Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

We all have our addictions. It might be chocolate or mahjong, gardening or competitive baking, bargain hunting at church fairs or playing word games in bars. I am so addicted to the acquisition and wearing of clothes and accessories that I’m just one Hermes scarf shy of needing to attend Clothes Collectors Anonymous. The great thing about being older, however, is that I have learned to downsize and exert some curatorial judgment over my collection. Otherwise, I could become one of those reality TV show people: “Women Who Won’t Give Up Any of the Clothes They Ever Bought and Now Sleep On Top of a 1968 Burnt Orange Velour Jacket, Vest, and…Hot Pants.”

I organize my closets twice a year, once during the early spring and again in the fall, replacing the items of the past season with those for the next. Early September is the time for the return of clothes and accessories of substance. This year I removed the spring and summer clothes, leaving behind only those wonderful things that will take me through the warm days of September but don’t whisper slyly, “Doesn’t she know she shouldn’t wear that after Labor Day?”

I use these twice-yearly closet organizing sessions to examine each article of clothing to see if it has any life left in it, to assess if it’s been worn in the last two years, and to ask some brutal questions. This year the question was, “Do I look good in this fun cotton summer skirt that is four inches above the knees?” I had six such skirts that I had not worn at all this season. That was a clue. I tried on each one and asked the mirror, which did not say that if I wore these short skirts I would be the fairest of them all, so I gave them away. I will still wear short skirts with black tights and flat shoes in the fall and winter because this is a flattering look for my figure. But the knee cellulite revealed by short summer skirts is just not my idea of attractive…for me.

Once I had gone through my summer wardrobe, I turned to my fall and winter garments. I evaluated each piece carefully and wound up parting with two pairs of pants and one outdated Akris suit in navy that I had bought in an emergency but was never quite right. (The jacket was always an unflattering length and now seemed even more so. I disappeared in it: It wore me!) What remained was steamed and hung on my new matching hangers. My apartment has two closet systems designed by Shari Markbreiter (who has shared with us her magnificent transformation of her own bedroom) to support my addiction to clothes, shoes, hats, purses, gloves, fans, and this year, parasols. They allow me to find everything! There are places for blouses of the same color, sweaters of the same shade, skirts go together, suits hang with their coordinating blouse or top under the jacket, and there are two large areas for longer pants and dresses.

I put the summer shoes  in Shari’s clear plastic stackable boxes that allow me to see what’s inside, and transferred them to the upstairs closets, with the fall and winter shoes. Summer clutches and handbags were stuffed so they would keep their shape and placed into cloth bags to keep them safe, then replaced with the fall and winter handbags. Capes that are wonderful for fall when a coat is too much and a sweater too little were found, steamed, and hung in the coat closet along with a magical Prada coat that, with its mossy green and brown plaid fabric and its wonderful portrait neckline, is good for spring and fall. Such beautiful fabric, such incredible design. Each year when I find it I am as thrilled as I was the day I received it as a present.

I wonder if I am the only woman who feels as if she is shopping in her closet as she sorts through her off-season clothes? I consciously greet many of the outfits for the new season as old friends with whom I have had some great times. Last year I took a day off from work and, with two girlfriends, visited Julianne’s, a charming boutique in Port Washington, NY, that’s owned by Julieann Orso. We arrived as winter clothes were on sale and the shop was full of resort wear. It was one of those days where everything I tried on was just the right fit and available at a discount. I bought the most exquisite black glove leather skirt that is full and gored, a Calvin Klein gray shantung dress with an architectural element in the back that not many women would wear but was perfect for the drama queen, a black wool dinner dress with incredible details, and a stretchy knitted-fur cowl accessory that dresses up many of my simple winter frocks. When I found them again, I remembered the road trip to Juliann’s and how much fun I had with my friends doing something that was so out of character for me. I will never wear these clothes without the memories of that day.

It took me, with assistance, four hours to make my closets easy to navigate. At the end of the afternoon, I knew that I was organized for the new year, which for me begins in September. After all the work, I had that cozy feeling that I have everything I need to start school again: pencil box, erasers, crayons, ruler, note books, magic markers, and many new books to read. Why isn’t September everyone’s favorite month?

 

 

 

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  • Dr. Pat September 30, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Dear Virginia,

    I keep all my papers and notes and charts and journals and reports, and letters and… you get the point… in my office. So, I have some room for peace and order at home. But, Lord help me, the office demands constant gardening…paper weeds everywhere. It is a great sign that you are putting your home in order. It means that you are ready to get your body and mind in order as well.

    You know how to do this. And each of us has to have the courage to come back home to the scale, both the visual one of home and the nasty one in the bathroom, to get a true reading of where we are.

    Thanks for the comment,

    Dr. Pat

    Reply
  • Virginia September 30, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Curate? Such a wonderful word. But hardly describes what I am in the process of doing. Yes, I have those fabulous cotton print shirts that I can’t bear to part with, but unless I hang them on the wall, they will not be viewed by anyone other than me once each year when I eye them in the space bags.
    My bigger thril, which can be appreciated by anyone over 40 without a scanner, is to go through “papers”, those documents and articles that we could not live without, but hid in our draws form the last five plus years. Do I need medical records from 1990? The beauty tid bit from five years old, while wise, is certainly dated. So, my dear readers, as I am about to go about shedding again the pounds that crept up since my last “mindful” eating period, I find myself shedding other items in my life that no longer make sense to keep. So far, five large bags and counting. Let’s hope shedding the first five pounds goes so smoothly.

    Reply
  • Joyce Haddad September 23, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Knowing Dr. Allen since 1987 (she delivered all 3 of my children), and always envious of her fashion style and appearance…I now know her secret.

    Reply
  • Mary karr September 17, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Inspiring and ruthless clothing evaluation. I wanna raid your closet! I wanna set fire to mine. I love the knee cellulite admission. V. funny and wildly useful. Consider me a fan. Mk

    Reply
  • S. Bewkes September 17, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Great article getting ready for the new season!! And what a fabulous store and trip that was – to be repeated soon I hope!!

    Reply