Closet Keepin’ is a sentimental journey. Once in a Blue Moon, I reflect on the days when I was a Wardrober… it was one of those fun jobs, I helped all sorts of Southern Ladies build their wardrobes- professional and otherwise. It was my job to keep a record of more than 100 wardrobes- all in a thick black ring binder. What those fine ladies’ were keepin’ in their closets was a different matter altogether. I’m no exception. For many of us, it’s not a matter of what we’re giving away, it’s what we’re Keepin’ in our Closets. Don’t get me wrong, it happens every year. We set goals, make plans, even resolutions- to clean out our closets- and it really boils down to what we’re keepin’ – not what we’re giving away.
Our mothers insisted on certain things. We had to be ready for any occasion in all four seasons, with add-on’s for vacations, souvenir shopping and special occasions. One Southern Mother couldn’t rest until she knew there were at least two dark dresses- one winter and one summer, in her young belle’s closet. Just in case, there’s a funeral or a solemn occasion, she wanted her daughter to be ready for anything.
In Closet Keepin’, there’s the Sentimental Clothing Journey, what was worn and for what occasion and when. There’s the Christening and Confirmation dresses, the Recitals, Dance Routines, the all important Varsity Grouping of Uniforms, Show Choir Dresses and Letter Sweaters. Prom dresses and Beauty Pageants- so many Titled Women reside in the South. Sometime, somewhere when you least expect it- you could be crowned Cotton Queen or Queen for a Day! There’s the Bridal Gown and Trousseau, the baby clothes.. and it starts again… It’s the Memorial, the place where Dreams had a Way of Coming True, and you don’t even have to wear a black dress. That’s why Closet Keepin’ is important.
There are the moments when we ladies must Rise to the Occasion. We pay close attention to how the light reflects on our hair, in our eyes and especially how it reflects off of the sequins and bugle beads. Southern women do know how to Dress for Impact. We take pains with our looks for the joy of being pretty, having a flirtatious smile, being well liked… or not, since we know it’s not easy to be queen. It takes a lot of yardage for all of this.
- Tulle, Chiffon, Satin,
- Peau de Soie, Taffeta,
- Feathers, Leather, Silk
- Ribbons and Fur.
Those party dresses residing in our closets have a faint scent of Aqua Net, soft floral fragrance and sweet memories. Southern women aren’t known for Hiding their Light under a Bushel. We do appreciate Finery and enough Sparkle to twinkle our way through this old dreary world. Frivolous excess, ruffles and bows help. Oscar de la Renta once told our group of sales ladies- ‘I love to design clothes for Southern Women, they’re not afraid to work or wear ruffles.’ Or something unforgettable like that… He was a handsome man who knew what he was talking about!
Most ladies hope to make an Eye Catching Entrance, even more pleased at Being Sought Out, tickled pink to be the Center of Attention, take pains to be Charming Guests, hold a fervent desire to be Gracious to our Hostess, then immensely relieved to make the Grand Exit, as we place a Thank You Note in the mailbox on our way out, handwritten of course. Okay, not all of us, but still. Our closets are our Great Escape, the place we keep our memories, it’s unrealistic to think we’re gonna pitch those dreams to the wind or in a rag bag. Closet Keepin’ is … what we’d never throw away in a million years. We know the difference between the Sentimental Journey and Reality…
Our mothers taught us to take pains with our looks- we must not wear clothes that will horrify or mortify- never lose our sense of propriety, but rather try our best to dignify any occasion. If possible look like we just stepped out of a band box.
We are capable of taking a finely cut, well made Black Dress and having enough accessories to change it out for light years. There’ll always be a good watch, strands of pearls, a sentimental piece of jewelry, even sparkling rhinestones or jewels worn discreetly, of course. Still. A little excess is in order occasionally- a statement piece, an arm full of gold or silver bracelets -even Coco Chanel loved an excessive amount of pearls!
Polite dressing equals polite conversation, or should. Being dressed for the occasion seems to bring out the best in us, most of the time. Alright, I admit it- I’ve fallen victim- to wearing casual clothes too often– they are what a friend’s mother called Restorative Clothes. Soft clothes- worn to restore ourselves, not to wear out in public! Mother wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing things like this- Out! In the yard, maybe- never to the grocery store! ‘If you insist on going around like that- please put on some lipstick!’
Closets are a woman’s War Room, a Dress Up Box, the Situation Room.
We must also have a Wardrobe of Shoes- we all know, some shoes aren’t for walking- they’re for sitting, some are for the farm, some shoes are for walking out – or for exercise. Whichever is most needful. Good Closet Keepin’ has a wide selection.
I have a confession to make here…The Silver Velvet Bejeweled Shoes were actually bought as a set– they were seriously marked down. I bought two pairs- just in case I were to lose some of those rhinestones! I even went back and bought them in Pale Gold- luckily they had two pairs of those, too! And that Mink? Well, I inherited it from a friend’s mother, it has her name- Sybil- monogrammed on the inside. I once wore it on a plane to Montreal, the thought crossed my mind… if the plane went down- the flight manifest might not have Sybil registered! I could have lived without a mink stroller, but it sure came in handy when 18 inches of snow fell overnight in that lovely Canadian City! The number of times in a Southern girl’s life that it’s actually cold enough to wear a fur is in the single digits. Yet the luxury of having one, even a hand me down- is a guarantee of Making an Impact, if necessary. Sometimes we do actually give a frivolous garment away as long as there’s no memory clinging to it. I’m proud to say, this year- I did give away my fake fur vest, I just hope I don’t ever feel like I need it!
That’s the problem with making New Year’s Resolutions to clean out closets- it’s the living in mortal fear that something will come in handy, back in style or the time will come when we have to rig something up. And, the Lord forbid, we might need extra rhinestones! That’s the sentimental journey called Closet Keepin’.
Love y’all, Camellia
*photographs are obviously mine. *And yes, in the 90’s Oscar de la Renta actually came to Birmingham- and I was honored, along with my colleagues, to meet him.