Discover more from The Cereal Aisle by Leandra Medine Cohen
What do I wear when I'm sick of what's in my closet, but still want to make the most of it?
An express lane outfit idea and lots of words, paired just for you this weekend
This is a public post from the Essays about Getting Dressed franchise. To read the last of its kind, click here.
Recently, a woman asked me what to wear as her life was changing. She was starting to age. Work was slowing down. The events for which she’d had to dress were becoming something new, which was all fine and well, but her sense of self-worth was still wrapped in the way she’d conducted herself until now. The clothes served as talismans, a sort of reminder of what had been but no longer was. She loved them but they didn’t fit in with however her life was changing. When she spoke, I could really relate.
At various junctures, for all kinds of reasons — some superficial, some deeply personal — our lives change, and the clothes that we used to define us stop working to do what we’ve decided they’re meant to. On the one hand in light of this, I wonder why so many of us (myself super included) put so much emphasis on our clothes as not just a portal but the sum, really, of our respective self-definitions.
If we’re going to change, must the clothes change with us and if the answer is yes, what are any of them actually worth?
Then I remember that clothes are just clothes. They’re not portals, they don’t need to define us. As a matter of fact, they can’t. Our clothes may remind us of some seminal moment, some heartbreak or triumph endured in real-time but they don’t make those moments at all. In this way, they really are just clothes. A way to cover your body and if you want, have fun, or at least be intentional about it. They’re only as supportive as you’ll ask them to be.
I have to remind myself sometimes — because for as much as I love getting dressed — for as much as I think it does for me, it’s not actually the clothes that do much.
Which is probably freeing to think if you find that no matter how hard you try, Getting Dressed (capital G, capital D)’s not your ~thing.~ There you have it — clothes are just clothes! In the grand scheme of the days that aggregate into weeks then months and years to make up your life, what you’re wearing barely matters.
Unless you want it to.
But even if it is for you, if you love getting dressed and really care about fashion, at least you can know you don’t need it.
Style is something else, but for the most part, it’s not more than a lens. How you dress as opposed to what you wear. How you carry yourself in the clothes.
The lens cannot change reality by any tangible measure but can help you orient yourself towards a different perception of it. Particularly in the event that you are looking for, or have been thrust into a change. How you wear your clothes won’t manage the change, but they can be a way to help you pick yourself up, to reach out, to eject a dead truth. To discover acceptance, to find your way out then go on to find your way home. But remember, it’s you who does this. The clothes just come with.
And how good it can feel when the garments in question are the same ones that you thought could only suit a life stage that’s behind you. With some creative tweaking, I think they can join you into whatever is next.
I recently started to hate wearing athleisure, particularly on the weekends. Performance clothes are practical because they are comfortable but when I’m in them for fun, it’s no longer fun and the best compromise I have come up with in order to integrate comfort but leave out the sportswear (which is all I wore on weekends for nearly a decade) is a mosaic of ideas I’ve already had.
+Sneakers with jeans, this time baggy (roll the jeans up if you prefer them straight. If you don’t have a pair that is baggy, what are your favorites? Just wear those — the ones you don’t have to think about).
+A lightweight wool (or cotton) turtleneck styled under a cotton t-shirt. Mine is striped, yours can be graphic or plain or wtvr, plus a fitted jacket that serves as a topcoat.
I’ve had the turtleneck for about three years (same with the jacket); it’s starting to rip at the neck but suctions me in and keeps me warm enough to evade the need for a real sweater, which would be too clunky under a fitted jacket. Mostly I wear it alone, or with a sweater or a button-down over. A t-shirt makes it feel new. And the right dose of casual for the weekend.
I don’t know how old this one is — 6 or 7 years? It’s been somewhat retired for at least the past two. I must have been sick of wearing it my way (with a pearl necklace, bead choker, or silk neck scarf).
The jeans are from before the pandemic, which probably makes them the youngest. I got them at the top of 2020 when I still fantasized about the unturned terrain of that year and what I would wear to turn it. Ha. Ha.
I thought I was done with “city sneakers” (that is, shoe sneakers) but I think I’m coming back to these (an iteration, essentially, of Superga or Converse) as a reaction to all the performance sneakers — Asics! New Balance! Salomon! — that have been making their rounds. I like those too, but for different occasions. The color of the rubber sole on these connects back to the camel suede fringe and the white leather offsets the black neckline/catches the white on the tee.
If you don’t like jeans:
What are the oldest pair that you have? Lately, I want them big. Like high-school-hockey-team-ex-boyfriend-I-never-had big. They’re good with a narrow-toe loafer — the volume that bunches up above the ankle scrunch offsets or sets off a refined shoe. I’m wearing a different turtleneck here but the t-neck/t-shirt combo works too. If you’re trying that combo, I’d layer a boxy tee.
Then for the over, a (my!) collarless coat (but a cardigan — or anything with a soft shoulder that’s not too long, e.g. doesn’t pass your butt — works too). Everything but the shoes in this outfit are actually pretty new, but the idea is that if you like the look, you can take the equation into your own closet and unearth similar items to wear.
Good for a weekend hang when you’re not doing much but find that you’re also not home. No jeans, no leggings. Just comfort.
It’s a good thing I don’t write slogans.
Something I have been wondering lately, for those among us who derive pleasure and meaning from fashion and style, but are aware that its impact can be quite damaging: how does one confront, break down and…damage the damage without dismissing the entity completely?
Signing off this weekend,