I love my wardrobe. Not because it is vast, because it is not. Not because I own enough wigs to bedeck a transgendered beauty three times over, because I do. Not because my shoes alone have their own fuchsia shrine in a separate closet lit from within by an electric votive, as there it is in my bedroom glowing brightly behind a green gauzy curtain.
The reason I love the contents of my wardrobe is simple. Most of what I own is of the hand-me-down variety, or what my mother likes to call “hand-me-ups” because the quality of the items are so fine and so thoughtful, you couldn’t imagine why someone would part with them.
Sixty percent of the fashionable loot I own comes from people I love. That’s a lot of happy going on in one household, and it makes getting dressed in the morning an adventure of Proustian proportions.
The weighty memoirist may have had his madelines, but I have a red velveteen Dior-esque coat that gives me the shivers, which was given, lovingly, 15 years ago by a woman who thought I could and would wear it. I like to think that coat retains all the moments it was worn in joy, and the fabric contains the kind spirit in which it was offered to me.
Without getting into a weighty theological discussion, I will simply say this: Where clothes are concerned, karma counts.
My first experience of good clothing karma occurred when I was a teenager. A torch singer and her daughter, friends of my family, were going through some tough times. I was cleaning out my closet when my mother suggested I take over the nicer things to Madame S., and her daughter Mademoiselle S. Little did I know as they dug through the contents of the Hefty bag that the black-and-gold reversible silk shell that gave me the monobreast effect would fit the torch singer as though it were made by a celestial tailor, and the brown hippie leather bag would see the Mademoiselle through some hard years in which keeping her stuff in one happy place would assure her survival.
The karma was returned a year later when a friend handed me a tailored black twill jacket with lavender satin lining that put me through college, making me look presentable for days in which, due to working 60 hours a week waitressing, interning, and workstudying, I needed to not look like a heroin addict coming off a mighty binge.
From there, the Clothing Karma Network expanded exponentially. You learn quickly that nothing in your closet is so precious that it might not someday need to go to someone who needs it more than you, or someone who looks better wearing it.
I have given a dress to a stranger who had to attend an out-of-town wedding; I never saw her or the dress again. I have put together care packages of stylish goods for people I do not know, based solely on the knowledge that a friend of a friend is in need. I have adorned many a depressed chica heading to break up with a lousy boyfriend with delicate armor from my own closet. I don’t think about the individual items as much as I remember the sigh of the recipient, the ultimate sign that my clothes have touched the right hands.
Lately, my best friend Nichole has gotten completely into the Clothing Karma spirit, bringing over clothes, shoes, jewelry, makeup, not just for me, but for people I know who wear her size. She tells me what to give to whom, and dutifully, happily, I take these sweetheart items to their soon-to-be-rightful owners. She rigorously cleans out every few months. To her delight, she is given back, by my hands and others, raiment befitting the queen of kindness she has become.
The winter holidays have ended, and with them will go the enormous spirit that follows in their wake. I like presents as much as anybody, the getting and the giving part, but what I love even more is the sense that giving, in my world, is a regular occurrence. I have gleeful plans for the next few weeks. I have two bags of clothes from Nichole to deliver, and my closet will be purged again.
There is an eggcup-blue hat that really should belong to an 8-year-old daughter of a friend, a girl who is more girl than girl, who climbs trees without getting her dress dirty.
A pair of designer tortoiseshell sunglasses will go to a woman in the process of dealing with a loss. Why shouldn’t she be able to cloak her eyes as she thinks through her trials?
My vintage plaid toggle coat is begging for a new owner. It is too big for me, but just right for the statuesque friend who walks to work.
I might not be given back items in kind, but that is not the point. I like to know that even when money is tight or the rent is late, I can reach deep into my wardrobe and give a little comfort to someone who needs it. Sometimes love is a feeling, and sometimes it is tailored or draped, leather or cotton toile, embroidered or simple. When love suits a person, nothing else looks quite as good.
HOW TO START YOUR OWN CLOTHING KARMA NETWORK
Step one. Make a list of people in your life who could use or might like some of the things you own.
Step two. On the appointed day, put on your grubby jeans, turn on loud music, and open the doors of your closet wide. Have a box of garbage bags ready, or recycled grocery bags. You’ll want a sharpie to mark each bag.
Step three. Call the clothing karma recipients and let them know you’ve got a few things they might want. When they do go through your offerings, don’t be miffed if they don’t take everything. Or anything. It means that what remains should go to someone else.
Step four: Relax and repeat. The network will expand itself organically with almost no effort on your part. Donate to public organizations when a specific donor cannot be found. I have my favorites; you will find yours.
Buy Buy Love
If your man made a vow to up his trend-free fashion quotient this year, Penner’s big sale is the place to start. Five custom shirts will net you a sixth for free, and he can go “Tom Landry” or “Low Rider” with his head gear for $99.99. Sweaters are 50-percent off as are silk ties, and leather jackets are marked down $100 (the $100 you’ll spend on that hat). Skip the Sansabelt slacks, but do stock up on Dockers and Stacy Adams. January 8-13, 311 W. Commerce, (210) 226-2487, pennersinc.com.