Gathering up children’s clothes and winter coats for East End Cares to distribute among those whose belongings were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, brought me up short. It is true that three current generations of our family have lived in my house, but, even so, the amount of clothes we have accumulated — and hold on to — is out of line.
Children’s clothes are in a class of their own, of course, when it comes to hand-me-downs: Having cousins and older siblings’ wardrobes to shop from is a terrific thing, given how quickly kids grow.
(Just last month my daughter dragged some plastic storage boxes up from the basement, and was able to ship a 50-pound carton filled with fancy Hamptons-esque kids gear — including two pairs of expensive riding boots, several swimsuits with the tags still on, and more than a few handknit sweaters —home to the less stuff-rich island of Nova Scotia.)
But when I went through the closets, I discovered some garments that have been hoarded for more than 50 years.
One of the most venerable was also one of the best made, and it remained in wonderful condition. The person who wore it when it was new is long gone, but I’m sure he would have been relieved to know it has finally been passed along to someone who needs it. It was his U.S. Navy dress coat, and it is apparently indestructible. Was it sentimentality or inertia that allowed me to ignore its presence in our upstairs storeroom all these years?
On the hunt for winter wear, I also found a dowdy blue wool women’s coat with a fur collar, and two newish children’s coats, in toddler and teenager size, that I am sure none of my children or grandchildren have ever worn. Off the coats went, along with a wool jacket of mine.
Looking through the closets, I came face-to-face with items I am sure most people would have given, if not thrown, away a long time ago. The pink cotton cardigan I wore over my yoga outfit this week is an example. I bought it in London in the mid-1970s, and it has for many years sported a few blue ink stains — ink stained, of course, we Rattrays being ink-stained wretches — that I never managed to get out, and some white spots where it was inadvertently splashed by bleach. Why did I keep it all these years? It’s not that special. Why do I wear it? Is it because it was purchased on a rare family trip, all those years ago?
I can’t help remembering the Star staffer who, in the ’80s, I swear, wore something brand new every day. When pushed, she explained that she had a relative in the fashion business. I’ve got a few things hanging about that were new in the ’80s, too, like two silk skirts in pretty prints. Do I really think I will fit into or find a reason to wear them again? I’ve thought occasionally that one of the grandchildren might like them for dress-up, although they are in my closet, where the kids aren’t apt to go looking for entertainment.
My attachment to old clothes probably has a lot to do with how my mother dressed me in as a child. I remember — with sheer horror — a gray dress with little pink-and-white appliquéd animals across its yoke that came from Gimbel’s basement. I didn’t like it. I certainly didn’t save it. I do have, however, a tiny checkered skirt and little white cape that my mother made as a costume for a show I was in, back in the days when moms tried to make their little girls look like Shirley Temple and we all took tap-dancing lessons. (At least I had the curls.)
I pulled this handmade tap outfit out of a drawer the other day when three of my four granddaughters were in the bedroom, watching something noisy on television. I asked them to try it on, but it was too small even for the smallest. That one, clearly, I had saved too long.