The southern Italians have a pleasing custom for December 31st: they “throw out the old year” to make way for the new, literally opening their windows and tossing out the crap that’s weighing them down: defenestrating broken chairs and pictures, faded curtains and scary clothes that make them look bananas. It’s safest not to hang about in the streets below houses on this night of the long knives for unwanted clutter. But in the morning the council comes and whisks it all away. The slate is clean.
My New Year’s Resolution is to take a leaf out of that particular Italian book. Sometimes, okay, oftentimes, I feel like my stuff is taking me over. That were I to die alone one night beneath an avalanche of junk from my closets, I’d be buried so deep I might not be found for days.
For years I worked at Vogue, regularly writing features on what to toss and what to keep to step smartly into the new season. Spring Clean Your Look! New Wardrobe, New You! So why do I not practice what I preached? Why not regularly clean out my cupboards and drawers, purge myself of this unwanted sartorial debris, and keep only the pieces I know make sense for the coming spring or summer, winter or fall? Because, to borrow shamelessly from Joni Mitchell, you never know what’s you’ve got till it’s gone! Because trends are cyclical and that stretch velveteen catsuit I wore when I was 19 might come back into fashion one day. Because I’ve forgotten what’s lurking in the dusty suitcases on top of the wardrobe, and you never know, it might be something marvelous.
Like mother, like daughter.
For nearly a decade my mother harboured a guilty – and grubby – secret. In a rarely considered corner of a spare bedroom in our family home, between the wall and the solid side of the Edwardian armoir my mother stored her winter woolens in, there lurked a sinister presence. I say sinister fully aware of the drama of such a statement; but sinister it was.
This presence was a linen basket, which not a soul had opened since my father had been on the scene. He ran off with the caterer after one of our parties when I was nine. By my 17th year, the basket remained undisturbed – but not forgotten.
Every now and then the family would gang up on my mother and try and nag her into opening it, to washing and ironing its contents so that we might all move on – or to burning it.
“No fear!” would come my mother’s response as she dissolved into giggles. “Would you open that thing? It’s terrifying.”
“I dare you!” I’d say. “Or just throw it away. It’s beyond a joke.”
“I can’t,” she would counter. “What if there’s something wonderful in there?”
A forgotten frock by 1970s British design legend Bill Gibb? A 1930s silk chemise? An embroidered coat by Dior? Who knew? The linen bin was our fashion Narnia.
|A look by Bill Gibb|
When the day came for us to move house, the linen basket agreed to be tackled (truth was, I think it was fed up with being the butt of our jokes). Friends arrived from all over the country for the ceremonial removal of its lid. A brass band played, mother wore her Sunday best and I read a poem by Sigfrid Sassoon. Okay, that last bit is a lie. But I was present as my mother plumbed the linen bin’s frightful depths…to reveal…a forlorn pile of graying pillow slips, some denim shorts no one recognised and a pair of my father’s burgundy Farah trousers made of finest Terylene: 1983.
The linen bin, like most bogymen, turned out to be nothing especially scary after all. And as a fashion time capsule it was rubbish. No fancy Paris frocks. No vintage beaded silk. Just hoarding for hoarding’s sake.
Okay it was fun while it lasted, but the thing with dreams of other worlds, with fantasies of fashion possibilities not yet lived, is that they rarely amount to much. Far better to face reality head on, and throw away the clutter in our closets so we can, as Julie Gillard might put it, move forward, untrammeled, to the next outfit. You never know, perhaps it will be a Bill Gibb.