Lessons My Closet Taught Me

by Arabelle Sicardi

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I just came home from a weekend stranded because two trains caught on fire. Now I am too tired to crawl into bed so I am lying on the floor of my closet. My delicious, walk-in closet, as big as my room, bigger than the studio apartments my friends own. You have to walk through it to get to my room. My walk-in closet makes the increasing chances of death by flaming subway train (or two) seem reasonable to me. My walk-in closet with a rug thick as a blanket. I lie on it and stare at my clothes like they are my psychoanalysts. They are.

Moving into this space meant consolidating many racks of clothes into one concise bubble of thought. Or rather, four bubbles — two on each side, monochrome and rainbows. I’ve donated and sold so many things to make it concise. I used to thrift every weekend, which led to this mountain of clothes. I stopped. Now things are careful and culled. But over the past two years, I curated a collection of clothes for a person I wasn’t becoming. Not anymore. I was once obsessed with working towards an identity through clothes; now I’m obsessed with letting them go so I can build myself into something new. And so I am here, going through them, throwing years into trash bags to sell or barter off.

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This rack of crinolines, plural, for my freshman obsession with wearing them pinned up, like exploding dresses made of clouds. I would wear two at a time, as an outfit, with patterned stockings, and take pictures of myself reading in libraries. This whimsical girl. Now I wear shirtless suits. Sometimes I use these crinolines as pillows. Sleeping on old dreams? Not interested. Time to wake up.

This pleated accordion ankle-length dress I bought in Taiwan two years ago — I haven’t worn it once. It is green, covered in a grid of greens and grey, with two gigantic pockets. When I bought it at a market in Taiwain, I imagined the way it would look on a tall Asian girl in Chelsea. I imagined it would make me more legitimately Asian, more comfortable and carefree with my body and the space I take up as not quite one or the other. It is shifty the same way my race feels static, but it makes is seem so simple. It is a meticulous dress, something that can look incredibly dated or very new, depending on the execution of the person wearing it. I like that it is stretchy, and pleated, so that the pattern changes and flows with each body it clings to. I saw the dress in blue on this fat woman once during a night monsoon in Taipei, and she looked amazing. The accordion pleating on the patterns looked like sound waves narrating the tempest. She was waiting for the bus in the dark and she looked remarkably beautiful. I bought the dress in green the next day out of wanting. But I have always been the wrong person to ride the waves. Into the trashbag it goes.

My Courtney Love Dress. This cream dress from Goodwill hits mid-thigh, ragged on the bell sleeves, because I was always grabbing things that weren’t mine. I wore it when I still thought myself a rebel girl, a princess in control who wore blue eyeliner through my eyebrows to make a point. Being angry at boys in this dress made me break a lot of hearts, but it didn’t prevent me from being hurt. I was the girl with so much cake that it grew moldy. Now this dress has rips and stains; if I must have the wardrobe of a wannabe Miss Havisham, my wedding dress will be custom Rodarte, not this dress from Goodwill. I have outgrown the naïve suspicion of my dirty punk politics. The politics didn’t quite protect me, at least not enough, thank you very much.

Another accordion dress — maybe I’m cursed? It’s this gold napkin of a thing; I bought it for maybe a dollar in Taiwan. I thought it looked marvelous and slinky , like I knew how to do a cut-crease like Twiggy. It was the dress I wore walking to a party alone one night on campus. A boy walked past me with two girls and whispered not so loudly — “She’s going to get raped in that.” And the two girls with him didn’t quite laugh, not really, but they made this noise that sounded like they punched air out of their lungs in quick gasps. Kept walking. I wanted to call back that I’d been wearing high-waisted jeans when that had happened to me and you would have thought it would have made it more difficult but no! It didn’t and I didn’t. I dug my keys into my hands until they bled and continued on into the dark. I haven’t worn the dress since. I will keep it to remind myself it was never my fault. I have promised myself. There is still time for new memories, you know.

The next is a recent purchase, and I think they’re cursed, so I’m returning them back into the world. They are embroidered J. Crew pants with gold and peach thread, spirals of flora and thorns. They look like they belong to the enterprising daughter of Professor Umbridge, and they are a very large size zero, but not quite large enough. Sometimes you buy things because you want the time to change to fit them but that’s not how it’s supposed to work. I have had quite enough of bending over to change to fit into clothes and relationships that don’t fit me. Why bother, when there is so much more out there to have and to love and to hold?

Arabelle Sicardi is a fashion and beauty writer for the likes of Rookie, Teen Vogue, Refinery29 and The Style Con. She likes makeup, cyborgs, and bad fashion puns.