For the last two months I have been living out of a carry-on suitcase. Its contents included five tops — two chambray button-downs, one black silk top with puffed sleeves and two T-shirts in blue and black. For bottoms, three pairs of boyfriend jeans — two dark rinse in a relatively slim fit and one pair in a light wash — sized up for comfort and effect. To round it out, underpinnings, a couple of dresses and a sleeveless silk jumpsuit. I did not mean to practice some brand of sartorial asceticism. I intended for this stash to last me just two weeks as our year-long home renovations were coming to a close. But as construction often goes, the two weeks became two months, and the clothing outside of my 1.5 cubic feet of suitcase remained buried in a hot storage space somewhere both really close and a world away.
At first, of course, I didn’t think about it. I packed similar colors and relatively ill-considered pieces to get through the temporary stint at my in-laws’ house without the hassle of special laundering or much hanging space. I found that I enjoyed the limits of my wardrobe, having a full catalog of my available choices in my mind at all times and being able to get dressed with very little debate or drama.
As time passed I kept myself mentally and emotionally buoyant by calculating the number of outfit permutations I actually had. If I paired one top with one bottom and counted each dress as its own set, I had 18 different looks. If I treated my jumpsuit as pants and paired it with tops, as I often did, I had 23 different outfit combinations from a space that would comfortably fit no more than four shoe boxes. It seemed that I had reached my peak efficiency, that I had achieved 100 percent utility and zero percent waste. Triumph.
But oh, how I missed my oxford blue raglan top with the single keyhole clasp. How I wished I could swap out a pair of jeans for some black crepe joggers. Why did I pack a dress with eyelet when I really wanted my drawstring maxi dress? Even my husband, whose fashion doctrine usually spins around the Carhartt B195 double-front work dungaree, said that wearing the same pants every day would be more bearable if he could just wear something else every now and then. We were certainly practical, systematic and thoughtful, and yet after a while, our self-imposed uniforms felt lackluster.
We had all we needed, and yet emotionally, it was not enough.
By the time you read this, the entirety of my wardrobe will be reunited, categorized and color-coded. My collection of denim will have multiplied many times over, and my choices in tops, dresses and shoes will have also become exponentially diverse. I can’t say whether my life will become better or easier, but my level of comfort will be heightened knowing that my collection of black cashmere turtlenecks, asymmetric skirts and high-waisted culottes are back intact.
I suppose that is the thing about fashion that I underestimated: As much as we are constantly looking for things that are new and novel, we equally crave things that are familiar and comfortable, even when that comfort comes in the form of a 4-inch spike heel.