By Anne T. Donahue
This weekend, I organized all of my t-shirts. I have a million, I rolled them up the way Marie Kondo told me to, and together with my long-sleeve t-shirts, plaid button-ups, and sweatshirts, I am ready to take on the world. (Or the small, small part of it I exist in since the pandemic exists.)
In January, I wrote about getting rid of all my too-small clothes after I gained the weight I’d lost following eons of disordered eating. I purged vintage dresses, slacks, and things I couldn’t afford but was convinced I should get because why not. And I assumed that come spring, I would re-buy new versions (maybe) in whatever size I was because that’s what happens in a new season: you buy a bunch of shit you feel amazing in, and then by the same time next year, you think, “In what circle of hell did I think I could wear cropped flares?”
But then this spring was different. I, like most people, stayed in my jogging pants and sweatshirts and t-shirts. I wore my jeans sometimes, and began living in my oversize flannel and considered those outfits “fancy.” (Denim is fancy now.) When summer hit, I ordered a slew of denim and jogging shorts and donated the vintage dresses I had left. First, I had nowhere to wear them. Second, I had no desire to. I just wanted – and want – to be comfy. I want to dress like Lisa Simpson when she makes friends with Christina Ricci, and I want to be mistaken for Six from Blossom. I want to get ready and dress for me and me alone. I have never felt comfier or better than when leaning into the last time I remember doing exactly this. I have never felt more myself than when channeling the tween version of me, the tiny child who had seconds left before deciding to bend her sartorial choices around how other people looked. I’ve never felt better in my own clothes than I have over the last few months, where I’ve prioritized comfort over everything else.
My problem was that for a very long time, I equated “comfort” to “bad.” I grew up watching What Not to Wear and any/all available makeover shows, and I started believing that to feel comfy meant that I had given up. I refused to sweatpants outside the house, and vowed never to wear flip-flops. It never occurred to me that so many “style rules” are bullshit, made-up by people who make decisions around a conference table on a Tuesday morning. It never occurred to me that the way I’d intertwined eating (a.k.a. not eating) and clothes had created a dangerous lie that made going up a size seem like punishable offense. I never stopped to think that buying a size that genuinely fits is a wonderful thing that makes you hate yourself a whole lot less. I didn’t challenge the idea of “giving up” or see that it’s not real and only exists in the realm of someone who’s likely never experienced the blessed relief of a soft pair of sweatpants. I never stopped to think that when I put on my own sweatpants with a t-shirt and very large flannel that I felt absolutely amazing; like I was some cool mid-nineties tween again who had a big night planned at the mall. I didn’t think I could dress only and entirely for me. Or that once I started, I wouldn’t want to stop.
Granted, I’ve been living in comfy clothes since November and the gorgeous car accident that came my way. And also, I’ve gained probably about 20 pounds since (I don’t have a scale because wow: what a fun fast-track to eating nothing that would be), which makes wearing any of the clothes I’d bought before then impossible. But also: I don’t know where to find my capacity to care. I look at my closet, chalk full of sweats and new, better-fit (on sale) jeans, and flannels, and t-shirts, and I love what I see. I love what I put on. I love how I look in most of my pieces. I feel like I can move and be me and exist comfortably, and I like wearing clothes that fit. I like myself, and I like how I look, and the last time I remember thinking or feeling that way, I was my preteen self, on her way to the mall, psyched as hell to buy a t-shirt that says, “Gap.”
And I’ve decided to trust that girl. Yes, she wore t-shirts from Northern Getaway with cartoon cats on them for far too long, but she felt like a million dollars in her matching scrunchie. She took joy in getting dressed, but emphasized the way she felt over the way others thought she looked. She was absolutely a tiny weirdo who spent an inordinate amount of time deciding between those Bonne Bell perfumes that smelled like emotions, and she considered those Lip Smackers that looked like real lipstick a very grown-up purchase. But she was right: comfort is key. The best clothes are the ones you feel incredible in. And reader, if that means I will be dressing like a cast member of My So-Called Life for the foreseeable future, then so be it. Because goddamn it, I feel really nice.
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