The Clothes We Wear at Home

It was one of those daysI couldn’t wait to get home from work and change my clothes. A heavy July fog rolled in and I was so tired I decided to put on my bathrobe. 

After dinner my husband sliced watermelon. It was my turn to wash the dishes. What could it possibly hurt, I thought, if I left the dirty dishes sitting on the table for a while? We generally kept our house clean, yet on this day the rest of the house was a mess, with sandy beach towels, the picnic basket and cooler from a pleasure-filled weekend strewn in the hall, so I decided to let the kitchen go too. What I really wanted to do was read my book. 

My six-year-old daughter twirled around the room in a see-through lilac chemise rescued from a rummage sale box. She was wearing lipstick too, and blue eye shadow reached past her eyebrows. 

My three-year-old son was still potty training. He could take off his underpants five hundred times a day, but never once would he get them back on again himself. Sometimes I let him go bottomless. That’s how he was on this particular evening, playing on the floor with little cars. Eyes filled with brown warmth peeked out from under a cap of shiny dark hair; his underpants, however, were nowhere in sight. 

While I was relaxed in the untidy living room, nose in my book, the doorbell rang. My husband answered the door. “I’m a social worker from the adoption agency,” a male voice said. “I live a few blocks from here, and thought I’d drop by on my way home from work and meet you.” 

I lurched bolt upright. The wood floor felt gritty on my bare feet. Before we had a chance to offer our visitor a seat, I heard the back door bang. In bounded our six-month-old Newfoundland puppy. Her bark had a friendly woof in it. All sixty pounds of her romped in circles around this man I had not yet met. 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the cat leap on the kitchen table and start licking one of the bowls. The scent of onions, garlic and roasted peppers from the pot of chili Verde I’d cooked for dinner drenched the air. I was grateful I’d picked a huge bunch of fresh daisies that morning; perhaps the flowers would catch the social worker’s eye and keep it off of the cat. 

Fortunately we were experienced with the adoption process, and we knew surprise visits were not part of the procedure. The social worker from the adoption agency was only trying to be neighborly by stopping by instead of phoning. He talked with us for few minutes, and said he would call us on the telephone to set up a home-study interview appointment. 

This story is excerpted from my memoir, Pushing up the Sky, published in 2006, and it became a marker moment in my wardrobe. 

It got me thinking about the clothes we only wear at home. You know what I’m talking about. The gray sweatpants long past their prime. Sweat shirts and t-shirts that are faded and worn out, but never thrown away. Clothes we wouldn’t wear out in public, but are good enough to wear in that place we call home because they represent the comforts of home, and we feel good while we are wearing them. Or do we? 

The problem was, I didn’t. Something about wearing worn, frayed, unflattering clothes made me feel tired, worn out. It was also hard for me to relax in my oldest worn wear because those are the clothes I put on when I’m doing weekend warrior projects, and cleaning out the garage, or for house chores and yard work. 

That long ago evening (wearing my bathrobe) I took a pledge. I vowed that forever more I would own clothing to wear at home that was comfortable, presentable and made me feel as good as I did in my plush, turquoise bathrobe, yet appropriate for any spur of the moment event that might take place during daylight hours at home. 

Why had I neglected home-wear clothing? 
I had a professional work wardrobe, along with a delightful collection of clothing to wear for social occasions, but I only wore those clothes at home when we had guests. What I lacked was clothing to wear on any ordinary day at home that was comfortable and made my heart sing. 

Forgive yourself if this portrait reminds you of yourself. It’s almost everyone’s secret, except for a few really honest people. Of course some of our friends are the type who always look their best, at home, or anytime, anywhere. We love these women, but for a few minutes let’s not think about them. Our souls long for acceptance, and when we start being honest we get our sense of humor back, and then we are half way home to being able to be kind to ourselves, to treat ourselves as we do a beloved pet, friend, and family member. 

Home. It serves as both origin and return, as haven. As a source of security and also platform for collecting, organizing and utilizing the things with which we maintain and express ourselves. For a number of years I have been working from home. My home has become the center of my universe. It is where I work, rest and socialize. When I first began working at home I adhered to a rigid early morning schedule of fixing my hair (back then I had short hair that required daily styling) and putting on a bit of make up, and dressing myself in a manner that (the critics deemed) was appropriate business attire for working from home. 

It didn’t take me long to figure out this was not who I wanted to be. That type of mandate was the reason I left the corporate business world and began freelance writing and dividing my time with a part-time job as director of volunteers for an animal shelter assistance program. I had the freedom of working from home and began to follow my own dress code rules. 

I think many of us become nicer as we get older, less judgmental of ourselves and of others. Life tends to round off our sharp edges. 

During my transition period of adjusting to working at home in 2010, I found Project 333, but I needed to think about it for a while. It sounded too restrictive, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and eventually the idea of downsizing my wardrobe and becoming moderately minimal in all aspects of my life became irresistible and I climbed aboard. (You can find my P333 and moderately minimal wardrobe stories in my archives). 


After I edited my closet, letting go of a sizable amount, releasing a number of items the wardrobe critics say every fashionable woman should have, including the expensive white button-down shirt I never wore (because I look terrible in white) I began to find my style, my own true north, and it was rooted in simplicity. 

Variety is important to me. I like plenty of spice. However, the wide variety I crave cannot be satisfied through clothing. It hails from living a diverse lifestyle and from the multiplicity of people I meet or spend time with, and the places I go with scents of lime or plumeria, sesame or curry, surrounding me. From the music I listen to and the books I read. Books with diverse themes serve as a passport, allowing me to glimpse into peoples and a terrain unknown to me, so that I can learn and grow, understand and see through the eyes of someone who has lived different than I have. There was a time when I thought it necessary to have a lot in common with a person in order for friendship to grow. Now I know it has more to do with my own growth and ability to reach out without having expectations. 

Color is central to me, but it no longer dominates my wardrobe. Yellow and orange arrive in the form of long walks at sunset, from the Nasturtium blooming near the path to the beach. 

Once I stopped focusing on always dressing for the outer world, and allowed my own needs and heart’s desire to come first, it was fun to cultivate a wardrobe of clothing I love and enjoy wearing at home. 

Now, my at-home clothing is as carefully curated as the clothing I wear for business and social occasions when I’m out in the world. I plan, select and purchase my at-home wear with important key factors in mind. My life is messy, filled with children, dogs, cats, pet hair, muddy footprints and sticky fingers. When I’m not writing, at my computer, or reading, I’m active at home—cooking, cleaning, yard work and pet care. Our house is subject to extreme temperatures, downright cold inside or sweltering hot, and I dress accordingly. If I lived in the city, in an apartment or a condo I’d dress differently at home. Yet this old house on the central California coast, and my ultra casual beach lifestyle, defines my needs. 

As columnist and author Molly Ivins said, Charm doesn't fade, wit doesn’t age, and knowledge is still priceless. If we live well, every year we become a year’s worth better, smarter, and wiser.” 

For me, growing smarter and wiser includes knowing that I’d rather be comfortable at home than chic, and that comfortable does not need to equal frumpy. And while I still care a great deal about looking my best when out in public, I can accomplish it with a tiny wardrobe personalized by what works best for my life right now, in this moment. 

I’m more successful in terms of how kind to myself I have become, what a wonderful tender friend I am to myself. I care enough about me to fill a vase with purple Astrids, and make myself a garden salad and pots of soup, even when I’m alone. And I’ve gifted myself a capsule wardrobe of just-right-for-me clothing to wear at home.

Related Posts: Project 333 and Moderately Minimal

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