I think I’ve gone through “the change” without realizing it. Not real menopause, although I have been suspiciously tolerant of winter temperatures lately. But sartorially speaking, I’m experiencing a kind of pause. I have all the clothes I need and will need for the foreseeable future. I think my wardrobe might be complete.
I never found the perfect jeans, but I employ a small rotating cast of brands and cuts that, collectively, get the job done. I have beloved jackets (like this one from Rebecca Taylor) that can comply with any corporate setting, and cozy sweaters from my patron saint, Eileen Fisher, that will carry me into my twilight years in decadent comfort. I have nine striped shirts (three from Saint James alone), and I love them all equally.
The pleasures of finding one’s uniform have been well-explored, and I’m humbled to report them true. I feel like I’ve uncovered a tiny, valuable secret: I know who I am because I know what I wear. When I glance at a mirror, I recognize my whole self. My eyes don’t need to focus to register the markers of my identity: the stripes, the light wash jeans, the cascading sweater. I get the gist of myself, and it feels good to have a gist at all.
I had no idea this could happen. In my teens and twenties, my personality was in startup mode, characterized by rapid growth, experimentation and lots of turnover. I was highly suggestible and forever tweaking what could be My Look. I once saw a baby on the G train wearing perfect marigold corduroy overalls and I stayed on board an extra stop just to see if I could spot a tag. (If you’re out there, baby, and are old enough to read this now, please tell me where you got them and if they make them for adults or tall children.)
But these days, I’m a little harder to tempt. You know what they say: When you love what you’ve got at home, you’ll never shop a day in your life. Or when you do, it’ll be a more sober enterprise, usually to replace a well-worn, disintegrating piece. Or to buy underwear from Gap. I’m in a phase of maintenance, not expansion. Value, not growth. I’m not so acquisitive because I have all the partners I need, and it’s made me wonder: Is this growing up? Is this post-capitalism? Is this monogamy?
It feels like settling, but the good kind that married people insist is more romantic than it sounds. My wardrobe doesn’t surprise me, but it delights. For every conceivable occasion, I have something I actually love to wear. There’s no drama when I get dressed — and the absence of that agita is a kind of heaven.
Unlike menopause, I barely noticed this transformation. Shedding one’s skin so often feels like… shedding skin. But this evolution was painless; a gentle, imperceptible adjustment. It’s like someone quietly deposited tiny sums of money into my account over time, and now I’m suddenly rich. (I’m open to this happening in real life.) What actually accrued, though, was equity in my own identity. My little shopping adventures weren’t frivolous pursuits but exercises in following my (aesthetic) heart. I am what I love, and my clothes make me happy because they’re an expression of that. I have fewer clothes than ever, but I feel rich.
This sense of completeness has changed how I shop. When something irresistible comes along, it’s not difficult to stay prudent. Do I need it? Is it better than what I already own? If it is, I begin scheming ways to make room in my closet so as to maintain my precious equilibrium. I never thought I could get here, but my impulses — in this one particular area of my life, and no others — are in harmony with my highest intentions.
I’m sure I’ve got a style evolution or two left inside of me, but my insatiable hunger for meaning through clothes wasn’t so insatiable after all. Turns out I’m quite capable of being satisfied. I never saw the forest for the trees — or the closet for the fleece-lined flannel — but I’ve been slowly building an evergreen wardrobe. I don’t usually get to visualize my emotional progress, but my closet feels like material evidence of growth, taste and judgment. I don’t have everything I’ll ever need, but I trust in my ability to make the most of what I have. In the end, cracking that equation has mattered more than the actual result.
I just need to find that baby’s corduroy overalls.
Gif by Madeline Montoya.