Sunday, August 29, 2010

Binging and Purging


Valerie says: For many months now, when thinking of my closet, I've had this image in mind.

Here is a picture of my hall closet as of this morning. The picture doesn’t do it justice. Clothes are bulging out because they can’t hang flat. Although you can see all of the hangers, unless there are a few inches between each one, you can’t move them around, bringing this other image to mind.

And if some of them are bulging out in front, you can bet some are bulging out in back where you can’t see them. That’s my sign that there’s too much STUFF. I’ve been BINGING, and I need to PURGE. After several months of behaving very well, I behaved a little badly. It’s not my fault. (NoooOOOooo...)

For the most part, I don’t shop. Stuff finds me. A few weeks ago, I went to Sock Man on St. Mark’s Place to buy this Elvis / Warhol onesie for a new baby.

The salesman told me they also had the design in socks. So I bought Elvis socks and Marilyn socks. Wouldn’t you have done the same?

Two Saturdays ago I was at my chiropractor’s. It’s only a hop skip and jump to the flea market, I thought, so I stopped off there. But I had gone on the wrong day, and to ease my disappointment I walked a few blocks to a nearby thrift shop. I found nothing, so I started on my way home. Even going home is fraught, though. There were three other thrift shops on the way. At the first, I found this iconic scarf from Reiko Sudo's Nuno (flat in first photo, unfolded in second photo). The so-called origami scarf was made with a process (heat transfer printing, which causes the color difference you see) so revolutionary in the late '90s that it appears both in Structure and Surface, Contemporary Japanese Textiles – the catalogue for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1998 exhibition; and in Memory on Cloth: Shibori Now – Yoshiko Wada’s compendium of shibori. In the first photo, you can see the original tags, as well as the prices - $235 new from Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and $25 at the thrift shop. How could I say no?

At the same shop, I found this Dana Buchman jacket (also worn in last week’s blog). The colors reminded me of 1980s Issey Miyake. As I grow out of more and more of my clothes, it seemed easier (and smarter) to buy this for $20 than to retailor anything I own, or to starve myself down to my former weight. The fact that this jacket even fit me was a reason to rejoice.

A week later, much to my consternation, I was forced (forced, I tell you) to attend this season’s Issey Miyake sample sale. If I don’t attend, I fret that I missed something spectacular; if I do attend, I fret that I’ll spend money. This time, I came away with a black and gray polyester coat, which I’m going to try to wear as a dress (it’s very lightweight), and a spring green floor length crinkle dress. Here I am doing a clumsy imitation of Martha Graham. I’m SO curious to know where she got her ever-fabulous clothes, who designed them and who sewed them. Her clothes were as wonderful to see as her dances.

Everything at the sale was 80% off, but I can’t bring myself to commit the actual prices to print. (I’m sure you know the feeling.)

Recently I remarked to Jean that I was surprised to discover I had no red shoes for summer, so I started to keep my eye out for a pair. Reliable Arche, despite being in the midst of a sale, had nothing in my size or price range or style. Last week, following a trip uptown, I decided to walk home (testing my post-surgical foot), and passed by RIPE, a store that sells wonderful shoes I will never be able to wear. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered these flat red gladiator sandals by Nicole, on sale for $49. They felt great in the store, and are wide enough to accommodate my size 9.5 feet without looking like gunboats. Just within the past month I read that the gladiator look is OVER. Can you hear me laughing? I myself have been SO over for twenty years now (although I'm only now realizing it), how can it possibly matter to me if gladiators are only over this year?

And it never rains but it pours, so to speak. For years I’ve been searching for ankle length rain boots. Often I contemplated buying knee highs and cutting them off at the ankle, but I worried about getting them even, and about the distribution of weight. And I never liked or trusted those little slip-over-the-shoes things, so I held off.

Well, at Ripe I found these little rubber booties by Jeffrey Campbell. A tad expensive at $59, but who am I to argue? I’m not going to wait another ten years so I can get them or $39. They’re lightweight, flexible, and remind me of this pointillist painting by Paul Signac. I had occasion to use them in last week’s downpour, and I am a highly satisfied customer.

Campbell has a great sense of humor. Check out the cover of the box these boots come in. Campbell has used the iconic image from MGM’s Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, but appears to have skirted the copyright issue by obscuring their faces with his name. [Note to self: why are binging and singing spelled the same but pronounced differently?]

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The purged closet:
The purging half of the equation is infinitely more difficult than the binging half. Unless you merely put your hard gotten stuff in the trash, obstacles abound. First, of course, there is the emotional obstacle. It’s hard to say goodbye to stuff you’ve loved and spent money on. Then you have to decide what has to go and what gets to stay. Even if you can do that, not everyone likes to wear second hand things, not everyone will fit into your second hand things – size-wise or personality-wise, and even if someone wants your second hand coat, do you take it to them? Do they come to you? When are you both available? What if you want it out of the house TODAY, before you change your mind?

I think, to put yourself in a purging frame of mind, you have to drive away all thoughts of Jabba the Hutt, and instead direct your thoughts toward, say, Olive Oyl.

Generally, I fill a shopping bag or two and take everything to a thrift shop, where it can have a second life. I get them at a good price; I let them go at a good price. Recently, however, seeing what was available at the vintage shows, I thought ‘Wow – I should be able to pick up a few dollars for the things I let go of.’

In June, I called up my favorite high priced vintage shop and invited the owner over. I cleaned up my house for hours. I rearranged my closets, grouping all the ‘saleables’ in one easily accessible place and putting everything else wherever I had space. When the owner came over, he spent about an hour here, and bought two items: a 1980s huge fluffy white ribbed wool Issey Miyake belt with brown leather cinches (sorry – no picture) and a wonderful 1980s white cotton backless button down shirt with breast pockets from Complice, shown here in a photo from Christmas of 1997. His buying price was good, but if I’d hoped to clean out my closet, I was very much mistaken. He knew what he could sell, and that’s what he bought. Inauspicious beginning for an aspiring business person.

In July, I schlepped probably ten items by Yoshiki Hishinuma in two large bags to a consignment shop that specializes in avant garde costumes. To my surprise, the owner accepted only three items. He said that when the economy was good, he would have had no trouble selling any of them. Now, he said, he knew the unusual clothes would not sell. He chose four more conventional items, then ultimately rejected the fourth because it was green. He priced them well, but in two months’ time, only one item sold, and that in the first two weeks. In this photo, the top was accepted, but didn't sell. (The puckered velvet, hard to see here, was made with a highly innovative process.) The skirt, of wrinkled plastic over blue rayon (another innovative process), was rejected out of hand.

At the same time, I e mailed a dealer friend of mine. Rather than schlep more bags of stuff to my local thrift shop in the 90 degree weather in exchange for nothing more than a laughable tax deduction, I offered to sell everything to her for a song if she’d come and take it away. When, three weeks later, there’d been no response to that e mail or its follow-up, and with my closet bursting at the seams (pun unintended but welcome), I began filling the first bag.

Here’s what went into it:

1980s black and white cotton canvas dress by Alma. I bought this in 1992 for my first public talk, at the Seattle Art Museum. I had numerous slides of Japanese costumes, and didn’t want to be outshone by my slides. I could wear it then, standing. Last time I tried, I couldn’t even get it over my hips. I bought black canvas strips to use as insets at the side seams, but finally I couldn’t bear to alter it, and last week I sent it back out into the universe. It has a clevely hidden pocket where the two black lines collide. It was SO hard to give up.

Recent vintage Gaultier dress. I bought this for the wrong reason, and it came back to bite me. Even when I purchased it ($25!), earlier this year, I knew the clingy fabric wouldn’t flatter me. I had visions of selling it for a small profit, but I am clearly not made from the stuff of rag traders. Lesson learned. Buy because you love something. Not everything appreciates, and not everyone is born to sell.

Olive wool Flandre jacket. I bought this second hand in Japan on the streets of Harajuku for ¥1,000, or about $10, around 1990. I used to wear it with olive silk Ellen Tracy pants. Since the pants wore out, I haven’t been able to replace them, and now I’ve grown out of the jacket, which is tight at the arms and waist.

This white polyester jacket from H&M ($17.50 on sale) was one of my most disappointing purchases. Not only was it not waterproof (not their fault - they never claimed it was), it also came with a built-in steam bath. I love the material and the cut, but it did not serve the purpose I had in mind for it.

Another bad purchase. I bought this ($20?) black Dana Buchman linen jacket reluctantly, because I didn’t like the elastic at the waist, but I suddenly needed a short black jacket, because both of my old short black jackets (summer and winter) died at the same time. I think I’ve worn it once in a year (I just can’t get past that elastic), so it’s not paying its closet space rent. It’s a good jacket, just not for me.

I love this odd Ellen Tracy blouse, but since I can’t find any olive clothes to wear it with, it has sat forlorn and unworn in my closet for years. I’m releasing it in hopes that someone else will adore it. Once someone asked me to describe the design, and I called it ‘radioactive pond scum’. Ellen Tracy used to make clothes in the most wonderful prints, and I miss them terribly.

This is a Joan Vass wool knit suit ($40?). I now work in a building constructed in the 60s or early 70s, when energy was cheap and technology was primitive. Half of the building is hot (my half); the other half is cold. This wonderful suit is very warm, so I wear it only once or twice a year, and then really just to give it an airing. It’s bulky in my closet, so as much as I admire the suit, it simplifies my life to give it up.

I found this 1980s wool Krizia jacket at my favorite second hand shop around 1995 (ditto the Complice shirt above). The shop was on Lexington Avenue in the lower 60s, on the second floor. It was run by a Russian lady named Alla. Alla always had the best stuff at the best prices. There was always new stuff coming in, and I could do it all on my lunch hour. In the late ‘90s there was a mysterious fire, and all of Alla’s wonderful merchandise went up in smoke. Alla also disappeared, leaving no contact information. I’ve never found a store to replace hers. You can’t really tell, but the striations on the jacket are mint green. Some fifteen years after I bought it second hand, I have only given up the jacket now because I can no longer close the button.

I bought these black Marithe Francoise Girbaud pants in desperation, when suddenly all my black pants died and went to pants heaven at the same time. I like these very interesting pants, but my view of them changed irrevocably when I saw the very same pair on Jean. Jean bought hers in her size; I bought mine ($12?) in the size available at the thrift shop. Jean’s hug and flatter her shape; mine hang and bag on me. I find them cold in winter and warm in summer, so I sent them back to the universal pool of clothing to find a worthier wearer.

1950s faux painted skirt ($22). This fit me in 2004, when I bought it. I love the way the printed design appears to be painted. It looks like abstract art of the period. And I love the huge button-down pockets at the hips.

Two 1950s sundresses. I wish I had a better picture of the blue dress. It's simple but stunning. Several (five?) years ago, both of these fit me beautifully, and with a jacket over them, I could wear them to work. Now I can’t zip either one more than half way. Both have all sorts of little touches that I can’t go into here, but it’s easy to see that they were well made and carefully designed.

The white dress is printed with wonderful little black tea pots. (See the close-up photo of the knotted pocket.) The shoulders, unremarkable in the photo, drape beautifully on a body. I hate to part with these dresses, but they have no place in a size 12’s closet. The thing that would make me happiest would be to see them worn together on the street one day by two sweet young things who appreciate their style and can do them justice.

This Peggy Jennings short silk jacket never fit me, but I bought it because it was SO well priced, and because I was afraid someone who had no appreciation of its fine points would buy it and… well, who knows what they might have done with it? I love the material, the colors, the collar, the shape, the huge buttons on the cuffs, the silk lining. I knew I’d never be able to wear it. I think I just wanted to draw inspiration from it. It was delightful to see in my closet. I still hate to let go of it, and still worry that it will go to someone who doesn’t fully appreciate it. I sacrifice it most unwillingly.

I don't know why I didn't realize it when I purchased these Sonia Rykiel pants - I must have been desperate (they were $60!) - but the legs are much too long for me, and the hems were actually knitted into the fabric, so there was no way for me to shorten them. They drape beautifully, and have great pockets, so I really wish they had worked out.

If I had inherited a classic six apartment on my eighteenth birthday, I think I would have converted the sixth room to my clothes closet/fashion and textile archive. Except for what I’d worn to death, I would never have thrown anything away, and would have put it all in that sixth room to periodically review and reminisce, the way one does with old photographs. Isn’t this why we go to museums? To see things we love, but can’t have in our own homes? To get a glimpse of history? I think that’s why I’m constantly drawn to places like second hand shops. They’re small museums with free admission and constantly changing exhibitions.

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Jean says:
When Valerie mentioned her topic for this week's blog, she must have had a clue from my reaction that (blood draining from my face, a pained expression like I'm sucking lemons and endless deep sighs), like Queen Victoria, "we were not amused". I sucked it up and muttered something under my breath, through gritted teeth, like "I've got the binge part down to a science. It's the purge part I just can't quite get a handle on." Valerie was, shall we say, undeterred. Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. (Image by

Few words in the English language strike fear into the heart of a true hoarder than "purge"! it sounds like some medieval spa treatment like coffee enemas designed to separate a patron from his or her hard earned cash. In the words of Herman Melville's protagonist in Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street: "I'd rather not." (Image by flower.dust)

Like sports teams, this is my Bye Week. Because I fly to Savannah Sunday morning at the crack of dawn and the blog is never launched until late into the night on Sunday (or early morning on Monday), I am off the hook for personal photos and active participation. Like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, I get to sit back and pontificate. That situation is, I fear, merely temporary. Soon, the other shoe will drop and I too shall have to "purge" something from my overflowing closet and storage boxes and record it for all the world to see. Probably more than one something too, I'll bet. But I'll worry about that tomorrow - or whatever the heck Scarlett O'Hara said. (Image by

Yo, yo, yo, check out my grill! This afternoon, I could not resist an indefensible splurge - er, binge: I plunked two quarters into an East Village vending machine for a set of plastic "Bling Teeth". Like crazy wild, my man. I blew another Fiddy Cent to buy one for Valerie. All of this hilarity for just one sawbuck. What a bargain. (Images by and

Who knows if or when they will surface in some future blog entry? Stay tuned. Of course, the true challenge will be for me to be able to locate one or both of them by the time I actually need them. As Valerie can attest, just as I have difficulty with the second phase of binge/purge, I have a similar issue with Phase Two of store/retrieve. (Image by

Bonus photo:

Valerie says: This is a Claire McCardell suit that I saw on my recent wander through the thrift shops. Thoughts of 'flipping' it, as they say, ran through my head, but I restrained myself from buying it. It's got to be a size 4 or so, and would never have fit me. Even if it did fit me, I still work on the warm side of my building, and would have boiled in this. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Oh, and full disclosure: the hall closet is still Jabba the Hutt, and needs to be worked on. (I'll think about that tomorrow.) The nearly empty Olive Oyl closet above is another closet, and as not really as empty as it appears in the photo. Yet.


  1. May I offer a suggestiong for your items, while the deduction has been reduced to almost nothing, donating clothes to thrift stores is still an excellent option. My wife and I favor "Housing Works" as our destination of choice and that is also her favorite shopping location. Not only does this support a great organization but as my wife says, these items will find a good home and someone will love having them.

    ps. you have inspiried my wife to work on building an outfit for a very resonable price while still being fabulously stylish.

  2. Valerie responds (after figuring out - kinda sorta - how to respond to a comment): Thanks, Anonymous, for your comment! (And how lovely to have a guy checking us out!) Rereading the post, it's clear it was unclear. Everything selected did, in fact, go to a thrift shop. For those thinking of donating, call in advance. Some thrifts decide for you the value of your things; others let you decide for yourself. Also, some are unpredictable as to when they accept goods. It would add insult to injury for you to pick, pack, and schlep, only to be turned away when you're offering up great stuff for nothing.

  3. Valerie,
    You are so right about calling first. As my wife is a hardcore Housing Works kind of girl she rarely has that problem as she knows their stock pretty well.

    We met at the Alias for that Dumpling Diva event, she was wearing that lovely red hat and we stopped over to tell you how absolutely fabulous you both looked. It was that snappy little hat that first caught our eye.

    And yes I do enjoy fashion, I got interested via of course a tv show, Project Runway, but that was after starting out watching motorcycle building shows.

    Fashionistas aren't the only ones who need to make it work.


  4. Larry, we both LOVED that hat, and we're harder to please than many Olympic judges. (BTW, we'd say our opinions are sounder than many of those offered on Project Runway, which we think can be capricious and - dare we say it? - staged.) - Valerie (Not really anonymous - just have to figure this commenting thing out.)

  5. You both have inspired me to get off my boring butt and get creative again...I too am looking in my closet and seeing hangers full of items who need a good home. I believe in recycling the old to make way for the new, not current, but new to me. I did pick up a fabulous black round hat in a thrift store last week for...$ would luv it...Happy cleaning...janet