Martin's.

    I have trouble culling coats too, Hallie. When I moved in May, I took each one out of the closet, sighed over it, and packed it away. Although, remember those long, bulky, football-shoulder wool coats from the 1980s? Long gone! :-)

  29. My mom made a winter white wool cape for my sister's wedding. She was going to make Donna's dress, but they found one at such a good price that it didn't make sense not to buy it, so she put her love and skill into the cape. I wore it when I helped with St. Charles Christmas Traditions because it fit the Victorian costuming parameters, and for a few other storytelling or formal occasions, and have let the great-nieces know that it can be theirs if they wish.

  30. About thirteen or fourteen years ago, my mom gave me one of her evening gowns from the early 50's, that she wore to receptions in Argentina. It was black, a little faded in color to a very dark brown, with a halter strap, and beautiful beaded embroidery in a floral design that swooped from the top to the bottom of the dress. The dress itself was made from duchesse satin she told me. She had been very petite and slender, so I think the dress is probably a size 4 or 6. She was a very fashionable debutante. I said to my mom one day, wasn’t your wedding dress also made of duchesse satin? Oh, yes, she said, “this was made from the satin of my wedding dress!” So I still have it. I also have, and find difficult to part with, a wonderful everyday tweed overcoat, in grey, mixed with a bit of blue, and lilac, lined in navy blue, that I bought during my first or second winter in London about thirty years ago. When my sister visited from Argentina one Christmas, I gave her the coat to wear to stay warm as it was very cold. My sister really prefers to wear shorter coats and jackets (she’s more modern chic, I’m a bit more traditional!) so eventually after she returned to Buenos Aires she gave the coat to my mom, who added it to her wardrobe, always coordinating it beautifully, and effortlessly, with her clothes and accessories. After I moved to Virginia, during a visit to my mom in Argentina, she insisted I should take the coat again, because she felt I needed a warm coat where it snowed so much in the winter. So I still have this as well. Last year I found a small flat box, and carefully wrapped in tissue, a small dress, a little faded with its pleats and smocking. I don’t remember wearing this, of course, I was too young, but I do have a picture of me in it. This was one of my dresses when I was about one or two, and my mom had kept it for all this time. I look at these clothes that make me think of family and how infinite their history and our love is.

  31. I have my Gram's Black Velvet Tam, evening bag and Shoulder cover with the pin still in place, she always wore same in, never took it off the Shoulder Cover - wrapped in tissue paper in dresser draw, has been there since I was around 7 or 8 and she gave them to me. I've always been afraid to have them dry cleaned, that they'd fall apart

    Also have 2 of my Gramps Pendleton Plaid shirts - the two he wore most often, when he died when I was 11 I asked Daddy for them, 50 years ago - that's scary !!

    If DH were not sleeping, I'd get them all out and photo them - will try to remember tomorrow

    I love when items get saved as family heirlooms

  32. The sash from my Girl Scout uniform, filled with hard-earned badges.

  33. Fun comments! I have my First Communion dress, made by my mother. As a middle child, it was rare to get something that was not handed down. But my *dream* dress is a vintage Disco number. It's a bright green number that was slinky and fun. I loved that dress! For some reason, I have a whole trunk of clothes from the 80s and 90s that I can't part I'm curious why I still have them.

  34. Pat Kennedy, that is HILARIOUS> Thank you for my laugh of the day.

  35. What GREAT IDEA, KATHY REEL!!! XOO Oops caps lock...