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Before Your Next Closet Edit, Take A Trip

"You don’t have to jet off to some faraway, foreign locale. Just leave."

Before Your Next Closet Edit, Take A Trip
Sean Davidson

The iconic former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland was legendary for her maximalist style. There wasn’t an inch of her Park Avenue apartment that wasn’t awash in bright red lacquer or some densely patterned print. In lifestyle and aesthetic, she and I (a self-affirming minimalist) couldn’t be more different. Nonetheless, I’ve doggedly clung to one of Vreeland’s most-quoted phrases—"the eye has to travel"—as my mantra before embarking on any major closet edits or seasonal clean-outs. Here’s my theory: The optimal time to evaluate your wardrobe’s contents is after returning from a trip.

You don’t have to jet off to some faraway, foreign locale. Just leave. The point is to get out of your everyday space long enough to allow your eyes and mind to wander, to settle on new sights, to expand. To observe how suddenly decisive you may feel about your belongings when you return is downright revelatory. You might rejoice in a newfound appreciation for that plaid car coat languishing in the back of your closet. Or alternately, what you were already feeling ambivalent about—well, you may no longer even recognize it as yours.

My own experience with this process happened during the pandemic when I finally returned to my East Village apartment after five weeks burrowed away upstate, having subsisted on a rotation of three to four outfits. There were pieces in my closet I’d forgotten I even owned, but was thrilled to see again: my beloved blazers—all of them! There was the new choker I’d recently purchased and shoes that weren’t sneakers! Each instance felt like I’d come across a treasure awaiting its rediscovery. “Are these really mine?” I remember saying to myself with delight. There were clothes I didn’t give a second thought to giving away and other pieces I couldn’t wait to wear and show off again, even if only for myself at home. Given all the unknowns surrounding COVID-19 at the time, what was the point of waiting?

In less than an hour, I’d rearranged the contents of my closet to reflect what I wanted to wear—as soon and as much as possible. Gone were my innumerable white button-down shirts, tokens of aspirational uniform dressing that I could never quite adopt, amongst a heap of other once-aspirational pieces: body-con dresses, platform high-heeled sandals I’d picked up at the famous Barneys warehouse sale well over a decade ago, anything the color teal. If I hadn’t transformed into any of those imaginary versions of myself by then, she was meant to remain a fantasy.

Immersing myself in a new place, the local styles, and the different ways of dressing might inspire me to bring back something new

I kept the pieces to which I held a connection—the ones that supported me as the truest version of myself—and our bond, strange as it sounds, was like a kinship of sorts. My vintage cobalt blue jumpsuit was one of the last items I bought before the lockdown. I repetitively wore it every few days while upstate, and yet I never felt dread or fatigue over the idea of wearing it again. I still haven’t. I love its practical all-in-one style and how it armored me in vivid color throughout those endless-seeming days.

Since then, I’ve observed how traveling and distancing myself from my apartment, in general, often yields a similar effect on my perspective towards my closet’s contents. Immersing myself in a new place, the local styles, and the different ways of dressing might inspire me to bring back something new or alternately swap out a few things upon my return. But I’ve also noticed that how I perceive and adapt to my new (albeit temporary) surroundings not only reinforces who I am and how I express myself as a person, it also reveals who I’m not (or, likewise, aspects of myself I no longer personify). And it’s remarkably easier to shed the garments of those past selves after inhabiting a temporary space without them.

Two weeks in Italy during a sweltering heat wave reaffirmed my love of breezy, boho-inspired maxi dresses, while reminding me that living without jeans is possible. When I returned home, two pairs I hadn’t touched in months were promptly banished to the giveaway pile. A 48-hour stint on the Greek island of Paros, where the women joyously flaunted their bodies of all shapes and sizes, encouraged me to lean into my femininity more—by undoing one more button of my linen tunic or tying my sarong into unfussy mini skirts. But if the extreme heat and the hotel’s pool outside my door couldn’t lure me into wearing any of the several bikinis I’d packed, I didn’t need to continue clinging onto them.

The shoe designer Emme Parsons lives in Palm Beach and travels at least once a month, most frequently to New York, Los Angeles, and sometimes internationally. Getting out of town emboldens her sense of personal style, which, she says, “is the antithesis of the bright, colorful, ruffled, floral-patterned dresses and big logo accessories synonymous with this area.” Finding her aesthetic more aligned with the cities she visits, and perhaps coming home with a great vintage item or two, reinforces her preference for a uniform of darker colors and minimalist, more structured silhouettes—not a closet exploding with voluminous prints and colors.

Finding her aesthetic more aligned with the cities she visits, and perhaps coming home with a great vintage item or two

Likewise, Anna Polonsky, who founded the New York-based branding and design studio Polonsky And Friends, travels about two to three months every year, including to Paris, where she grew up. She says that Paris’ “classic, conformist, elegant dress codes” inevitably heighten her awareness of how she’s evolved her style since living in New York. When shopping, Polonsky looks for pieces that convey a sense of place—embroidered Mexican dresses and espadrilles from Spain—but nothing so eccentric that wouldn’t work in her well-honed everyday wardrobe back at home.

Sometimes, my personal style benefits less from observing fashion elsewhere and more from allowing my mind to escape and focus on different facets of my surroundings. In those instances, content to get by with whatever small selection I’ve packed, I almost forget the contents of my closet back home. There was my dreamy, four-day solo getaway to the mountains of Costa Rica, where socializing was minimal, and walks through the magnificent rainforest occupied my time. It hardly mattered that I wore the same khaki shorts and gray T-shirt most days I was there. I was too present in the moment, surrounded by constant tropical bird calls and the scent of dewy flora to care. I didn’t deliberate over my next day’s outfits (as I often do), nor did I ponder dressing options for the events and meetings lined up on my calendar that following week.

But that next week, back home, my newly cleared mind gave way to an even sharper vision of who I am and how I want to present myself. In appearance, yes, but also more deeply, in how I engage with the world around me. The eye indeed has to travel, if only to better look inwards.

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