The Year of Living Minimally – Week Eight

My husband and I bought our first house in 1995, a few months after we married. I’d lived in at least six apartments before I met him, and each time I moved, I hauled boxes and bags full of my stuff to the new place.

At one point during the unpacking, I pulled a pair of size 7 jeans from a box of clothes. I held them up, staring at the tiny waist, reluctant to put them in the bottom drawer of my dresser, where they’d resided for over ten years.

“Whose jeans are those, hon?” he asked. 

“They were mine. I used to wear them.”

He walked over to me, and in the kindest voice said, “Oh, honey, you’ll never wear them again.”

And he was right! For the one year that I could fit into those jeans, I had poor eating habits, was at times bulemic, and I was 25 years old. But I held onto them, as if keeping the jeans were magic and could make me skinny. 

We keep clothes for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you spent a lot of money on that dress, and even though you haven’t worn it in seven years, you can’t let it go. Or the jeans that would fit great if you lose just ten (or twenty) pounds. The shoes – oh, the shoes. We buy a shirt because it’s on sale, even though we have nothing to wear with it and don’t even really like it. But it was 75% off!

And sometimes, we keep clothes for the memory. Your wedding gown, preserved because you hope your daughter will want to wear it. Your baby’s christening gown. Your college sweatshirt. 

Still, we don’t have to let everything go. In 1994, a month before we married, my husband and I took a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard and he bought me a beautiful Irish-knit sweater. I don’t think I’ve worn it in twenty years. It still fits, but it’s bulky, and I prefer layers. There is emotion and the memory of a wonderful day tied to that sweater, and I want to keep it.

So, here’s what’s going in the donation bin this week:

After I ended my full-time job, I boxed up most of my professional attire and donated it, keeping a few pairs of slacks and two or three blazers. I haven’t worn a dress in over six years. I kept this one, thinking I’d need it for a funeral, but I’ve been to plenty of funerals in the past six years, and dressy slacks are perfectly acceptable.  

I bought this sparkly outfit when my friend Fr. Brian Shanley, who I’ve known since fifth grade, was named president of our alma mater, Providence College. I think it was 1995, and I’ve had no reason to wear the outfit or the shoes again.

A pile of scarves, never-worn t-shirts (Austin, Montreal), dressy tops, belts. Off they go, hopefully to folks who can use them.

Paris Between the Wars – “V” is for Madeleine Vionnet

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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Madeleine Vionnet
Madeleine Vionnet

A French fashion designer who trained in London, Madeleine Vionnet established her first fashion house in Paris in 1912. She was one of the leading fashion designers in Paris from 1919 to 1939. Called the “Queen of the bias cut” and “the architect among dressmakers”, Vionnet is best known for her elegant Grecian-style dresses.

Vionnet evening gown, 1931
Vionnet evening gown, 1931
Vionnet gowns
Vionnet gowns

Vionnet’s bias-cut clothes dominated haute couture in the 1930s, setting trends with her sensual gowns worn by such internationally known actresses as Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo. Vionnet’s vision of the female form revolutionized modern clothing, and the success of her unique cuts assured her reputation. She fought for copyright laws in fashion. She instituted what, at the time, were considered revolutionary labor practices: paid holidays and maternity leave, day-care, a dining hall, and a resident doctor and dentist for her workers. The onset of World War II forced Vionnet to close her fashion house in 1939, and she retired in 1940. Over the course of her career, Madeleine Vionnet created some 12,000 garments.


Paris Between the Wars – “S” is for Elsa Schiaparelli

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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937
Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937

Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, Schiaparelli is regarded as one of the most prominent fashion designers of the period between the two wars.

Born in Rome to an aristocratic family, Elsa was sent to a strict convent boarding school in Switzerland, but was rebellious and staged a hunger strike until her parents brought her home. Her life was comfortable, but unfulfilling, and to avoid an arranged marriage to a wealthy Russian, she impulsively married a charismatic con man in 1914. Elsa gave birth to a daughter, and her husband fled.

In Paris, Schiaparelli lived well, and she continued to receive financial support from her family, but she wanted to earn an independent income. She had no technical training in pattern making and sewing, and she relied on impulse and inspiration, sometimes using herself as the model. Her “pour le Sport” clothing line took off in 1927, and included bathing suits, ski-wear, and linen dresses. A darker tone was set when France declared war on Germany in 1939. Schiaparelli’s Spring 1940 collection featured “trench” brown and camouflage print taffetas.

 1937 | Elsa Schiaparelli shoe-hat Drawing by Marcel Vertès Source: Archivio Alinari
1937 | Elsa Schiaparelli shoe-hat
Drawing by Marcel Vertès
Source: Archivio Alinari

Paris Between the Wars – “C” is for Coco Chanel

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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Coco Chanel
Coco Chanel

Born in 1883 as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, Coco Chanel popularized a casual chic style of fashion for women in post-World War I Paris. Her mother was a laundrywoman and her father, an street vendor. Raised in poverty, Gabrielle was sent to a convent orphanage at the age of 12, following the death of her mother. At the convent, she learned to sew, and was able to work as a seamstress. By 23, she was the mistress to a wealthy textile heir, Étienne Balsan, who lavished her with diamonds, dresses, and pearls. An affair with one of Balsan’s friends resulted in the financing of her first shops.

Her first designs were hats only, but in 1913, Chanel opened a boutique in the resort town of Deauville, France, where she introduced deluxe, casual clothes suitable for leisure and sport.


By 1919, Chanel was registered as a couturière and established her maison de couture at 31 rue Cambon, Paris. Eight years later, she owned five buildings on the street. Her No. 5 fragrance was available in department stores, and by 1930, she was a very wealthy woman.

One of her friends at this time was Misia Sert, a member of the “bohemian elite” in Paris, and with whom she shared drug use. By 1935, Coco Chanel was injecting herself with morphine on a daily basis (a habit she maintained until the end of her life in 1971). According to gossip and legend, she was called Coco because of her elaborate cocaine parties.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Chanel closed her shops but maintained her apartment situated above the couture house at 31 Rue de Cambon. She claimed that it was not a time for fashion, and as a result of her action, 3,000 female employees lost their jobs.

“A girl should be two things – classy and fabulous.” ~ Coco Chanel

Blogging from A to Z – Theme Reveal

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As you may know, the Blogging from A to Z Challenge begins on April 1, and runs each day (except Sundays) through the month. This will be my 5th year participating! If you’re wondering about my previous themes, I wrote about Poets, Novelists, Essayists, and Lyricists in 2012; Oh! The Places I’ve Been in 2013, Smile and Say…(yes, cheese!) in 2014, and last year I posted an A to Z of musical instruments.






This year’s theme is entitled PARIS BETWEEN THE WARS, and was inspired by a book I found at the Innisfree Bookshop in Meredith, New Hampshire. I love Paris, and I love this time period, from 1919 at the end of World War I, to 1939, just before the start of World War II. According to the book, during this time, ‘Paris underwent a creative fever that brought artists and intellectuals from around the world to the City of Light. The bohemian charms of Montparnasse attracted artists such as Picasso, Chagall, and Giacometti, while a vibrant café culture provided a forum for disputes between Dadaists and Surrealists and gave rise to a group of expa­triate writers. The creative energy was all-encompassing, establishing Paris as the epicenter of new trends in the arts, a position it would occupy until World War II.’

I will showcase some of the people who contributed to the richness of culture in Paris at this time, and I hope you’ll follow along!

The Mad Men Women

The heat is breaking, they say.  We didn’t have it as bad as others across the country, that’s for sure, but it’s been hot everywhere.  Uncomfortable. Sticky.

This morning my sister and I went out for a late breakfast. The place was packed – she said a lot of folks go there right after church.  I looked around and saw sneakers, sandals, bare legs, bare arms, shorts, t-shirts, sundresses.  Normal summertime attire.  What you see every day in July around here.

Lately I’ve been catching up on Season Five of “Mad Men,” the brilliant and award-winning drama that depicts a fictional Madison Avenue (hence, the “Mad Men”) advertising agency in the 1960s.  Certainly fashion for women had started to change by 1967, but I’ve been captivated by Joan, Peggy, and Betty and their true-to-date clothes.

I’m old enough to remember when homes/offices/churches didn’t have air conditioning; nevertheless, men wore business suits (tight collar, necktie), and women wore dresses.  And what they had to wear under those dresses!  The pointy brassière, rubberized girdle, garters, stockings were staples in a woman’s wardrobe.  Even in the 1980s, I wouldn’t think of going to work (a bank) with bare legs.  Pantyhose.  Every day.

Women did wear a lot more clothes then, and the clothes were beautiful: tailored, hand-sewn, finest fabrics.  No “printed racer-back tank dress” for $19.99 (made in China, yes).  Most women didn’t have a closetful of clothes.  What they had was quality, and would last.

This morning I was grateful to be able to dress more comfortably.  But watching those episodes of “Mad Men” has made me a little nostalgic.  A tiny little bit.  Well, maybe in October.