Closet Case

Fashion September 27th, 2011


In this week’s Fetch, I interviewed closet guru Melanie Fascitelli of Clos-ette who has helped countless closet cases like me get organized. During our chat, one of the things she recommended was a bi-annual or quarterly session in which you do a tough edit of your closet and every last thing in it. As soon as she said it, I realized in horror that I have not had such a session in 15 years. That particular one was occasioned by the publication of a book by another closet queen, Gale Hayman, and I wrote about it for Vogue. Below, you will find that column—I offer it up because not much has changed.  Clearly it’s past time to get a new handbook, Fascitelli’s Shop Your Closet, The Ultimate Guide to Organizing Your Closet with Style.  For one thing, I still have the needlepoint canvases and gimme caps referenced in the piece.


Closet Encounters

I am walking around in a bra, some black Donna Karan Sheer Satin tights, a brand-new pair of Manolo Blahnik mules, and that’s all.  I do not look sexy; I look ridiculous.  I feel extraordinarily inadequate.  I feel like a person who does not own, for example, a belt hanger or a steamer or even an iron.  Like a person who doesn’t hang her clothes in color-coordinated outfits or store her hats stuffed with tissue paper in stacks.  Like a person with – literally – two left feet, since in a frenzy to “edit” my belongings, most of which I did not know I still owned, I have thrown away two Manolo suede loafers: one very old, one new, and both, alas, for my right foot.

I am, obviously, cleaning out my closet.  I have been inspired to do this by Gale Hayman’s new book, How Do I Look? (Random House), which is subtitled, “From Confidence to Cosmetics: The Complete Guide to Inner and Outer Beauty.”  I have a secret fondness for books like these.  I had one by a woman named Barbara Johns Waterston when I was a child.  (I don’t remember the title, only her name and that she kept referring to her husband named Sam.  Was she the actor’s wife?)  Anyway, I bought it at Wells Drugstore after school one day and studied it in bed at night, and I could not wait to be grown up so I could have an extremely well organized and glamorous life and do all the things the book said to do about skin and hair and makeup and finding a “look” and choosing a scent and arranging your closets.  I knew I would be an expert in all these fields.

Instead, here I am about 25 years later, mostly naked and totally filthy (closets can be very dusty places, it turns out) and face-to-face with my many failures (among the numerous lost items I discovered in the nether regions of my closet was a bag of needlepoint canvases I have been meaning to complete since 1971).

One the theory that it is never too late, I have taken up Gale Hayman – cofounder of the Giorgio boutique, owner of her own cosmetics line, and purveyor of a staggering array of useful tips: Eat pineapple and papaya to get rid of puffy eyes; sleep with your hair in a ponytail on top of your head to give straight hair body; dip a baby’s toothbrush into Vaseline to brush away flaky skin on your lips; wear small frog or ladybug or heart pins on the collar of your turtleneck for a “cute” look; a fake white gardenia or camellia “is one of the most useful accessories of all”; a navy crewneck sweater is a “fashion must-have.”  She lists pieces of lingerie I didn’t know existed: “garment-shield mini-camisoles to absorb perspiration,” “taffeta slips so clothes won’t cling” (I haven’t worn a slip since first grade), a “hip bra” sold only in Japan to hide a “drooping fanny.”  She recommends keeping the contents of tote bags accessible by separating them into different-size plastic Ziploc bags.  She loves “simple cowboy bandanas tied at the neck” and has them in every color she’s “ever been able to find.”  This woman is the Martha Stewart of appearances.  I am not sure about this ladybug-pin business, not to mention the cowboy bandanas, but I know my closet is in bad shape (they fill “a very emotional need,” says Gale), so I decide to start there.

The first thing to do, she says, is “take inventory,” which is why I am in my own, rather pedestrian, underwear.  She says you have to try everything on using two full-length mirrors under bright lights with all your buttons and snaps and hooks done up, and be honest with yourself.  She says having a closet full of “someday” clothes means never having anything to wear.  I apparently have a lot of someday clothes, because I manage to fill up four large Glad Heavyweight trash bags in less than ten minutes.  (Hayman recommends having a lone giveaway box on hand, but she has clearly never seen a closet like mine.)  There are, for example, a half-dozen jackets with dolman sleeves (dolman sleeves!) and shoulder pads so big and so out there that they look like displaced breast implants.  There is a white silk jacket so spotted with booze I can’t imagine what I was waiting for – a scientific breakthrough in the removal of ten-year-old alcohol stains?  Hayman doesn’t address this problem, but then I bet she doesn’t go to the kind of parties where people spill Scotch all over you.  I find a pair of Anne Klein silk trousers made when Anne Klein was still alive that are so stiff and dust-soaked that they crunch when you wad them up.  There is a beautiful tweed suit that nonetheless makes me look like a multicolored ball of yarn, so I take a Hayman’s advice and keep the narrow skirt and trash the jacket.  (It is best, she says, to wear one or the other.)  I have saved the dress I wore to my maternal grandmother’s funeral and the one I wore when I was seventeen to my paternal grandparents’ funeral (black-and-white polka-dot A-line Beene Bag, a label I’m quite sure no long exists).  This is morbid.  Far more festive is the draped black velvet skirt and silk top I wore to my twenty-fifth birthday party.  I remember being told at the time that it looked like a Valentino.  I apply the Gale Hayman two-way-mirror test.  It does not look like any Valentino I ever saw and is banished to the bags.

I guess I kept the first Chanel jacket I ever bought for sentimental reasons, but it is now so shiny it looks like satin even though it is actually gabardine.  The good news is I also kept two long, skinny Chanel skirts for so many years that they’re all the rage again.  At last a save!  This victory is immediately dampened by a red silk two-piece ruffled dress that is so ugly I am reminded of what my best friend’s father once told her about an evening dress he particularly hated: “Baby, next time you start a fire, you ought to do it with that.”  I seem to possess a lot of kindling, so I cease to try on and simply toss.  Finally I get to the shelves, which house my lifetime collection of T-shirts.  Hayman presses her T-shirts and wears them with camisoles underneath for a smoother, more finished look.  I think hers must be different from mine.  I have one that boasts a picture of the First Family’s cat, Socks, and the logo I TRIED CATNIP ONCE BUT I DIDN’T INHALE.  (I did not actually buy that myself.)  I have resisted throwing any of them away because when I went to Africa three years ago, I found that three T-shirts would get you a 100-year-old Masai bowl, so I planned to return with a duffel-bagful.  Looking at them now I think I better just use money.  But there are at least two I have to keep: TANNED, RESTED AND READY: NIXON IN ’88, and another one that features Tricky awarding a drug-enforcement badge to Elvis with the slogan JUST SAY NO.

I have only three hats, and they are not really the kind I need to stuff with tissue paper, being known where I come from as “gimme caps”: One is from the Texas Prison rodeo, one was a gift from the Kansas Livestock Association to the reporters traveling with Dole’s presidential-announcement tour, and one is embroidered with crossed Confederate and American flags and the sentiment AMERICAN BY BIRTH, SOUTHERN BY THE GRACE OF GOD.  Next to these is a stack of Turnbull and Asser cotton shirt fabrics I bought so long ago the dollar was equivalent to the pound.  I neglected to have any actual shirts made when I returned from London (Hayman would have had hers done up in a week).  But I did put the fabric to use one night during a particularly raucous dinner party when seven of us somehow ended up at my table with it tied around our heads.  I still have a photograph of a famously curmudgeonly magazine editor looking a bit like Yasir Arafat were he to shop on Jermyn Street.  I save the fabric and make a note to find a tailor.

More problematic is the stuff crammed on the shelf behind them, in an area I have now named the Romance Corner.  There is the green-striped, thin cotton Cacharel shirt I had on when I met the first man I fell in love with, and again when I met the man who would briefly mend my broken heart.  (It was very sexy apparently, cut kind of like the Gucci shirts now.  I make another note to get some more of these.)  There is a plaid cotton shirt, belonging to the first man, which happened to be given to him by a woman who was at the time his former mistress and who is now his former wife.  Nice as it is, I never wore that shirt in public because I was scared she’d see me and kill me.  (It was a complicated mess I chose to step into on my first outing.)  There is another man’s ancient blue oxford-cloth Brooks Brothers shirt that remains the softest thing I’ve ever slept in, and the handkerchief he gave me once when he’d made me cry and which I’d used to sleep with under my pillow like a talisman to make him come back.  (He didn’t.)

This is another area where Hayman is devoid of tips, so I leave these artifacts where they are and get back to the business at hand: shoes.  I realize that I have one shelf full of pre-Manola Blahniks and all the rest full of actual Manolos.  Now that I have been educated in the leg-lengthening and spirit-lifting qualities of Manolo, the pre-Manolos have to go.  Especially the red velvet flats with beaded gold leaves that I remember buying at Bergdorfs with my brother when he was in boarding school.  He is now almost 29.  I also ditch the five-inch red silk spikes that are so tarty I should wear them with the pink satin bustier I have also unearthed, purchased from L.A.’s Trashy Lingerie and dubbed “The Big Pink” by a former boyfriend after that very fine album by the Band.  (Maybe I should hang them as an outfit, a la Hayman.)  And finally I dispose of a pair of navy pumps with white patent leather heels and white pearl buckles.  Gross.

As an antidote, I spend a good hour on the floor peeking at what’s inside my Manolo shoe bags: purple silk with two bows across the instep, fuchsia silk with an ankle strap, cream silk with bows that tie, pale-pink silk with a perfect rhinestone buckle.  There are buttery olive suede T-straps, plum suede pumps, turquoise suede sandals with rhinestones, silk mules in peach and persimmon.  Thank God.  This is the one area in which I have achieved the glamour I planned when I was young.  I’ve even achieved the organization – as with all large investments, I really look after these shoes.

In my rhapsodic state I get a truly Haymanesque idea.  I had forgotten about some of these shoes, and since they are the only things in my closet I have bothered to protect from the dust, I can’t see them.  So I get two bulletin boards, cover them in pretty honeysuckle liner paper, Polaroid all my shoes, pushpin the pictures to the boards, and mount them on the inside of the double doors to my closet.  I cannot believe I am doing this.  I feel like Gale Hayman and Martha Stewart rolled into one.  I also feel like a person with an extremely organized, if spare, closet, which, properly edited, contains roughly three hats, four T-shirts, and about 200 pairs of shoes.  I have, as Hayman would say, a lot of “gaps.”  Clearly it is time to go shopping.  But first I have to implore the nice people at Manolo Blahnik boutique to sell me one right loafer.


About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

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