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The Haunted Closet

A look at the skeletons I mean rules in my closet

Allegra Raff

Nov 8, 2023

Halloween's over. But are you haunted by… "clothing rules"?

You know—some comment from your great aunt about pantyhose that etched into your mind at a tender age? Or something adolescent-you read in MarieClaire magazine about what boys REALLY think of your sweaters, even though you don't even care what boys think about your sweaters, and didn't even remember that's why you feel so strongly about v-necked cardigans until I JUST SAID THAT?

Yeah, well.

I didn't think I had any clothing rules! Then I finally cleaned out my closet. Turns out I had a few.

Exhibit A: Everyone needs a good white button down shirt.

Not sure where this came from! School band rehearsals? Catering gigs, maybe?

I have had a selection of these in my closet for years—some I've worn, some I bought "just in case," and one I even made myself.

I've never actually liked them, though! Even the one I made!!!

Who am I trying to be in this thing? Like, a typist? I feel like the need for the White Button Down Shirt comes from some professional fantasy that, in retrospect, I would have failed at no matter what I was wearing. Just 'cus I have the costume, doesn’t mean I can play the part!

(Listen to the Clotheshorse episode about dressing for work, 182.)

Thank goodness I can let that go. OUT!

Exhibit B: Everyone needs a Little Black Dress.

Um, I mean, I guess it’s not bad to have a black dress on hand.

I had one hanging in my closet for over a decade and probably wore it, mmm, twice.

One wear was to an office holiday party. The other wear maybe didn't actually happen. I don’t go to office parties anymore because I don’t have an office.

I kept it the dress for years, though—honestly thinking maybe I’d get invited to a really nice funeral sometime! It was wool crepe and fit like a glove.

But I'm waking up to the likelihood that, movies aside, you never really go to a funeral wanting to look smokin'. Revenge-dressing to a funeral wouldn't feel right in the moment, you know? There would have to be some intrigue, in which case I'm sure I'd be too nervous to go to the official event, anyway.

I actually was invited to a real funeral at the beginning of this year, and it actually was really nice even though it was sad. (Zero intrigue.) I didn't wear the dress. How I looked wasn't nearly as important as being there, participating.

Besides, the dress looks a little "aughts" to me now. Maybe that’s the real pill: If you keep a garment around because you “should,” there’s a good chance you won’t want to wear it even when you have the chance: It’ll feel dated.

I'm not going to get a replacement only to pull it out in 2036 and be like: huh, that’s kinda Biden-era. (But I do like black, and I do love dresses! So maybe soon I'll treat myself to one I can wear everyday, like this.)


Once I identified some rules I'd been hanging on to, I was struck by how boring they are. Like, couldn't I have at least internalized something like "every gal needs at least three colors of paisley"? It would all be equally untrue, but at least fun.

The rules—mine, at least—are deeply practical. And I guess that's the root of these rules.

They're supposed to HELP. I see you, great aunt Maxine.

They're supposed to make the job of playing your part—whatever society demands you to be, no matter how far that is from what you feel yourself to be—easier.

Ahhhh. easier.

Sometimes, the first step is dismissing the coping strategies that make it easier to go along with the thing that's wrong.

What are yours? Do you have any good ones?? Any equally dull ones? Did we drink the same fashion-police kool-aid, or totally different kool-aids?

And are you over them, or have they turned out to be actually useful??? Seriously, I want to know!

Either way, I'm glad to live in a time and place where it seems more okay to admit when a system feels wrong.



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