Sometimes the best way to deal with a healthy fear is to confront it, which is why I decided to volunteer to be audited a few months ago. The agents who paid me a visit came not from the IRS but from DC Style Factory, and they didn’t care if I had my financial house in order: they’d come to examine the state of my closet.
I’d met Rosana Vollmerhausen, the company’s founder, and Jennifer Barger, one of the stylists and a fashion journalist, months earlier when the two were guests on Women of Uncertain Age. After watching them give gentle, constructive advice to a dude on how to dress for a date, Philippa and I invited them to critique two of my first-date outfits. I learned during those episodes that their approach is not to change your style, but rather to help you present the best version of your style, whatever it might be. During that episode, they dispensed so much great advice (no square-toed flats! Or shrugs that make you look like a matador!), and so gently, that I knew I would be in good hands. The website offers this description of the audit process:
We help weed out items that are outdated, worn out, don’t fit, or simply don’t work in your life anymore. We talk about body type, silhouette and lifestyle, to properly organize your closet so you can put together outfits with more ease. We also compile a list of missing wardrobe essentials, which can be purchased on your own, or with our guidance.
I knew I needed all of that, yet I still dreaded it. Letting someone see everything in your closet can reveal a lot, and in my case I worried it would hint strongly that I’m not actually a sighted person. I also feared having to admit something many have long suspected: my mother still dresses me. (It’s true. Unlike me, Mom enjoys shopping and stays reasonably current with fashion.) I’d have felt less exposed handing these women a decade worth of tax records.
I decided to do a pre-appointment purge. Like a patient trying to erase years of neglect by going on a flossing spree two days before seeing the dentist, I knew I had little chance of fooling a trained eye, but it seemed worth a shot.
When Rosana and Jen came to my home, they kicked things off with a brief interview.
Jen asked what I viewed as my biggest fashion challenge and I said, “Apathy.”
They laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. Though I care about my appearance, I can’t muster up much excitement about clothes. If someone forced me to subject my closet to the Marie Kondo theory of decluttering –get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy” — I just might wind up a streaker.
On asking where I shop, Jen and Rosana couldn’t have been surprised to learn that I tend to land at places like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. I realize those stores are often a year behind, trend-wise, but that’s never bothered me. We legal types are not exactly known for being fashion-forward. The most prominent members of our profession wear robes to work, for heaven’s sake. Black robes, yes, but robes nonetheless.
On wrapping up the interview, it was time to face the moment of truth and get into the closet. Unlike the hosts of What Not To Wear, DC Style Factory doesn’t wage a war on your wardrobe. They take more of a hearts-and-minds approach that involves pulling items from your closet, having you try them on, and asking, “What about this?”
Some of the things they saw in my closet probably made them want to ask, “What were you thinking?”, like the dress yoga pants I bought a few months ago, but they didn’t. (They probably know dress yoga pants are just the gateway garments to black robes.) They truly wanted to know what I liked about the things I wear.
If I said I’d kept an item for its sentimental value, they put it right back in the closet and never once did they seem to be fighting the impulse to say, “Wow! I haven’t seen anyone wear that since ‘Friends’ went into syndication!” They offered candid feedback but did so without snark and with such care that it didn’t feel personal.
I also learned “What about this?” wasn’t a rhetorical question whose only answer was, “It’ll look great at the bottom of a Hefty bag!” Sometimes they wanted me to keep something I was ready to toss, like a textured black suit Mom had bought me many years earlier.
“The skirt can go, but let’s take a look at that jacket,” Jen said. It never occurred to me to evaluate the two elements of a suit separately. Having grown up in the era of Garanimals, I viewed business suits as the fashion equivalent of Siamese twins, a package you can’t separate unless you really know what you’re doing. But sure enough, that jacket looked fantastic with some of the tops in my closet, and it definitely classed up and modernized my skinny jeans. Never did I imagine my old clothes could somehow produce new outfits.
While Jen focused on the search-and-rescue mission, Rosana was busy re-folding clothes and otherwise organizing my closet, an invaluable service unto itself. Jen took the items I decided to discard and packaged them up for donation to Goodwill. A few days later, I received a memo summarizing my style and my challenges, as well as a shopping list recommending, among other things, that I consider owning more than three pair of non-athletic shoes.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad I turned myself in to the fashion police. Instead of judging me for my misdemeanors, they showed me that a few small changes could add up to meaningful reform. Now let’s see if I can avoid being a repeat offender.