Why Can’t We Just Break Up With Our Clothes Already

If Victoria Beckham does it, it can’t be THAT bad for us


by Hattie Crisell |
Published on

When you’re clearing out the fridge and find a tub of yoghurt marked ‘Best before [insert horrifying date from the distant past here]’, you throw it away. Maybe you waft the mould under your flatmate’s nose first, for comic effect – but however delicious that yoghurt was, you won’t be keep it in the cupboard to help you ‘remember the good times’. You won’t get the carton out from time to time and wistfully stroke the lid. Seeing it won’t cause you to drift into a reverie about the amazing times when you spooned it over muesli.

So why, then, when you went looking for your warm winter clothes last week, did you find a pair of ‘formal hotpants’ that stopped being acceptable back in 2011? Why are they still in that drawer, rather than hanging in a charity shop where they belong?

‘There’s a real emotional pull with clothing,’ says Fashion Editor Harriet Walker. ‘I remember most of the important moments of my life by what I was wearing. The touch of ’90s polyester on skin now is almost Proustian. Clothes can be your link to the past and to who you used to be. Even if that person makes me cringe a bit now, she also makes me smile.’

Clothes, for some magical reason, inspire proper, heartfelt love. They’re just fabric and thread (and in some wondrous cases, sequins and fun-fur), but to us they become beloved friends and symbols of our finest moments – and some of them feel so solidly part of our identities that we can’t bear to throw them away.

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Example A – my pointy, black stilettos that lurk in a dark corner of my wardrobe. Their pièce de résistance is a cityscape silhouette along the sides – which at the time I thought was amazing. They were a gift, and the moment I received them I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I haven’t worn them for a decade, but chucking them out would feel like a cold-hearted crime – like discarding the yellowing sonogram pictures I have of my niece and nephew.

Maybe that sounds like a crazy comparison, but therapist Diana Parkinson doesn’t think so. ‘If you think about it, keeping a piece of clothing is no different to taking a photograph,’ says Parkinson. ‘It’s a record. Humans have always recorded important moments, whether through cave paintings or portraiture. It keeps the memories going and it evokes all those lovely feelings that we had at the time of the experience.’

Victoria Beckham knows what I mean. Earlier this year she auctioned off her old clothes for charity – but hung onto one nostalgic piece. ‘I couldn’t give away the dress I first wore when I went out with David,’ she told Stylist. ‘It was a little high-street suede minidress, so I’ve kept that for [Harper].’ Who knows what Harper will make of this ancient frock when she grows up? She might treasure it as a memento of her parents’ love, or she might find it hilariously retro and cringeworthy. Either way, VB can’t let it go.

When she put on that dress, excited for her date, it was probably the culmination of hours of planning. She’ll have considered the impression it gave and what kind of girl she wanted to be - sexy, but classy. The epitome of Posh Spice. That dress is not only a reminder of the start of true love – it also represents the imaginary, flawless Victoria that she became that night. And we’ve all got outfits like that.

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Also in my own cupboard of Important Clothes From Yesteryear, I have the short green dress I wore for my sister’s 30th birthday party – kept because it was the perfect night, and I felt like the best version of myself.

Like me, Catriona Taylor, editor of Toni & Guy Magazine, hangs on to pieces that remind her of the girl she was. ‘I used to be a slave to vintage and do the whole shebang: heels, fur, pencil skirt, natty little blouse,’ she says. ‘These days I can't be bothered, but I've kept a few choice pieces because they remind me of a good time in my life. I’d be so sad to open my wardrobe and only find a sea of baggy jumpers and jeans – even though that’s pretty much what I wear now.’

So if you’ve got the guilts about the drawers stuffed with clothes you don’t wear, you’re not alone. And here’s a comforting thought for you: hoarding those battered sandals and faded party frocks can be a life-affirming move. ‘Keeping mementos helps us to feel that we’re alive and we have experienced things,’ explains Parkinson. ‘It’s physical proof that we existed, and we were there on that day.’

The older we get, the more our wardrobes become touchable, wearable histories of our emotional lives, telling stories of our happiest nights out and our silliest life choices. They trigger powerful memories that go straight for the heart strings – no amount of Facebook selfies can quite compete with that.

Like this? Then you might be interested in…

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Picture: Ada Hamza

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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