Putting your best self in one suitcase, or why I cannot manage to pack

9 years ago

By the time you read this, I will be en route to San Francisco, with a suitcase full of carefully culled outfits and accessories. But as I write, I am at home, in a $10 skirt from H&M and a pair of flip flops from Target, with the rest of my wardrobe spread out on the bed upstairs, arranged into outfits and then abandoned because the whole idea of actually deciding, NOW, what I will wear in three or four days is exhausting.

I hate packing. But probably not for the reasons you think I do.

Over the weekend, I Twittered about my packing dilemma: "Someone pls tell me what to wear this week. Come stand in my closet with me and say HERE WEAR THIS. Because I have NO IDEA what I'm doing." Replies ranged from helpful hints about the weather in San Francisco to vrtual head nods of agreement to cries of IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO PACK THEN THE REST OF US ARE DOOMED!

Why is it so hard to pull together a weekend's worth of clothes? I've been blaming my packing paralysis on the fact that I will be away for six days, which is a long time, but that's not really it. I've also been blaming it on my busy schedule while I am in San Francisco, which includes everything from flying and sightseeing to actually working, but I don't think that's it either. I think this inability to follow my own packing advice and pick out an outfit already! stems from something bigger.

Earlier this summer, I read a piece in Vogue about how women look at other women's clothing. The writer's premise was both simple and brilliant: in other women, we see the person we would like to be. Those fleeting glimpses -- in airports and coffee shops and grocery stores -- of women who look pulled together and elegant and finished make us yearn to look more like that, more like her. But, the writer said, this yearning is about more than just wanting that particular trench or sunglasses or bag; this yearning is about what clothes tell us about someone, or what they let us imagine about her. These other women, she says, represent someone we might be, or could be, or used to be. Or, in the case of the fashion disasters, someone we hope never to be.

Each day we get a chance to recreate ourselves as someone new, simply by stepping into the closet and choosing an outfit. On days when we are surrounded by our own things -- our homes and families and jobs and the detrius of our lives -- that moment in the closet is simple, because there is so much context surrounding what we wear, and that context helps to define us. But on those days when the rest of our lives is stripped away, what we wear becomes more complicated, because it becomes the only marker of who we are. Suddenly, packing to go away becomes an exercise in putting the woman you want to be into a suitcase that you can easily carry by yourself.

I have said before that the best strategy for travel is to wear what you are comfortable in, to wear clothes that let you be yourself. My dilemma, it seems, is that that I am thin slicing myself for this week, and trying to present the best possible piece of the whole. This week I will be one small part of myself -- no ten dollar skirts or flip flops or ball caps, no Mom Uniform or casual Saturday gear. And stripping myself -- my clothes -- down to that one part of me is unnerving, because I am afraid that this is not the best me, that I will not be the person I want to be this week.

By the time you read this, I will be packed and traveling; I will have made peace with the me who will spend the week in San Francisco and will have picked out some fabulous shoes for her to wear. But today I am overthinking what my clothes say about me, about who I am and what I do and how well I do it. I suspect, though, that I am not the only one standing in her closet having this dilemma.

Nina wanted help with her shoes (I like the flats, of course) and Sizzle is pretty sure she can't wear her pajamas to BlogHer. Erikam, however, isn't worried about what to wear, she's worried that she won't remember your name. In the end, that's all that matters, right?

Susan Wagner writes about style at Fashion Find and everything else at Friday Playdate. She hopes you will join her for the Fashion and Shopping Birds of a Feather session on Friday, although she's still not sure what she will be wearing.


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