Sunday, January 31, 2010

Closet Queen

Valerie says:

This week’s topic is my closet/closet organization. It would be OUR closets, but Jean is dealing with her closet the same way we all deal with our first gray hair: she isn’t ready for anyone to see it yet. Jean’s closet is organized loosely around chaos theory, as propounded (and exquisitely demonstrated) by the Collyer brothers.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, said “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…” Lucky man. Those of us living in New York City often think our closets are our nutshells, and fashionistas know there is nothing infinite about that space. (The full quotation ends “were it not that I have bad dreams.” Almost everyone in Manhattan has bad dreams about space. [Photo from])

There is nothing perfect about my closet, so I’m not really a closet queen at all. (The title was just to get your attention.) I’m perhaps closer to a closet baroness. That’s like being a jack in a deck of cards – one step lower and you’d be a number, not a picture. But I’ve gotten my closet to work for me, so for those of you who are intimidated by the storage issue, I thought I’d show you how to make a sow’s ear look a little more like a silk purse.

My closet is too small to organize the way I’d like to: all the shirts, then all the skirts, then all the pants, etc. Instead, I organize by color. Here you can see that all the grey, then all the black, then all the white are on the left side of the closet...

... and whatever colors I have are on the right side. From left to right, the greens, then the reds, the oranges, the yellows, the blues and the purples. In theory, the greens should go at the far end, because I wear them less than the reds and the blues. They just wound up at the center by accident, but it’s not an issue because the closet is only 60 inches wide, and I can see everything.

(It’s also 45 inches deep, and who cares how high, since I need a ladder to reach anything above the first shelf. Left is a picture of me in my closet to give you some idea of proportions. With my arms extended to the fingertips, the closet is about one inch short of my - shall we say - wingspan.)

Winter wear and summer wear are mixed together. There is not enough room to separate them, but with a few very obvious exceptions, I find that many of my clothes can do nearly year-round duty anyway.

In the center of the closet is an inexpensive grey industrial felt shoe carrier that I have converted to a ‘crinklies’ carrier. Items that are crinkly to begin with can get stuffed into the shoe carrier (saving me 4-8 inches of hanger space on the rod), but the shoe carrier has to be in the center, otherwise I’d never see it or its contents. It makes a handy visual break between the monochromes and the polychromes, and that balance keeps the lid on my lurking OCD. I chose the grey felt because I hated the white plastic version, but also the white plastic might have sharp edges that tear or pull at the clothes, and might also cause static.

On the shelf above the hangers are the sweaters. The ones I use frequently are in the front; the ones I seldom use but can’t bear to part with are in the back. (Don’t hang sweaters if you can avoid it – knits tend to lose their shape. If you DO hang them, fold them in half over the bar of your hanger – that will halve the amount of weight each side has to bear. And use a hanger with a rounded finger-sized bar or larger, not a wire hanger. Don't forget what Joan Crawford said: NO WIRE HANGERS!)

Many of my sweaters are wool, so they could be susceptible to moth damage. Before you buy a wool garment second hand, you should inspect it thoroughly for holes. Even if it passes that test, you should dry clean it immediately, just in case. For the same reason, I also keep all my wool sweaters in unavoidably ugly plastic bags. (Cube shaped ones, such as come with new sheets, are the best: they open and close nicely with zips, and the cubic shape helps them sit nicely on shelves.) This is a precaution that has worked well for me. If you do bring home a moth, the plastic bags contain and minimize the damage. (I don’t feel the same need to wrap up the hanging wools, which get more surface exposure to light and air, and thus are less attractive to moths.)

When I lived in the Texas-sized state of Texas, I had a Texas-sized walk-in closet (about the size of the one shown here, found on the web) that I could probably have slept in comfortably, so every item of clothing had its own hanger. There was a 5-6 foot hanging rod on the left, another on the right, space for me to stand and contemplate my choices, room for all my shoes at the base and space for all my books on the shelves above. (It was a two storey apartment in Dallas with two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a backyard, a swimming pool, and shag carpet as far as the eye could see, all for $175 per month.) I could not fit the same number of hangers in my New York closet, so the rule here is that every hanger does double duty. Almost no hanger has the privilege of carrying only one garment.

Ideally, a hanger holds a suit, as this one does.

If not, I put together two items that I often wear like a suit, as with this red wool Anne Klein jacket (from Bergdorf’s, by way of the flea market!) paired with, wonder of wonders, an Eddie Bauer red wool tartan skirt.

If neither of these is possible, I’ll pair two items of the same color even if I would never wear them together. I don’t have much in orange, so this bright orange striped silk jacket is learning to live with the dotted burnt orange cotton skirt. They’re of similar weights, so there’s still a little method to the madness.

In the worst of all possible worlds, I’ll put a summer item together with a winter item, as with this dark blue wool jacket and pale blue cotton summer dress. They make strange bedfellows, but it’s the only way to ensure that everything will fit in the closet, AND be in the correct color section. In any case, I won’t be looking for the dress during the winter, only the jacket, so it’s of little consequence that the jacket obscures my view of the dress.

Speaking of hangers, for best results buy only hangers with attached clips for skirts or pants, and with swiveling hooks. When I come home from work, I take my work clothes off immediately and let them air out overnight in the closet. If I hang them in their place on the rod they won’t aerate, so I hang them from the sweater shelf (as in some of the above photos). Clothes on the swivel hook hangers are less likely to accidentally fall to the floor because there is less tension between the hook and the body of the hanger, and clothes that don’t accidentally fall to the floor are less likely to raise my blood pressure, so swivel hook hangers have a lot to recommend them.

Another rule is that no cats are allowed in the closet. I have two cats, and they have the run of the apartment, but they are forbidden in the closet because on too many occasions I have put on an outfit only to discover there is a swath of cat hair decorating the hem where a cat has passed by on her way to nap in a dark corner. Since I likely won’t have time to change or clean off the hair, it saves me a lot of trouble if I just keep them out. I have come to terms with the hair issue in all other aspects of my life, but I grew tired of having perfect strangers say to me “I see you have cats.” So the outdoor clothes go back to the pristine closet as soon as I arrive home, and are replaced with jeans or other cat-friendly clothes.

A few important notes: this closet is only possible because a) I weed it fairly regularly; b) underwear, stockings, etc., are kept separately in a chest of drawers; and c) I can keep my coats in the closet by the door. There would be room for shoes in this closet, but I don’t wear them in the house, so shoes (a story for another time) are kept in a closet by the door. Full disclosure: there's no place for me to safely store the wonderful black Donna Karan gown hanging on the wall. Good thing I like looking at it.

In a 2009 article on Betsy Bloomingdale ( Women's Wear Daily noted that items hanging in her closet (closets - she reportedly has eleven) were all tagged with information as to where they were worn, and notes suggesting what accessories to wear them with, and how best to put the clothes on. This enviable degree of organization, of course, is part and parcel of having rather more space and rather more clothes than I have (AND of having a full time personal assistant to keep track of everything). Betsy (shown here reviewing her gowns at an FIDM Museum exhibition) must be one of the true closet queens, and that degree of organization is what separates the closet queens from the closet baronesses. (And you know, having read Tess of the D'Urbervilles - or at least having seen the stunning Nastassia Kinsky in the Roman Polanski movie - that some of us have only bought our titles. I am not telling about my own.)

I am working toward becoming a full fledged closet queen. I already have all the regalia. Look!

Clockwise, from top left: the all-important orb, the scepter (or sceptre), formal crown (black, with sharp points) informal crown (celebratory colors and blunted points).

(informal crown by Tiiti Tolonen, formal crown by Mary Jaeger; both of felt)

Jean says:
God save the Queen! Needless to say, Valerie's proposal of showing our closets engendered in me about the same reaction as a proposal to have my naked photograph on a billboard in Times Square. What a nightmare! As I had indicated in a previous posting, I live in constant fear that editors from A&E's "Hoarders" will be knocking on my door to recruit me as their next subject. In the spirit of full disclosure, here is a picture of my closet, packed to the gills. Since my wardrobe is about 90% black, the sleeve of the red leather jacket visible to the left of the closet is an unlikely sight.

Even more unlikely is the fact that it is a NASCAR jacket. And not just any NASCAR jacket. It is in fact a Dale Earnhardt, Jr. NASCAR Winston Cup Series jacket by Chase Authentics by JH Design Group. A size small, it is emblazoned not only with his number 8 (on the back of the neck and left sleeve) and his embroidered signature (over the heart), but also the logos of all of his sponsors: Bud, the King of Beers (on front and back), Champion, Chevrolet, Remington Arms, The Outlaw, Goodyear, Cincinnati High Performance Machine Tools, Ritz Crackers, Sherwin Williams Automotive Finishes, Drakkar Noir, Snap-On, and Van Camp Beans.

What, you might ask, would I (a raving Formula 1 fan) be doing with a Nascar jacket? Good question. Answer: It once belonged to Cheryl Crow, made its way to Jodi Head (designer of Rock Star guitar straps), and eventualy landed in my possession. It is sort of the East Village equivalent of the "Traveling Pants".

With all the skeletons in my closet, it's a miracle I can get the door shut. Which brings me to my next topic: Skeletons in the Closet.

According to Go English.Com: "Years after a person has died, only the skeleton remains, and a skeleton of bones can be a frightening thing to look at. "Skeletons in the closet" are embarrassing things which we would like to put away so other people cannot see them."

Deadheads will recognize it as the title of one of the Grateful Dead's greatest hits albums. It was an amalgam of some incredible tunes: Sugar Magnolia, Uncle John's Band, Casey Jones, One More Saturday Night, Mexicali Blues, Rosemary, St. Stephen, Truckin' and Friend of the Devil bring back memories.

"Skeletons in the Closet" is also the name of the fourth solo album by Parliament-Funkadelic leader George Clinton. A little known fact is that it featured the recording debut of former Miss America Vanessa L. Wiliams! According to Wickipedia, the album was released in May 1986 by Capitol Records and was the last album that Clinton would record for the label.

Recording sessions for the album utilized a small cadre of P-Funk musicians including Bootsy Collins, Garry Shider, and DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight, as well as Vanessa L. Williams on the opening track "Hey Good Lookin'". R&B Skeletons in the Closet was produced by Clinton, Steve Washington, Shider, and Andre Jackson. Now a tour of George Clinton's closet would really be something! The man never met a color he didn't like to wear.

Well, dear readers, if and when I clean my closet, you'll be the first to know. 'Til then, do tell us about your closet, if you dare!

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