How I Said Goodbye To My 386-Piece Menswear Archive
Mr Mansel Fletcher, East Lothian, Scotland, 2020. Photograph by Ms Chloë Lederman
The courier driver loaded 11 large cardboard boxes into his van, slid the door shut and set off up the road. Between them, the boxes contained 386 garments and accessories that I didn’t wear, use or want. They were bought over a 10-year period and, in a strictly metaphorical sense, had been gathering dust since about 2017. I’d set out with high hopes, but the experience of this once-in-a-decade wardrobe purge was even more profound than I imagined. As the van drove away, it took with it a lot of old ideas, most of them mistaken and unhelpful; I felt lighter and freer. The contents of my wardrobe now represent who I am in 2020, rather the person I wanted to be in 2010.
If the result of this clear-out is unalloyed joy, the process by which the boxes were filled was complicated. Only 10 days earlier, I noticed an online vendor of quality used clothes was planning a pop-up sale in London (it’s been postponed, of course, with some pieces being sold online and the balance held for a physical sale when, or if, normality returns). What had been a latent wish to have a clear-out suddenly became an actionable plan and after some mutually enthusiastic correspondence with the dealer, it became a plan with a real sense of urgency.
I spent two days retrieving boxes from the attic, delving into the anonymous Tyvek garment bags in which I keep tailored clothes, fanning out dozens of Drake’s ties on my bed, doing my very best to ignore the temptation to add up how much all these garments had cost to buy.
Enough bespoke tailored clothes were retrieved from my closets to fill two hanging rails and I tried on every jacket, every suit and every pair of trousers. Each one of dozens of bespoke shirts, from Florence, Naples and Jermyn Street, was put on and considered. I peered in the mirror and asked hard questions with what meditation gurus call a “beginner’s mind”; I had to forget how I felt when the clothes were made or what I imagined I’d look like in them when they were ordered. The only questions that mattered were: does it look good now, does it fit now and is it going to be worn?
There were tangible reasons for rejecting clothes, such as waistbands that were too tight, Neapolitan jackets that were too short and canary-yellow sweaters in the wrong size; ditching these items was relatively simple. It was harder dealing with the psychological questions that lie behind vaguer issues of taste and utility, questions that include “Who am I?” and “How do I live?”
Do I, for instance, want to be a man who wears sleeveless Fair Isle sweaters? As the answer is currently a resounding no, then I don’t need to own six of them. Do I want to wear orange knee-high socks? How about loudly-patterned tweed jackets?
When I was younger, I lived in London and dreamed of country life – the idea of dressing like a dandyish Ivy League student from the 1930s appealed to me. So I bought beautiful clothes appropriate for a life untethered from my reality, both externally (it’s not the 1930s) and internally (I’m not a dandy). As a result, the shopping become decoupled from the wearing, and once that happened there was no brake; pocket squares, which I have never worn, piled up by the dozen. So did scarves. I bought so many ties that I had a full box of them dedicated to each colour, each fabric, even for different textures of silk. Unworn pairs of socks, in colours louder than my personality could ever live up to, filled holdalls in my attic.
Culling these items has been a joy. It feels like I am disposing of a lot of redundant and unhelpful thinking about life, society and expectation. My sense of self, as well as my closets, was cluttered with this stuff. Getting rid of the unwanted clothes allows me to ask, “Who am I today? Which clothes express my personality?”
“Getting rid of the unwanted clothes allows me to ask, ‘Who am I today? Which clothes express my personality?’”
I rediscovered some old favourites that possess real meaning, including the tie I bought in Naples in 2002 on an early holiday with my wife. The other thing that resurfaced was, well, taste. I like all kinds of crazy clothes, but, I realised, more in the sense that I admire them. The clothes I actually like to wear are much simpler and less eye-catching.
Meanwhile, my appetite for formality is now more tuned in to contemporary life and less influenced by a baseless idea of some grand antique past. I’ve recently been more excited about Story Mfg. than about Savile Row, although I should admit that I haven’t entirely abandoned that street’s venerable tailors.
Yet, even as the neatly folded clothes went into the boxes, my mind was furiously generating reasons to abandon the entire process. First among the excuses was the fact that selling clothes crystallises the drop between the purchase price of a garment and its second-hand value. When it comes to bespoke clothing, this drop is breathtaking and I had to sternly recall that any value recovered is better than none.
A softer approach was required to forgive myself for the (many) purchases I’d made that no longer generate pleasure, but it was a necessary step in order to be able to give up on them. Another potential cause to delay was the idea of keeping things for my son to wear when he’s older. In reality, he’s still a decade away from wearing tailored clothes and seems unlikely to ever want to dress like a 1930s-era Ivy League undergraduate.
Now the redundant clothes are gone, not only am I happier, but I feel better dressed. In keeping with Mr William Morris’ famous dictum, there is nothing in my wardrobe I “do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Everything has passed muster in the last month and it’s almost as if everything is new (which it mainly isn’t).
Now when I go into the closet, I don’t push past things that aren’t quite right, things which are a daily reproach about bad decisions and wasted money. Everything fits and because there are fewer choices (one sports jacket hangs on the rail, rather than a dozen), it’s easier to make the right one. In fact, it’s now hard to put together an unsatisfactory outfit.
It would be easy to sign off with some flippant remarks about how a big clear-out leaves a lot of room for new purchases and that’s certainly true when it comes to what we might call “consumables”, such as socks, underwear and gym kit. But as for the rest of the wardrobe, with the exception of a couple of gaps, I feel protective of the current tight edit.
That said, I still scan MR PORTER’s What’s New pages twice a week, just in case there’s something unmissable. The difference is that I do it with a clear conscience and a better idea of what I’m looking for.