The Museum of Modern Art has a new exhibit. “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” pieces together 111 articles of clothing from low end to high, from basic to extravagant, from eastern to western culture. Each garment must have had “a strong impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries – and continue to hold currency today.” 111 items to tell the story of the world.
You can walk past a plain white t-shirt and study a row of little black dresses. A pair of flip-flops earns a spot, as does the iconic pearl necklace, a pair of Levis, and a sari. A 1980s red Champion hoodie and the very first teeny tiny string bikini redefine function and style.
This, of course, got me thinking about my own clothes and the story they tell. So I stepped into my closet, a time capsule in itself, and took a look.
All heels higher than two inches sit on a shelf so high I cannot reach them without a step stool. They are covered in a fine layer of dust. These are what I call my “wedding” shoes. They only come down for events requiring RSVPs where three courses of food will be served.
Below the heels are the shirts, arranged by color, because I treat clothes like mood rings. Greens and yellows are good luck charms and charcoals are for dark days. Even as I run my hands over them, under the fluorescent light that is supremely energy efficient but also gives everything an antiseptic look, I see that two-thirds of my wardrobe is moot.
Silks and beaded things and sheer blouses from Anthropologie hang lonely on their padded hangers. Anything that requires a camisole has been abandoned. I spy the pants from before pregnancy, two sizes ago, still hanging in there underneath it all. Their presence is not a goal, but a respectful memorial, perhaps something to pass down to my daughter when fashion circles around again. Will people ever fall back in love with boot-cut? Acid wash came back, so maybe.
None of these speak to my current life as a mom of a five-year-old with special needs and three-year-old twins. Dry-clean only doesn’t hold up well when you’re refereeing Spaghetti-O food fights. And who has time for a camisole? I know other women can do it – the glam mom thing – but I’m lucky if I remember to put on a bra.
If I’m honest, the most highly trafficked area isn’t the hanging items at all, but the two narrow shelves of t-shirts, stretching all the way back to an 80s relic from a trip to Lake Tahoe and all the way forward to last Saturday’s impulse buy at Target that reads: “Sunday is my Funday.” These are my go-tos for the life I lead now as a work-from-home mom. However, the fact that I’m still holding on to all my old work clothes that used to carry me out of the house smelling like rose lotion instead of bacon and sweat says something. The old life is still there, staring at me in that six-by-four-foot space that I also share with my husband and his decades of apparel.
I suppose it means I’m not ready to give up on the pin-tucks and off-the-shoulder numbers that require a strapless bra. I think they’ll come around again when the kids are older and, fingers crossed, more self-sufficient. The heels won’t have to wait for a printed invitation.
Even in this future picture, I’ll still hold on to the 80s tee and the yoga pants and the Chacos and my favorite cowboy boots that are currently competing for space with eight pairs of toddler shoes because nothing is sacred in this house. My closet tells the story of all the living I’ve done. The dry-cleaned things might be shoved into corners, but it’s for a good cause – to make way for all the people tramping in with their own messy lives.
What I can’t makes sense of, though, is how MoMa managed to cover two centuries in 111 pieces when I’ve got that much on my floor just from yesterday.