You Only Need One Outfit

You Only Need One Outfit
Photo:jerek (flickr)

There’s a lot about my early twenties I’m glad I left behind, but the one outfit I wore for about a year and a half is not among them: At the time, naively, I believed I had reached my final form, not realizing that the ideal clothing combination I had discovered would eventually become so ratty even I couldn’t justify wearing it, and that while I was generally very hot and cool in those days being 22 was not, in fact, my ideal resting state but simply an attractive and relatively carefree age I passed through temporally and would wistfully return to for the rest of my days. These days, for instance, I have several outfits, and I hate almost every single one.

The core concept of the outfit was “a bodysuit, with variations,” though my friends referred to it as a unitard, a characterization I frankly found quite disrespectful and mean. I wore The Outfit to my job at a coffee shop and to school and to shows. When I went down a waterslide on someone’s roof one summer, it stayed on. It air-dried quickly, so I could wash it in the sink at night if I felt the need to be particularly fresh in the morning.

I have no idea where I got it, but I do remember successfully procuring a second scoop-necked black piece of blended cotton and Lycra when the crotch in the original tore out. In the winter, my body suit enveloped me completely, running from my ankles to my wrists and keeping me cozy. In the summer, I took scissors to it and turned it into more of a tank-top-and-shorts situation. It fucking ruled. I didn’t have to go shopping or wonder whether my favorite shirt was stain-free when I woke up in the morning. The only decision I made, about anything, really, was what negligible cover I would give to my bodysuit so it looked slightly more like an outfit a functioning member of society would wear.

I had two cardigans—one grey, one dusty blue—one pair of skinny black Levis, and one extremely tight blue skirt. (Naturally, in the warmer months, the Levis also got cut up, for better ventilation.) The flirtiest possible combination of The Outfit was the blue sweater/skirt, but on most days I just wore the jeans. I’d estimate the total cost of this entire wardrobe around $150: Levis are pricey. As I still do to this day, I accessorized my outfit with a brass pendant on a chain and hoop earrings. I thought it added a bit of class to the whole thing. The outfit was neutral enough so as not to identify me as any particular kind of person—unless we were particularly close, in which case you might notice I was the kind of kid either too lazy or brilliant to change clothes—and surprisingly versatile. On at least once occasion I started the day wearing a bodysuit-and-jeans and for the nighttime look changed into the bodysuit-and-skirt. I always looked the same, and I always looked good.

Eventually, I was shamed out wearing the same outfit every day, not so much by the people around me as by my some encroaching sense that adults don’t spend their summers wearing hacked-up bodysuits they washed in the sink the night before. It was an aspirational move to start wearing anything else: I was dressing for the job I wanted, which was really any job besides the one I was doing. I bought blouses. I bought dresses. I bought T-shirts in a number of colors. I tried them on in different combinations in front of a mirror and spent whole mornings thinking about “what to wear” for the day ahead of me. I never looked as good again.

When I asked my colleagues at Jezebel what they thought the ideal number of outfits was, I got a number of answers, somewhere between enough for two weeks of clean laundry, enough to fill a closet, and “I think in summer, it’s nice to never repeat a dress you wear to work.” Maybe this is the correct answer for people with style—perhaps you have noticed; I am not one of them—or an excess of motivation. I’ve spent years buying clothing. To this day I wear the same shirt a little more than is appropriate. Still I’ve never come as close to my truest self as when I was wearing my outfit, and I wish I hadn’t abandoned my youthful optimism in the service of the belief I could be a real adult, with real taste. What I’m really saying is: If you truly know yourself, one outfit is definitely enough.

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