I Gave Away a Closet Full of Designer Clothes in Hopes of Finding “Me”
10.03.17
Photo by Melodie Jeng via Getty Images.

I have been working in fashion since I scored my first internship at 18 years old. On my first day, at my first magazine, the favorite intern, a part-time model and singer who stood at a casual 5’11, was having a conversation with the fashion director right next to my little desk. They were discussing the new Kate Moss for Topshop collection, which had dropped the previous Saturday, and whether it would be worth checking out. The editor said, “I don’t know, it was all really feminine and short floral dresses. It really isn’t us.”

That final “us” hung in the air as I looked down at my assiduously selected Marc by Marc Jacobs short dress in a pastel floral print. It was pointed. It was not coincidental. She did, in fact, “mean it like that.” Her comment was intended to let me know that I had chosen the wrong thing, that I was not “us.” I was devastated. In that moment, I realized I had to learn about, well, everything, and quickly, and that in order to “make it,” I’d have to look the part. It became an obsession.

I did what any self-respecting 18-year-old who grew up on 90’s rom-com movies would do: I gave myself a makeover. I scoured vintage stores and Urban Outfitters until I got the grungy, MySpace girl look that the magazine I worked for promoted. The result? Nothing fit me properly and nothing flattered my body type, but I was determined. Was it me? Definitely not. But none of that mattered anymore because I was in NYC now and I had to “fake it” until I made it. You are your brand, right? Working at a magazine is sort of like working at a store. You need to embody what’s being sold.

By the end of that summer I had it nailed. I was going to all the “cool spots” and became super skilled at pretending to love life. I had a fake ID and pricey designer platform boots (two pairs of them!) that I wore with destroyed denim shorts, t-shirts with holes in them and a lot of eyeliner. I looked the part. I felt terrible.

Let me back up by saying that this was not my first foray into manipulating my own image for personal gain. I have almost always used fashion as a social tool. I wore a uniform for most my life and, even though I already stood out for being one of three black girls in my class of 50, I hated the idea of having to wear the same thing as everyone else. I differentiated myself by proving that I had style (and as a result, was constantly in violation of the dress code). I was competitive about it, and wanted to win whatever imaginary contest I had invented.

In high school, I used my clothes to solidify my position at the top of the pecking order, then all throughout college, then to get hired at my first job. I was once interviewed by a fashion director who didn’t look at my resume a single time during our meeting. Instead she said, “So, what we are missing here is ‘a downtown East Village girl,’ bohemian with an edge.” That wasn’t me at all, but still, I wanted the job. I had to have it, so I nodded enthusiastically, name dropped a few stores that I only sometimes shopped at and was hired the next day.

With each new career transition came a new set of style guidelines, a new persona to fulfill — and I played each part to type-A perfection. Fashion had made me chameleonic. It was an expensive, self-compromising habit that I told myself was an investment in my future. It eventually consumed me, but I didn’t even realize it was happening. All I wanted was to impress my bosses with what I wore, and I did. I was finally “us.” My friends thought I was killing it. Everyone thought I loved my life and the accompanying wardrobe. And I think, at that point, I did. I think. Mostly I was getting so good at the “fake it” part that I had fooled myself.

My overstuffed closet told the truth: it was a groaning, hodge-podge roadmap of chaos, all flash, no substance. But the more entrenched you become in the industry, the more brands offer to loan you clothing for fashion events. To keep up, I spent money on more designer clothes, for fear of someone seeing me outside of fashion week and labeling me a fraud. The paranoia overwhelmed me; I padded my closet with more and more ridiculous possessions.

On top of that, I’ve never had an easy body for fashion, but I dressed to emulate the impossibly tall and thin women for whom I worked. My waist-to-hip ratio didn’t bode well for the silhouettes I bought at the time. It was a comical performance of uncomfortable clothing and regrets — but you don’t realize these things, or you don’t think about them, when you’re living out your so-called dream, when you have the job you always imagined.

And then one day, I snapped.

I went through a tremendous heartbreak at the beginning of 2016. A former friend betrayed me in the process. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse: I took a risk on a start-up for the sake of a change (one I hoped would cure me of my post-breakup depression) and was fired within a few months. Nothing comforted me, especially not my clothes. My personal life was a disaster and I realized just how little it mattered that I had a runway Ferragamo gown in my closet “just because.”

On top of all of that, I had to move. For the first time in six years, I was forced to take a critical look at all the stuff in my life — and then purge that which didn’t serve me. I made several attempts to clean my closet, but the process was slow. It’s hard to part with pieces that used to represent self-worth. It’s harder to part with very expensive things. It’s the hardest to break a lifelong habit of using fashion to cover up your insecurities. Little dents were made though, bit by bit.

At my new, current job, fashion is tangential; it’s a part of the description — not the whole thing. I’m able to diversify my interests with other subjects like beauty, fitness and wellness. It’s been a relief. Still, out of habit more than anything, I fell back into playing the game during this most recent fashion week in New York. I bought a few new shiny things, borrowed samples, dressed myself in “looks.” When the last garment bag of loaned runway items was zipped and returned to its press office after the fact, I decided enough was officially enough. I was done pretending, and so I finally went through my closet with a steadier, heavier hand. There were 27 bags to sell and donate in total. I’m still not really finished.

My wardrobe as it currently stands is what I call “fashion basic.” White tees are at the forefront. After years of stiletto pumps that threatened my weak, wobbly ankles and pencil skirts so tight I could barely sit down, I’m ready to feel comfortable. I want to wear shoes I can walk in, jeans that fit my butt without tailoring. This, too, might be a phase. For all I know, I could be lured back in any moment by some designer’s new collection, but I am tired of being broke, tired of trying to look a way that makes me feel like I am sprinting on a hamster wheel in a cage I can’t escape. More than anything, I want to feel like myself — and learn what that even feels like. Maybe this is the beginning.

Interior photos by Edith Young.

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  • Amanda Orlando

    I really appreciate her honesty here. I feel like I went through a similar journey of dressing for a “part” before I came to find myself. Very interesting read!

  • Mellisa Scarlett

    I absolutely loved this. “Masking insecurities with fashion” . A struggle that resonates with me as well.

  • So inspired! I have been thinking about closet cleansing for a while but I also have been itching for new Fall stuff. I am starting a New job next week and I feel that shopping itch even more intensely. This is a good reminder to calm down and purchase with purpose!

  • additionalmayonnaise

    The vulnerability here is really admirable. I’m sure this wasn’t an easy transition to make or write about.
    So much of who we are (or who we want to be, or who we want people to believe we are) is tied up in clothes. I work in a corporate environment that doesn’t fit my personality, and I’ve never felt comfortable in the business-ish clothes I wear for work.

  • alexia

    Well, is it that we always want what we don’t have ? You work in fashion and are expected to dress up, have a curated image etc. which I get, must be “too much” sometimes – and I live in the countryside, work in a place where I certainly cannot wear all the beautiful, expensive clothes I own, and feel quite frustrated because of that, saying to myself – like you – that I should sell those useless things that have nothing to do with my life and who I am on a daily basis. So we both end up selling those things out of frustration and we both buy “good basics” and “trusty investment pieces”, but I’m not sure that it will be satisfying in the end! I still regret selling a chanel bag that I never wore… Anyway, maybe keep us posted on how this process goes ? 🙂

  • Akosua Adasi

    “More than anything, I want to feel like myself — and learn what that even feels like. Maybe this is the beginning.” Danielle, this is so good and relevant! It’s so hard to feel like you love fashion but still can’t manage to incorporate LOOKS into your everyday style for whatever reason, which leads to feeling like a fraud and anxiously buying $400 pants just because you hope it’ll send the message that you really care.

  • Rachel

    Finding our own fashion identity is so hard and I think it’s definitely a long process. I’ve gone through so many phases and I always want to “curate” by wardrobe based on good quality neutral basics with some pops of colours because I love that style on other people. But the truth is that’s just not me. Every 6 months or so I try to go through my closet and get rid of all those things I don’t wear or those things I bought because that’s what everyone else was wearing but that actually I hate. I feel like I’m finally getting to a point where I know what works for me and what doesn’t and I’m sticking to that while still trying new things here and there.
    Also super important to get rid of anything that doesn’t actually fit! There are things I’ve been holding onto for years that used to fit but I know I’ll never be that size again. Also unless you’re going to send the money to get something altered get rid of it now!

    • Ana

      I’m pretty much like you lately. What I’m wondering if I really have a fashion identity? Maybe I just don’t have a style, just a list of clothes or colors that I like and I look good in.

  • tmm16

    “Fashion had made me chameleonic” – love this statement alone, but with the context, it made me sad. When you work in fashion, it’s easy to get caught up in the clothes, the image, the perfection, the scene, it’s so exhausting…. Thanks for being so open and honest, Danielle! Such a well-written and perspective piece.

  • Autumn

    I’d love to see a Then & Now week of outifts from Danielle – pre and post closet purge.

    • Amelia Diamond

      follow up story!

  • Leerider

    What an excellent read! Kudos to you for being so, so transparent in your struggle for identity. I think it happens honestly to the best of us, especially when your masking pain and working within an industry that requires you to dress the part. I think you’ll always have great taste for finer things, but you’ll have other priorities that will put the instant gratification on hold when it comes to breaking the bank. Good luck and thanks. You are a good writer for sure!!!

  • AlrightArightAlright

    SO GOOD, SO RELATABLE. THANKS FOR WRITING THIS.

  • Vana

    Wow! What a relevant and transparent read. I feel like so many women in fashion will be happy to read this and exhale because so many feel like the labels are important and necessary. So good ! 🙌🏾❤️

  • Amelia

    SO GOOD. Gave me chills.

  • YES YES YES. I love this story, the honesty, and Danielle.

  • Jennifer

    So damn relatable, and I appreciate the honesty and vulnerability. Thanks for sharing Danielle! Everyone, follow her on Instagram. Her IG stories are hilarious and her dog Harry is a cute reoccurring guest!

  • Harling Ross

    I love this story a whole lot

  • Jessica

    This is so good and so true. I have lately been feeling really comfortable and confident with my own style, but I still find myself being pulled in by bright shiny things that aren’t actually really my style at all.

    Even seeing the style posts on here, I have to learn to listen to my head when it comes to ‘I love that and would definitely feel great in that’ versus ‘that looks amazing and is so in but I actually wouldn’t wear it personally’.

  • Miss Crystal

    “It’s the hardest to break a lifelong habit of using fashion to cover up your insecurities.” Omg are you me?

    Staring into the chaos of my own closet, I’m constantly trying to figure out what is my actual style, and it always turns into deep philosophical reflection.

  • yes. yes. yes.

  • Hannah Betts

    Great piece. I really felt your physical discomfort now shed like an old skin.

  • Emily

    I love this story and hearing about your transformation. I really admire people who have found their own aesthetic, that really reflects their personality, rather than those who just wear what’s trendy. Thank you for sharing!

  • esrcornell

    I feel like I just read an essay about MY life…!

  • rachel

    If you are looking to get rid of that big furry thing on the left, I have some available space in my closet (okay I absolutely don’t have space but my love for big furry garments is overriding the cold, hard facts.)

  • kevynryan

    I could be wrong, but the first job sounded like Cory Kennedy era Paper Magazine. I was a victim of that “hot mess chic” time period, too. The result is uniconic photos of me looking like an actual disaster in college. There’s a reason Cory’s sober now, god bless her.

    • Nico

      I remember that era. What does Cory Kennedy do these days?

      • Rachel

        Coke

    • Kattigans

      Cat Marnell too at xo jane

  • i like dress beautiful

  • Caroline Christianson

    Danielle, our arms could not be more open to you!!!! I imagine all of us here share a deep personal investment with how we present visually in the world, yet haven’t quite figured it out. A lot of MR self-reflective pieces via fashion are on the side of “Finally, success!” So special to hear this process, this struggle. Thank you, MR team for this piece and Danielle for sharing Xx

    • Lucille

      Totally totally agree. Love this “in progress” take on growth and evolution. Thanks Danielle + MR!

  • NADIA

    frankly speaking bravo bravo well done wish a lot of people could have the courage to do as you
    vers expressing photo with hangers down very great

  • C. Killion

    Brava! Superb article, thank you!

  • Dale Chong

    This story is so honest, and I love it because even though I’m not fully immersed in the fashion industry at the moment (I hope to be at a fashion-focused website as an editor one day), I still feel the need for this validation. It’s nice to hear about it from someone who’s been through it and get her perspective.

  • Ana Mª López Rodríguez

    I love your story!! You are going to be a shiny, beautiful, aware and sensible new being, new “you”!!!!!

  • I went through something similar when I moved across the country, and then a few months later quit teaching. A lot of the clothes in my closet fit the “teacher” uniform I was expected to wear, and none of it ever felt right on me.

    I ended up with a closet on the other end of the spectrum from Danielle’s – everything was plain, intensely conservative, and downright matronly. Think lots of ill-fitting black “work pants,” barely any prints, tons of cardigan sweaters, and black flats (why I owned so many pairs of black flats, I’ll never know). I was in my 20s, dressing like a nun. (I only say this because I once subbed for a teacher at a Catholic school, and came to school wearing basically the same thing they were. Almost exactly. It was weird.)

    Purging all of that stuff felt so freeing. Now that I work freelance, I can wear whatever I want. It’s been fun to learn about what MY style is for a change!

    I also would love to see a before/after of Danielle’s closet/wardrobe!

  • Jay

    I‘m here! I take all of the stuff… !!!!

    Well kidding

    Rather went through a similar experience. Breakup. Moving out. Asking who I am. Who I wanna be. Whether I am all the issues I have about myself. Or maybe not. Whether I need to wear that dress? Or just not?

    There might be a lot of short stories waiting to be written about pieces one bought for some or other reason, or was given as a present cause people thought one would like them… and no. Never worn items. Or items worn with a weird feeling…

    And yes. I am too lazy to sell that drycorn cape (like 120$ on ebay) so I guess ill donate… as usual.

  • Lucy Redfern

    I can so relate! I have been working for a well known British luxury department store and my manager was constantly telling me to “dress to reflect the brands”, “be more fashion” and “dress for the job you want”.
    After a year and a half, I had had enough and started dressing how I wanted, I still got my promotion. I’m so glad I didn’t let him stop me from being myself!

  • Chloe Roach

    Danielle, this story rules!!! I feel this every time I get a new job or internship; there is such a strong internalized pressure I put on myself to fit with the people I admire most in the company and being myself sometimes feels like I’m sacrificing my credibility because I don’t always “fit the brand.” So happy you had your transformation, and I second the idea of a style evolution story!

  • I love this post. Thanks for sharing!
    https://jamielooks.com

  • Jess

    Is that why she’s such a c*nt?

  • Vanessa

    This is a beautiful piece that vocalizes actions I’ve taken before but never recognized. I would like to mention that I hate white t-shirts though! White t-shirts easily stain and are complicated to launder. Especially in a city apartment that might not include a washer and dryer, where and when do you soak your white-garments with pit stains? Not to mention that the soft hand and drape trend of the last decade means that most of our knit garments are slightly sheer revealing undergarments and/or cold, erect nipples. That plus a creepy stare will make you never want to wear a white shirt again.

    • b.e.g.

      Change your anti-perspirant/deodorant to crystal deodorant and you will never have stains on your shirts again. Plus you will not stink, I promise. A bonus: better for your health as you are not applying chemicals to your glands everyday! Tom’s of Maine makes a nice one. Naturally Fresh is another good one. I use the roll-on. If I am in a hurry I use my hairdryer to dry my pits. Yup, I know, crazy. But worth it. They come unscented (doesn’t interfere with your fragance), or scented. Another bonus, no more white residue on your black garments – you can wear a sleeveless LBD without fear of the dreaded white gunge. Yes, you can lift up your arms at a party wearing your LBD. How nice is that? And the investment in beautiful, crisp white shirts? No stains, no problem.

  • Kattigans

    After a 3 year shopping addiction that slowly spiraled in those years, I had to reign it in and make some changes. My closest was a disaster. I didn’t know where anything was, I never felt happy with what I wore even though I had so much stuff, and I was spending so much money (that I didn’t really have to spend in that way). I’d felt the anxiety and itch coming to make a change for the last 6 months, but I didn’t take the plunge until 2 months ago and really until 2 weekends ago. I donated/sold 9 bags of clothes and shoes. I organized my closet. I researched how to get down to the essence of personal style and I did some exercises around it. I’d done purges before but not like this. Too often than not, I’d “purge” but have such a hard time letting most stuff go because the “what if” would linger. The “what if I happen to need this black top and then I don’t have it, omg my world will end”. I had to stop that cycle of self-talk because enough was enough. I have to say I feel so much better now! My life feels more orderly, it’s easier to get dressed in the morning and I’m taking this as a chance to invest in pieces that I LOVE rather than shit I think I need just because I’m feeling anxious or hankering to buy something.

    To get me started on my process, I read a few really great blogs from women who’d gone through this and were whittling down their closets into capsule wardrobes to wear for seasons. Those blogs really motivated and inspired me to rid myself of my bad habits and of all the junk I had. I also am thinking more and more about shopping in a more sustainable way -buying brands that do good, buying second hand, and being realistic about the pieces I buy (do they work for my lifestyle, city, seasons, what’s the cost per wear). I can totally relate to the author because I worked in retail for a number of years and at one point worked at a really high end boutique. Dressing impeccably was part of my job. It’s a hard rut to get out of but once I did I felt free

  • b.e.g.

    Beautiful article. Thanks.

  • Ciccollina

    Loved this but I do think that starting to wear what’s comfortable and flattering is a natural part of growing up. In your early twenties it’s all about being seen but as you grow older you start to realise that you want people to actually get to know you rather than just look at what you’re wearing.

  • Eva Grey

    Hey guys,

    Not really sure where to post this, and I thought my suggestion is kind of in the spirit of this article – prioritising comfort and practicality, without compromising on looking good either.
    Would you ever consider writing an article about the best bloggers, accounts, etc. to follow for cold weather style?

    In London, it gets reeeeaaallly cold, at least it feels so to me. All the fashion inspo accounts I follow parade a lot of very beautiful looks, but not ones that keep you warm in your everyday life. One thing I’ve seen some bloggers actively joke about is how they have to shoot in the freezing cold outside. Not so useful!

    Can’t find a good compilation of cold-style bloggers/IG accounts anywhere. Just a thought 🙂

  • Aliké Boggan

    Great post.

  • Gloria Cook

    Danielle, thank you for sharing this! It is such an important reminder as a fashion student about to graduate. The CFO of the company that I intern for said last week “comfy is the new luxury” but I’m going to make that a staple in my life, not just a phase.

  • TravelLover

    soooo where are you donating and selling your clothes in nyc?!