Relay: What I Wore, Why I Wore It

I sure have some fun stuff to think about as I peruse the closets of my past

I am an admitted clotheshorse. I remember what I was wearing for most of the momentous and semi-momentous occasions in my life. I have already written about my two wedding dresses (for one wedding), but I also remember exactly the bridesmaid dress I wore to my friend Jane’s wedding when I was 17 and home from college for the occasion. 

Am I a rarity? A frippery? A flibbertigibbet? An airhead? In the shallow end of the gene pool? Maybe, but I sure have some fun stuff to think about as I peruse the closets of my past.

I remember what I wore to my first day of high school (black sweater set borrowed from my mother, slate blue straight skirt, Capezio black suede skimmer flats, pointy toes), important because for eight years I had been in a school uniform (navy blue, white shirt, navy blue knee socks). 

I remember what I wore at sleepaway camp. My first shorts were red, navy, and turquoise and I had white T-shirts and white sneakers. I remember what my eighth-grade graduation dress looked like (white piqué with narrow lace insert at the waist, semi-full skirt), what I wore when I graduated from high school in 1962 (beige linen sheath, front pleats, buttoned up the back, sleeveless), and what I wore to my graduation party that night (an Indian-print sleeveless shift, very bohemian, and thong sandals, ditto). 

I remember what I wore on my first date with the man who eventually broke my heart (purple camp shirt, olive green vintage Bermudas; we were taking a drive) and the first date with my future husband, who, by the way, did not ever break my heart (pale yellow cotton sweater, Yves Saint Laurent pleated-front pale yellow gabardine trousers, no bra; it was 1981).

I remember what my college graduation dress looked like (white shift dress from DiPinna, sleeveless, white sling-back Pappagallo shoes), and I remember the first little black dress I ever owned, where I went in it, and with whom I went (10th grade, school play at Collegiate School, Loel Morwood).

I remember almost my complete wardrobe from a three-month car trip around Europe with my first very serious boyfriend, Ralph Bogertman, in the late ’60s, when trousers were frowned upon for traveling young women. I took five little dresses and washed them in the sink and dried them on the back seat of the car. One was navy blue with white dots, one was vermillion, with cut-in armholes and a great A-line swing, one was a subdued tan poplin shift. Do I need to continue? This was 1966 and very swinging London. 

I remember every vintage fur coat I bought at the Ridge Trading Company on Great Jones Street, back in the day before that area was cool. I remember every Marimekko dress I ever owned and the ones that got away. 

I know what I was wearing in Pompeii when my late husband and I traveled from Rome with a car and driver. I remember what I wore in Venice and what I wore climbing the Duomo in Florence. I remember the bathing suits I wore on my scuba trips and what my custom-made quarter-inch wetsuit looked like (red and black, with a stenciled initial on the chest). I remember a Norma Kamali bathing suit that was red and white striped and was truly amazing. 

Some memories are jogged by photographs seen in albums, of course: the cocktail hat I wore for my entire fifth year of life in Peter Cooper Village.

I remember what I wore the first day I started working at Glamour magazine (long-sleeve navy blue silk shirt-dress, tied at the waist, with camel Pappagallo heels with navy blue toe) and what I wore my last day at that job 32 years later (tan Donna Karan pantsuit, white T-shirt, gold-ish Yves Saint Laurent sandals). 

I remember the first day I turned up the collar of a white shirt, and I have done it with every shirt since. It was the mid-’70s at Glamour magazine; Anne Shakeshaft did it and it looked great and I copied her.

To this day I could draw most of the clothes I have ever owned, and many of the shoes and boots and bowler hats and Annie Hall looks, and prairie skirts, and Victorian whites. I loved “le smoking” and I still embrace the look, though it doesn’t work so well outside of a city. 

I remember wearing tweed and lace to the first party I went to solo after my heart was broken, and what I wore to an infamous “red party” when I had recovered from that broken heart. 

I have dressed to please a boss (I got fired anyway) and to please a fella (he broke my heart anyway), so I gave that all up and I dress for me.

I have had fashion mistakes, and I remember them in detail, too. A hot pink wool coat was a fabulous success, à la Jackie Kennedy, but a pink strapless dress worn with turquoise satin heels was a total failure, as was a vintage purple Joan Crawford-type evening dress, which never played well with the chartreuse elbow-length gloves I decided to wear with it. I still cringe in afterthought.

I remember when I saw my first Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat (lipstick red) and I remember that I bought my first one the same day.

I can also draw, pretty accurately, the floor plans of every place I have ever lived. You might call me a visual rememberer. 

Why would that red prom dress I wore to a dance at Yale with George Frazier IV burn itself into the retina of my mind? And the pale turquoise chiffon semi-formal I wore to the sixth-form weekend at St. Mark’s School is as easy to conjure up as the boy, Ramsay Wood. I could draw that dress today, I remember it in such detail.

These outfits represent where I hung my hat, where I worked and lived, and with whom and without whom. The thread, the ribbon that ties it all together is what I wore, and why I wore it when I wore it.

And by the way, I still have that Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat, and almost 50 years later, it has never broken my heart.

Durell Godfrey is a contributing photographer for The Star, the shopping guru behind its “Gimme” columns, and usually the most fashionable person in the room.