Lifestyle & Culture

Old Clothes Don’t Die

October 24, 2019

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YEARS AGO, when I was editor of the Washington Post’s Food section, I asked readers to tell us how old the spices in their cabinets were. What was the oldest thing they had? Why? Did they ever use it, or even intend to?
The responses were hilarious. One woman wrote to say she had packed a small jar of cream of tartar through two house moves and still had no idea what it was for. And I wasn’t the only one with a couple of little rusty tins of Ann Page (an old A&P house brand) . . . curry? nutmeg? Hard to tell.
Now it’s my clothes closets’ turn. As I unpack (having recently moved), I’m finding clothing I haven’t seen in years.
There’s a Chanel dress I bought in London for my goddaughter’s christening (God bless the wonky exchange rates that year). Anna will turn 34 in November. (I could still wear it . . . almost . . . but I wouldn’t want to disturb the moths that have taken up residence.)
Then there’s a “Natori Classics” robe and nightgown that I bought at Bloomingdale’s back in the Pleistocene. I love the pattern so much that I keep the nightgown going with a patch here, a seam reinforcement there. If Natori were ever to use this print again I’d buy it in a heartbeat.
I asked a few friends and colleagues to ‘fess up about the garments they have tucked way, way back in the closet.
Washington DC superstar real estate agent Nancy Taylor Bubes was quick with a response: “I am a nut for purging. It doesn’t last much longer than 2-3 years in my closet.”
She added that she bet I “still have one of your black Chanel sweaters that you said was a wardrobe basic.” (She’s right, but I only ever had one.)
Jura Koncius, a reporter for the Washington Post, piped up with, “I have two pairs of Prada flats that must be 15 years old that I can’t bear to toss. Also my school uniform blazer from Catholic high school school—I can’t fit into it, but my sister wore it to my 40th birthday party, which was a costume affair!”
And, she added, “I actually have a 35-year-old long Jaeger wool coat that is threadbare at the cuffs, but I still wear it on super-cold days. I wore it when I was pregnant in 1990!!!”
I wasn’t surprised to learn that design writer Patricia Dane Rogers still has a black velvet ermine-lined(!) opera coat given to her in the early 1960s by her Park Avenue neighbor Marcella Shubert, widow of Broadway theater’s Lee Shubert. (Nice to have fancy neighbors! And I would never give away something like that either.)
But I was surprised to learn that my sister, Pat Byrne, has held on to a rather lively robe (dare I suggest “house coat”?) by Emilio Pucci for Formfit-Rogers from around 1972. (My surprise makes sense if you know my sister, who rarely ventures beyond the most tailored, conservative clothing.)
On the other hand, it makes sense to me that she still has a dark green WWII army fatigue shirt that belonged to our father, who got out of the service in 1944 or ’45. I asked her if she ever wore it. “Could I? Barely, but I’m not 6ft tall and 142 lbs,” she emailed. “Would I? Doubtful, but I think I keep it for historical or sentimental reasons. Boy, are they [her son and daughter] going to have a field day when I go.”
She also has our dad’s NYU letter sweater; he graduated from the university in 1931! (It’s not in great shape, she says. Really!?)
Writer and MLB contributor Ann Geracimos points to her dyed blonde Canadian beaver coat, a gift that must date from the late 1970s, after the successful Congressional campaign by her then-husband. “Weighs a ton . . . was a lifesaver when the pipes froze in my DC house one winter. . . . I’ve dragged it out in fierce weather and felt great love for the poor animals . . . ” She adds, “No, I never would buy one” and it “lasted much longer than my marriage.”
One English-born New York PR veteran still occasionally wears a navy blue duffel coat “that was de rigueur at the University of Bristol.” The odd thing? It used to fit just fine. But “I’ve gained—well, let’s just say a LOT of weight since then [and] it seems much larger!”
Editor Jill Wechsler Nelson reports a real blast from the past: an Indian mini-dress from around 1969 with little mirrors sewn all over, and a Mexican serape from visit during high school, “plus the tie-dyed peasant dress, Greek dress from trip in 1968.”
We remember 1968 too!
Lifestyle guru and cookbook author Corky Pollan remembers a little fashion legerdemain: “I’m such a hoarder, I still have the pleated top I used to wear when we were invited to formal events as the Best Bets Ladies [our column in New York Magazine]. So many people would come up to me and ask if it was a Fortuny. But it wasn’t a vintage Fortuny—it came from a neighborhood store that sold Indian clothing.”

LittleBird Janet has a little bit of the real thing, a Pauline Trigère dress her late mother wore to a wedding in 1970. “I think I wore it to the National Symphony Ball one year. I can’t bear to ditch it.”

She adds, “Remember when Bloomingdale’s had their India promotion? Maybe 1978 or so. I have this thingy from then. Don’t know if it was meant to be an ashtray or what, but I carry it as a teeny, tiny metallic purse.”
Needless to say, Janet has probably been the same (tiny) size for the past 40 years, and she has a Christian Dior jacket with puff sleeves, probably from the late ’70s. “I still wear it.”
Designer Denise Dickens, of Washington DC’s Outside Designworks, stopped wearing clothing made by others back in 2002, when she started designing and selling clothing. But she acknowledges, “I do still have a few evening ensembles that I should consign because I clearly don’t lead the nightlife that these gowns are missing.” But the day she removes them from her closet, she says, will be the day a fancy invitation arrives in the mail.\
So . . . what about you? Do you have garments lurking in your closet you can’t bear to throw away? (Or maybe haven’t even seen in a while?) Do they have sentimental value? Did you pay a lot for something and just can’t discard it? Do you ever wear old things? (Can you??)
There’s no prize here, but I dare you to outdo a former colleague who is still wearing things from high school! (But, um, they look it.)
Please tell me—I want to know!!! (Maybe you could even take a snapshot of one? Email it to me at and I’ll be sure to share on MLB.)
—Nancy McKeon

8 thoughts on “Old Clothes Don’t Die

  1. WHY am I saving my purple suede hot pants, circa 1970? Even if I could get a leg in them. But I still wear a 50-year-old black tank top I bought in Ibiza for, like, a quarter. I have no idea how this has survived. There’s a T-shirt from New York’s Orwasher’s Bakery too – not looking quite so healthy, I save it for spiritual occasions. I had honestly forgotten how old it was but I was out chicken shopping one day when a geezerly gentleman pointed out the ancient phone number BU8-6569. There are also a couple of gorgeous three-piece suits my dad designed for my mom and had his tailor make up – who does stuff like that these days? Who has a tailor? She wore them with those head to tail foxes (I still have a few, no longer strung together) and a whiff of Shalimar. I can still wear the Shalimar.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      maybe they’re your Rosebud . . .

  2. Anonymous says:

    The sixties and seventies were such fun for me that I consciously saved several pieces of clothing I loved/loved/loved: a pale, velvety suede mini skirt (worn almost daily during June ’68 in LA), a fringed jacket purchased at Count’s Western Wear, two kick-butt bikinis (one purchased at the then-new French intimates store at the Watergate), and a long antique velvet vest (worn regularly well into the seventies). Also, from India, a marigold yellow tunic top embroidered with bright blue and red thread and a lot of mirrors that I used for a maternity dress in 1971. Although momentarily misplaced, I am confident that top is some place with the two handmade tie-dyed baby blankets I still hope to pass along to my 48-year-old son’s first baby. I’ve saved almost nothing since.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      i want a fringed western jacket!!! bet i can find one if i try hard enough.

  3. Kathy Legg says:

    I’ve often entertained the fantasy of (in an alternate world) lining up all the clothes I’ve ever worn. A few things I’d love to see again, but what a laugh I could have at some of the outrageous stuff I’ve worn while thinking, at the time, I looked super cool and/or chic. I still hold on to an Anne Klein jumpsuit from the late ’80s that was adorable then. Not sure I wore it more than once and will never wear it again. But I just can’t let it go.

  4. Patsy Rogers says:

    Thanks for including “Celly” Shubert’s opera coat! The ermine hasn’t aged as well as the velvet but it’s still a keeper. I have a beautiful long-sleeved white shirt from Jaeger that is still a classic but it’s a size 4 and alas, I’m not. (I’m pretty sure Jura insisted I buy it.)

  5. Carol says:

    Oh my, you have opened up a can of worms here. I have saved items for various reasons you named… sentimental or I paid a lot for that dress! Tiny shirts that belonged to my boys, my daughter’s varsity volleyball jacket but the scariest thing is my black cashmere coat with a mink collar that I got for Christmas my senior year in high school. No way I could ever wear again. Just can’t bear to put in the old clothes bag.

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      oh, wow! do you think you could have the coat made into something else using the front and back pieces (and of course the collar) and adding along the sides? or would that spoil it for you? it would probably cost more than the coat is technically worth, but it might be worth it just to be able to save something from high school.

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