Personal Growth and the Problem of Shrinkage

Feb 17, 2014

Most of the time I don’t think about my clothes at all, but occasionally I have to defend them against the demands of charity. Several good causes in our area go around collecting old clothes, and my wife takes the opportunity to raid my wardrobe for things that she considers too old and too threadbare for me to wear in public, or even in private.

But clothes last more or less forever if you don’t wear them too often. Archaeologists have discovered fragments of clothing that are more than eight thousand years old, and most of my own garments are much newer than that. I’m attached to them, and they more or less fill two closets. I’m not quite sure what is in there, especially in the dark places at the back. But who knows when I might need a bright red tie with yellow smiley faces, or a T shirt from an English pub with the helpful legend: "Please Keep Upright"?

Clothes bring back memories. I still have two shirts bought from the Salvation Army Store in Palo Alto, California, when I was a carefree graduate student. Until the last charity pickup I had a fine old corduroy jacket that had been the height of fashion in Paris in the 1960s. Every garment tells a story.

The only problem is size. Something very strange happens in the darkness of those closets. I put my things neatly on hangars in a nice warm, dry place for twenty years ago or so, and when I bring them out I find that, lo and behold, they have shrunk by several inches. I always hope that they will expand again as mysteriously as they diminished, but it doesn’t happen and my wife assures me it will never happen.

The most recent triage of my wardrobe produced quite a pile of garments that seem to have been made for a manikin half my size. So with great reluctance I put them in the sack for the charity to pick up, regretting each item, especially the slightly moldy top half of a tuxedo that had belonged to my father, and possibly to his father, and a stylish old trench coat modeled after the one worn by Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon."

My reluctance to part with clothes is probably due to childhood trauma. Our street in London was regularly visited by a dilapidated old man with a dilapidated horse and cart, a hangover from Victorian times known as the rag and bone man. My mother would collect a bundle of surplus rubbish to sell him for a few pence. Even back then I had to defend my outgrown clothes, and my stuffed animals and broken toys. Nothing was safe. I’ve no idea what the rag and bone man did with the treasures he collected – especially the bones - and the whole thing seemed deeply sinister to me. Obviously it made a strong impression.

Clothes like their owners should be allowed to age quietly and in comfort without being haunted by the ghost of the rag and bone man. Storage is the only difficulty. Both my closets are full, but then so is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can’t start throwing historic things out just because you are short of space. I’m rather in favor of renting one of those storage lockers, or perhaps simply getting a bigger house with larger closets. But I fear that’s not going to happen. The good causes will keep getting my almost-new clothes, whether I like it or nor. Charity, it seems, begins at home.

Copyright: David Bouchier