7 Favorite Clothing Relics from My Closet
Updated: Mar 20, 2021
If you hang out with me long enough, you will discover that I am crazy about medieval literature and art, and particularly fascinated by reliquaries: those jeweled or hand-carved containers from the Middle Ages that hold the body parts of saints, be it foot, finger, head or bone.
These bits of bodies were believed to retain the holy person's aura. Enshrined in their bizarre, beautiful reliquary vessels, the relic held out an alluring promise – that of return and resurrection. Many saints faced a brutal death: hacking, burning, flaying, beheading. At end time, their bodily fragments would be miraculously reassembled. The part would restore the whole. (All of the reliquary images below were shot by me and are from either the Met Cloisters or the British Museum.)
This practice of preserving relics is one I relate to, at least in my own non-believer twenty-first-century way. I hold on to the bits of people I was with, items that represent our time together and that have great meaning for me. (I promise, though, there are no toes or hands or fingernails in my freezer.) Letters, books, mix tapes, photographs. Most of all, the clothing they once wore or that they once gifted me. These personal relics connect me to people, places and experiences that may be past but are never lost.
That's part of the pleasure of getting All Dressed for me. I like to wear clothing in which I feel strong and sexy, but I also choose items with humor and history. Here are seven “relics” in my closet that are the most story-filled for me.
1. Super Amy Necklace & Jewelry (pictured above)
Early in our marriage, my husband Matthew passed a man on the street with a hairy chest and a big Superman medallion and thought, that would look good on Amy. So, he found a jeweler on Canal Street and had them make a Super necklace for me, albeit smaller in scale and more discrete. It is no-holds-bar my favorite piece of jewelry. I feel it imbues me with super powers. My husband got me a second Super necklace and one day my two daughters, Hester and Flora, will each inherit one.
Almost every piece of jewelry I own reminds me of a person I knew. The rhinestone cuff pictured above is the earliest of these gifts, given to me by my high school boyfriend. Each of the rings I am wearing has a story, too. Ask me, and I may tell it to you.
2. My Father’s Ties
My father had several hundred silk ties organized by color in his closet. As a girl, I loved looking at them – there were so many colors and patterns. When he died, my sister and I shared a few with some special people in our lives, and I kept the rest, organizing them on one of his old wood tie racks. I wear them now on special occasions: his yahrzeit, birthday, and other times when I just want to feel him near me.
The Passover after my father died, I wore one in his honor, and a friend came wearing one, too. I had given it to him when he paid a shiva call. Another friend asked if they could wear one. I went to my closet and started handing out my father’s ties. Everyone at the Seder table was wearing a Mel Stein tie, which felt fitting. Passover was his favorite holiday.
3. Cookie Monster Coat
I discovered my shaggy blue Cookie Monster coat in a consignment store when I was in my early twenties. A few weeks later, the original owner, a total stranger, stopped me on the street to let me know it was once hers, she thought it suited me, and she was happy I now had it. I should have asked her, but my guess is it dates to the 1970s. Cookie Monster and I have been through many adventures together; we were even accosted by an anti-fur activist who somehow mistook Cookie for the real thing. I suppose Muppets have rights, too.
4. Bat Mitzvah Dress, 1980 & Now
Yes! I can still squeeze into the dress I wore when I was 12 and becoming a woman, at least according to Jewish tradition. Following this coming of age ceremony, I was required to take on all the ritual obligations of an adult, things like fasting on Yom Kippur and lighting a candle every Friday night for the Sabbath.
I must admit I don’t wear this dress out, nor do I observe most of the ritual obligations, but I love it and have held onto it. It reminds me of my younger self: the 12-year-old girl-woman who loved books and ball-playing, and absolutely did not want to wear anything stuffy or fancy at her Bat Mitzvah.
5. My Mom’s Red Velvet Dress
I have inherited so many extraordinary pieces from my mother it is hard to pick just one, but I am going to go with this red velvet dress which she wore for her All Dressed feature. It dates back to 1969, the year of the photo which shows her in it with my older sister and me. I am planning to wear it for a future All Dressed story that will take place in the woods. Something about this lush piece makes me want to wear it and gallivant in nature.
I take great pleasure when my daughters borrow my clothing. (They will point out that the borrowing goes both ways, and I can often be found foraging in their closets.) Flora loves my thrifted green wrap skirt. Hester likes my biker ring. I love that these items of clothing will one day hold their own memories for them, and that I will be passing them down, just like my mother has passed things to me.
6. Covid Splurge
Not every dress or outfit has to be inherited or thrifted or gifted for it to represent a story. This Ulla Johnson dress is one of the few pieces of clothing I bought during Covid and it is now a favorite. I wear it when I am working on my book. Post-pandemic, it will signal for me this period and wanting to dress up and feel good even during a challenging time.
7. Dressed in Love
I love the outfit pictured here because almost every item I am wearing belonged to my children, parents or a grandparent. The black crop top and army jacket, my daughter Hester’s. The jeans and oversized silver earrings, my daughter Flora’s. (She loves donut-shaped earrings.) The tie, my father’s, of course. Classing up the outfit, my mother’s black leather Bottega Veneta bag. I am also wearing a gold-threaded 1960s cardigan that was my Bubba’s but you can’t see it because it’s hidden beneath the jacket. The only items I purchased are the shoes and socks.
About the tie. More than a dozen years ago, we had a holiday party at our home, and a friend complimented my father on his tie, and my father unknotted and handed it to him. A couple of years after my father died, we went to a party at this man’s house and he told me the story which I had never heard before. “Do you want it?” And he led me to his closet which had rows of ties hanging on the inside doorway. I picked it out. I could spot one of my father’s ties out of a pile of hundreds.
I could never Marie Kondo my books or closet. By keeping and wearing these items of clothing, relics of relationships and encounters in my life, I am always in good company.
I would love to hear about a favorite item of clothing you own that holds a story for you. Please share in the comments below.