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Madeleine M. Kunin Headshot

Old Clothes Have New Lives

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Live Better America
Live Better America

This is a good time of year to go through my closets and decide which suits, sweaters, pants and blouses can be given away to charity so that someone else may wear them.

Why, then, do I find it so hard to pull an item of clothing off the hanger and put it in a black plastic bag. Yes, I haven't worn that bright blue knitted suit with the pleated skirt since I returned from Switzerland 13 years ago when I was the American Ambassador.

It suited me perfectly then -- a bright color for television, non-wrinkle for packing, and serious enough for diplomatic negotiations. I had it dry cleaned about nine years ago, certain that I could wear it again. Here it hangs. Each winter I've debated, should I give it away or not? This time, I am ruthless, into the plastic bag it goes.

Then there's my favorite summer outfit, a black and white woven, light weight dress with a matching coat. If memory serves me right, I think I wore it when I was Governor. Again, wrinkle free, a comfortable cowl neckline, and a waist circled by a black plastic belt. It could be either dressy or casual -- an outfit that was good for every stop on my schedule, from morning til night -- the equivalent of a man's dark suit, white shirt, and red tie. It's difficult to pull it out of the closet, but out it comes, ready to start a new life.

Then there's that black suit with the velvet collar; perfect for receptions in Washington as Deputy Secretary of Education. And that lovely slender long silk skirt. Surely I could use that now. I try it on. What a shock. It no longer fits. Could my body have changed that much? I decide it's not so much the weight I've gained, but the way my body has shifted my weight around that makes it impossible to button the waistband. Too bad.

What about those sweaters? I should have never bought that pink one, a color and style that didn't suit me, but for some reason, that year, I wanted to look soft and pink. No longer.

That purple sweater, clasped with an oversize safety pin. It never quite worked -- though I liked the color. Time to give it up.

I still like the fleece lined black boots, but I bought them a size too large. Besides I still have a pair from last year, that are warmer and more stylish. I don't need two pairs. Pass one pair on to someone who needs it more.

My eyes light on a pale blue child's winter coat with a sweet velvet collar and a double row of buttons, bought for my daughter in London when she was three. Each year since, (she's 51) I have held on to it. Would I someday have another granddaughter to give it to, or did I want to hold on to the memory of her childhood and my youth?

Pulling clothes out of the closet is like tugging at each chapter of my life. That suit is what I wore then -- is it also who I was then? I want to hold on, but know I must also let go because I can't go back to the time when everything was a perfect fit. I take satisfaction in knowing that someone else will pick them up, and for her, they will feel like new.