Who Bought All These Ridiculous Clothes and Why Are They In My Closet?

6 minute read
Susanna Schrobsdorff writes the It’s Not Just You newsletter on Substack

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When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.

Caitlin Moran

Who bought all these terrible clothes and why are they in my closet?

Last week I tore through the house looking for something I could wear to my first post-pandemic professional event. All I needed was one thing I didn’t hate. What I found was a dozen sad “black office pants” in a dozen different sizes, an uncountable number of heels in neutral tones, and evidence of what could be some sort of psychological disorder involving the repeated purchase of ill-fitting white jackets.

I started pulling things off hangers and asking, as Nora Ephron once put it, "who did I think I was when I bought this?

I’m not the only one who doesn’t recognize herself in the wardrobe mirror in the wake of the pandemic. Half my friends are giving away clothes that no longer fit their lives, their bodies, or their souls. Some have put their fancy work outfits into backyard sheds, like a fashion army that may never be called up again.

Others never stopped accessorizing, pandemic or no pandemic. And yes, lots of women are thrilled to get back to their formerly glam selves and the delight of wearing things that are more beautiful than functional. “I feel like a gazelle that’s just been born,” one woman told the New York Times in an article about the return of stilettos.

But even people who couldn’t wait to burn their stretchy pants are re-evaluating their workwear. For a lot of us, a year of job disruption and social change has shifted the way we see ourselves and how we want to spend our time and money. And that affects how we want to present ourselves to the world.

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So that’s why most of my wardrobe is now in a heap that’s nearly as tall as the bed. Nothing here is very expensive, there’s just too much of it. The great clothing pile is a monument to my decades-long quest to look like whoever I needed to be at work that day or year. Dressing for the office was like solving a sartorial Rubik’s Cube in which the rare winning combination was simultaneously appropriate for my age, rank, body type, and schedule. This last year has been a respite from all of that.

However, even with all the fretting and shopping, I never felt as self-assured in what I was wearing as the execu-dudes who showed up to all meetings in a sweatshirt, jeans, and baseball hat long before the pandemic. Turns out, the real power suit is the freedom to not make an effort, to just put your sneakered feet up on the table and lean back, buoyed by vast reserves of confidence. Of course, not everyone can pull off that look…

I’ve spent the last week trying to find myself in this archeological dig of artifacts from three jobs, two kids, three relationships, and at least four different sizes. I’m fighting the urge to give it all away and just wear pajamas till I figure things out.

But there are a few impractical pieces I’ll keep in a box somewhere. They’re talismans like the battered Levis that have been through everything, like me. (They’re the jeans version of Dorian Gray’s portrait.) And the pink crepe dress with the satin lining that falls from the hips like a cloud. My friend Brenda describes it as “numinous,” and that alone is reason to keep it even if it doesn’t fit this body.

I’ve been having dreams about a bright closet with only a couple of things in it. There are some soft white t-shirts on hangers, a black turtleneck, a single skirt, and a long teal item that morphs into whatever I need it to be. It’s the magic witchy wardrobe I’ve been waiting for.

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A few images from the week that was.

Lancaster County Pennsylvania Dairy Cows
Photograph by Susanna Schrobsdorff

Churchtown, Pennsylvania: The cows are feisty (look at that side-eye), the corn is already waist-high, and you can watch Mennonite teens speed by on bikes, long dresses flying, caps firmly fastened.

Photograph by Susanna Schrobsdorff

And the churches are alright too.

Stan's Record Shop, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Photograph by Susanna Schrobsdorff

Stan’s Records has been on Prince Street in Lancaster since the early ’50s. And when we visited, the clientele flipping through LPs from Bad Company to Bowie, Carly, and Humble Pie was mainly Gen Z.

I bought this 45 just for Debbie Harry’s spectacular hair (circa 1982). And for the lyrics printed on the back of the sleeve:

“The sky is blue the sea is warm and clear
And golden sands are calling out to you inviting
Make a new man out of you
You can come for a while come with a friend
Forget about work start all over again
Let the real you through, here’s what we do.”


It’s Not You, It’s COVID: Couples Who Blamed Pandemic for Tensions Stayed Happier Pinning stress on the coronavirus helped couples cope and remain resilient. One question: What can we blame now?

What to Read If You Want to Feel Wonder About the Universe Recommendations from The Atlantic for inspired summer reading.


Meet Woodgie cat shared by Kathleen who writes: “Woodgie – which, according to the Urban Dictionary is: ‘a person who you feel bad for or want to cuddle with.’ She’s the latter.”

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