Connections: Rites of Spring

In days that seem long gone, people of certain means separated their winter and summer wardrobes

If it’s spring — and we know it doesn’t feel like spring, but it is — it must be time for spring cleaning. In my house that means, at lazy minimum, an examination of closets and drawers. Out goes the old and unworn, at least in theory. 

In days that seem long gone, people of certain means separated their winter and summer wardrobes. In the fall, summer whites (linens and cottons and organdies and so on) were nicely washed and pressed and put away for the winter. Down from storage came carefully tissue-wrapped furs and sweaters, all the wools and cashmere, smelling of mothballs or sachets of cedar or lavender. This still may be a ritual in some households, but most of us don’t make that dramatic a change in our clothes from season to season these days. 

Partly, this must be because we wear so many synthetic materials and blends. Partly, it is because fashion dictates and dictums were thrown out the window in the 1960s and never jumped back into fashion again. No more ironing of white gloves, no more stuffing straw hats with newspaper and packing them away for warmer days in hatboxes.

Even styles for separate seasons have given way. Women used to wait for good weather to wear sleeveless tops or dresses. If you watch TV these days, you know that has become (you’ll excuse me) old hat. And speaking of hats, some hipsters still, I suppose, switch their felt fedoras for Panama hats depending on the time of year, but most don’t. Baseball caps and what the kids call “trucker hats” are now seen on even the most distinguished heads year round. Even in July and August I’ve seen some heads covered with what we used to call a “watch cap” — the knit hat now universally called a “beanie,” although readers above 50 or so will know what a beanie really is (and sometimes it sported a propeller on the crown!).

This leads me to admit that during a recent spring foray into the very depths of my double-deep closet I realized I have a lot of clothes I haven’t worn in years and haven’t gotten around to giving away. I don’t even recognize everything I’ve tucked away in the darkest recesses, much less recall why I thought I needed them. For example, I must have eight or more long-sleeve crewneck T-shirts, including matching pairs in ice-blue and in dove-gray. They are identical. Why? Wouldn’t three or four be more than sufficient?

The other day, while digging in one of my T-shirt drawers, I found a flouncy nightgown that had been a present from the man I married in 1960, and an authentic sari in black silk with gold embellishments that was given to my late mother-in-law, Jeannette Edwards Rattray, by Evan Frankel (a once formidable East Hampton presence and landowner) at some point before 1974, when she died. 

Some of these things would probably be acceptable in the eyes of the ladies who sort donations at the Ladies Village Improvement Society Bargain Box, but some of them would probably be better off in one of the clothes-donation bins at the dump. And then comes the good part: Finding an excuse to buy something new from one of the 10,000 catalogs of spring clothes that have been stuffing our mailbox since the end of March.