The Monsters in My Closet

Ugly, ugly, ugly. Sweats from a store that's synonymous with tacky. Why can't I throw them away?

Sweats from a store that’s synonymous with tacky. Why can’t I throw them away?

November 1 and the wind is howling outside. It’s warm today but if you believe the weather forecast the wind is ushering in some cold temperatures. A perfect time to edit my winter wardrobe with a clear head…because once the cold weather arrives I will put on anything warm without thinking about how it looks.

Dressing for winter is always a bit of a problem. I’m extremely sensitive to cold (especially damp cold, very common here in New England) and need warm and comfortable layers, preferably in natural fibers, to keep me from shivering. I also don’t work outside the home so have no gun to my head to make me look polished every day. A typical day consists of some writing, answering emails and Facebook-trawling at my home computer, keeping up with two dogs, cooking for the guys, doing some chores, taking a walk, running some errands and maybe meeting up with a friend for lunch. Except for the last two occasions, comfort usually wins out over pride.

I have a closet full of nice clothes that I have picked up at boutiques and shops here and in California, where my in-laws live and the clothes have a bit more panache than they do here in New England. They are filmy tops made from manmade fibers (which look terrific but are never warm), snug-fitting jeans that pinch if I sit too long in them or had carbs at breakfast, dressy sweaters (perfect for an afternoon at an art gallery or in a chic part of the city but not for making homemade sauce with meatballs.) I buy them with the best intentions, and look far better when I put them on – usually when the weather is comfortably warm or cool and the humidity is low. Yet on a raw, blustery day with nothing on the agenda I inevitably reach for the shleppiest thing in my closet – loose jeans, drawstring

UM...this isn't glamorous. But it sure is warm.

UM…this isn’t glamorous. But it sure is warm. (Sorry, UMass.)

sweats, once-proud cashmere sweaters that have holes and have gone through the wash, thick Wigwam socks designed for sub-zero camping trips, corduroy pants that cry out for a sweater emblazoned with country geese, shirts from the loungewear department at Target. Even defended from the cold by unglamorous layers of fleece, I still need to brew lots of hot tea to stoke a warming fire from within.

A few days ago we enjoyed a visit from some good friends from the Silicon Valley area, and we were talking about moms from nice neighborhoods who dress to the nines even when they are walking the dog or picking up the kids from school. My friend Renee talked about the mothers at an upscale grade school who dressed like they were on a runway to pick up their offspring. Picking up my own son from school, I am amazed at the number of pubescent girls who wear bare legs and short skirts with their Ugg boots. And I thank God for tinted auto glass.

I also marvel when Bob and I watch the news on TV and see the female weather forecaster dressed in a chic short-sleeved dress, perfect for a summer night out, when she’s predicting sub-freezing temperatures. Bob does not help when he remarks, “She should do the weather in the nude.”

A few years ago I interviewed a boutique owner who always looked fabulous, and she lamented that she wished more northern gals cared as much as the southerners do about how they dressed. Southern women, she pointed out, wear chic Juicy Couture track suits, good jewelry and nice makeup even when they are shopping for groceries. I’d like to introduce one of these Georgia peaches to a nice nor’easter. After that experience she will happily put on a pair of drawstring sweats from Old Navy.

There must be a happy compromise between being chic and being comfortable and warm. I’ve looked around our local mall for answers but can’t envision myself with the word “Pink!” stamped on my butt, or in anything that Kanye would wear with a thick gold chain. Nor do I see myself in anything that is sold next to the camping gear or that would look good with a folk art sweater.

One of my go-to shirts: all cotton, brushed on the inside, warm on the coldest winter days with the right stuff underneath.

One of my go-to shirts: all cotton, brushed on the inside, warm on the coldest winter days with the right stuff underneath.

I do have a few tips that have served me well. One is that if you are only in the car, you need only worry about what you are wearing on the part of your body that can be seen through the window. I have some nice colorful scarves that can be easily draped over those tacky sweats and nobody will ever know. However, this can backfire, as one of my best friends found out. When her daughter got on the school bus without her lunch, my friend pulled a jacket over her short nightshirt, jumped in the car, and sped down the street to a spot where the bus would stop later. Only she didn’t count on a male neighbor recognizing her car and sauntering over for a chat.

Another tip is that the right close-fitting underwear is a fitting armor under those flimsier but more attractive clothes. Maybe that’s what those weather chicks wear; I must ask them some time.

While I have nowhere to go today except for Target, I think I nailed a good compromise: comfortable but close-fitting jeans (thanks to the Lycra gods), a lavender Lucky Jeans waffle-weave top, the pretty necklace that Bob gave me last Christmas. Tomorrow I may not be so lucky.

So in the spirit of true confession, this post includes items I wear when I care most about comfort, most of them very unfashionable. How about you? What do you wear when comfort is the top priority and nobody is looking?

A great scarf makes you look like you have great elan when you are sitting in your car, regardless of what else you are wearing.

A great scarf makes you look like you have great elan when you are sitting in your car, regardless of what else you are wearing.

Once a cashmere sweater develops a hole, you are free to make gravy in it.

Once a cashmere sweater develops a hole, you are free to make gravy in it.

Suiting Up for Adulthood

Our 13-year-old will dress like a man for the first time this weekend, when he attends his first dressy affair without us.

One of the things about having a “surprise baby” when you are near middle-age – especially if his brothers and sisters are way older – is that you don’t rush things as much. So last weekend, when we finally bought our 13-year-old his first dressy blazer at a “grown man” store, was a little bittersweet.

A few months back John grew out of his boys 18/20 Columbia jacket with the zip-out lining, the one that had seen him through sixth grade and the early part of summer camp. Last fall its sleeves began to creep north of his wristbones. We knew that its days were numbered. We bought him a man’s ski jacket – one that looked like a bigger version of his boys jacket — at a local sporting goods store back in February.

But the blazer was something different. We are informal people who don’t belong to dressy clubs or go to church regularly, and its rare when we need to dress to impress. In the past when John was smaller we were able to get him through most parties with a pair of chinos and a casual shirt. But John has a bar mitzvah this weekend, his first dressy party with his peers and without us, and we have a family wedding in September.

So it was time for the boy who lives in worn tee shirts and elastic-waist basketball shorts to discover the grownup pleasure and responsibility of dressing for an occasion.

The jacket we picked out was navy featherweight wool with dull gold buttons, not brassy like a ship captain’s coat; more subtle and classic. The dapper men who waited on us at the clothing store showed us how the blazer could harmonize with different dress shirts and ties. Our salesman Gary, cheerful despite a bleary-eyed weekend handing out hundreds of tuxes to prom-goers, plucked a light blue shirt and a navy and gold plaid tie from the shelves and slipped them under the jacket.

“This is what all the young guys are wearing to the weddings and bar mitzvahs,” Gary told us. The combination was perfect – polished but youthful, classic but versatile, the perfect foil for khaki pants and a sheepish teen smile.

John was between sizes, and while the size 35 short blazer fit him perfectly it didn’t allow for any growth spurts, which we were sure would come this summer. We chose the 36 regular, a little long in the torso, but a surer bet for September and maybe even freshman year of high school.

John wore these fake muscles when he went out for Halloween as “Battista,” a WWE wrestler.

So now the blazer and its accoutrements hang in John’s closet, above the box of his third-grade artwork and next to his Super Mario Halloween costume of a few years ago, a set of fake padded muscles from another Halloween, and a pair of slippers emblazoned with WWE wrestlers — all things John has outgrown. But we hang onto them anyway, even though we suspect that John is embarrassed by them now. It’s easier for us to imagine our son dwelling in that less complicated world than trolling YouTube for edgy videos or wondering how to ask a girl to dance at a dressy party.

This is our last child and every day he leaves childhood farther behind. The blazer is a reminder of the grownup years that await. This weekend, when our young man wears it for the first time, we’ll feel proud but a part of us will miss our little boy.