September 26, 2020


Today was “Clothes Change Out Day” and, as usual, Steve responded to my announcement with a groan.   But this year the process was very different. 

I’m not sure when Change Out Day began.   I remember gathering up my shorts and short-sleeved blouses (we didn’t call them tank tops then), swimsuits and sandals, placing them in a cardboard box, and pushing the box to the back of the top shelf of my closet as instructed by my mother every August before our annual school clothes shopping trip to Eugene.  

Our home had been built in 1952, the year I was born, and apparently the floor plans during that era consisted of small bedrooms and tiny closets.  So, it was a storage issue.   Then, in the spring a few weeks after Easter, the process would be reversed when boots, sweaters, and wool skirts would be carefully folded and tucked away into the corner of my closet to make way for my summer attire.  

I have engaged in some form of this bi-annual ritual for as long as I can remember. 

I suppose this is where I should add that I love to shop for clothes.  And shoes.   (Question: How many pairs of shoes does a woman need?   Answer: One more).   I came by my love of clothing quite naturally, perhaps even genetically.   When she was twenty years old, my mother, a teacher, spent her first paycheck on a wool coat with a fox collar, so it should be no surprise that our appearance and, subsequently, our clothes shopping trips were serious matters.  A Christmas letter written by my mother in 1957 states “Phyllis is quite a lively five-year old.  Her main activity is changing clothes fifteen times a day and being just Phyllis”.   

Fall school shopping began at Sears where we would purchase underwear and socks.   Our next stop was “The Bon Marche” (considered a notch up from J.C. Penny’s) in Eugene where we (my mother also shopped for new clothes) would purchase skirts, blouses, sweaters, and shoes.   Matching ensembles drove the process and sometimes an extra scarf or a piece of jewelry would be added for the finishing touch.  Finally, we would head to Kaufman’s, an upscale clothing store in Eugene, where we would find a new winter coat and perhaps another pair of shoes.   The saleslady would follow us around and swoon about our choices (“Oh Honey.  That is just DARLING on you!”).  

Yes, I was a spoiled little girl raised by a mother who valued appearances.  My father was the superintendent of schools, she was the 6th grade teacher, and it was paramount that we appeared to the community as stylish, contemporary, and classy.  As a result, I was also (and am still) somewhat neurotic regarding my appearance and how it relates to my acceptance from others.  

I’ve always had a box or two (in the beginning cardboard boxes) for Change Out Day”.  I would label the boxes “summer” in the fall, and then in the spring cross out “summer” and write “winter” with a black felt pen.  Each year some items were placed in the sack for Goodwill.  How long had it been since I had worn that item?   If it had been two or more years since it had been worn, out it went.   

(For years I had an extra box labelled “size 10”.   It was packed mostly with jeans, skirts, and pants that I could no longer wear because of weight gain.    This past year I finally unpacked that box and am now wearing ten to fifteen year old jeans.)  

When I moved to Iowa, the biannual clothing exchange took on more meaning.   Unlike Oregon which has two seasons (Winterish and Summerish), Iowa actually has four seasons.   Winter requires seriously heavy coats, jackets, sweaters, wool pants/skirts and boots while shorts, tank tops, and light sleeveless dresses are necessary to make it through the hot dry summers.  As a result, I had to purchase even more clothing! 

At some point, probably during the 1990’s, I began to use huge Rubbermaid containers and I eventually required at least four containers.  Steve would grimace when I informed him it was time for Change Out Day, and he would dig out the boxes buried deep within the attic.  Then I would begin the three hours of sorting, ironing, and arranging required to place them (arranged by color) into my (fortunately large) walk-in closet.   

Following my mother’s lead, I have, even when short on cash, only purchased high quality clothing and shoes.   And I have a LOT of clothes!   As a result, they seldom wear out and some items have survived for almost thirty years.   But when I retired I suffered through a seriously painful purging process.   Suit coats, wool skirts, most of my heels – much of my professional attire was assembled and placed into sacks and they are now, hopefully, being worn by someone who needs them more than I do.   

Now I am down to two boxes. 

So today was Change Out Day.   It is almost October, the air is cool, and it is time.   As I began to sort through my summer clothes, I realized that I had only worn a few pair of shorts, some mid-calf jeans, a couple of sleeveless blouses, and two pairs of sandals.  Most of my summer was spent wearing old tank tops, T-shirts from old concerts and protest marches, and jean shorts.  My summer dresses (long and short), colorful capris (with matching sleeve-less tops), gold sandals, and floppy hats sat un-touched all summer because we have remained Safe at Home.    

We haven’t gone anywhere except for a one-day trip to Florence where I left a few of my books at “The Chicken Coop” gift shop (owned by my old high-school friend Ellen) to sell. I did go to church a few times (outside, six feet apart seated in a lawn chair wearing a mask), but it was chilly, and I wore a sweater or coat over my plain blue dress. (One doesn’t dress up in flowery low-cut dresses with gold sandals and a floppy hat for a Quaker Meeting anyhow).    And then there was the ill-fated trip to Waldport during the wildfires.  

It’s always a little bit exciting to become reacquainted with my winter clothes again: they’re like old friends I haven’t seen for a while.  I’m usually looking forward to wearing my favorite sweaters, scarves, wool pants and skirts, shoes, boots, and wool stylish hats.   I know I will wear some of my sweaters and slacks because I am seeing patients again.

 But I won’t be wearing the “fun” clothes (low cut and/or colorful and/or dressy) to concerts, parties, or out to fancy dinners. I won’t be wearing my black shoes with the shiny silver buckle or my red heels or my purple pumps.

And as I packed up my summer clothing as I have done for the past sixty years, I wondered.   Will I be wearing any of my favorite summer clothes next year?   

One year from now.   Where what will our lives look like?   I am hopeful but cautious.   I still have my mother’s fox collar coat.  

I plan to wear it.    

Published by doctorphyllis

I'm a semi-retired clinical psychologist living in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

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