85% of Women Keep Clothes Even if They Don’t Fit: I Do This! Do You?

Confession time: I have a staggering collection of brand-spanking-new Maison Martin Margiela LBDs—at least 25 that I’ve picked up on steep discount at stores all over the world, from New York to Milan to Paris to London, over the past ten years. The punchline? None of them are my size. None of them fit. I’ve never worn a single one out of the house.

While I rationalize my hoarding by telling myself I work in the industry, that these are collectors’ items (especially now that Martin Margiela has retired), and Margiela has been my favorite designer for more than a decade, the sad truth is that I have plenty of other pieces—from different designers and labels—in a broad spectrum of sizes that I’ve never worn anywhere, either.

Do you do this too?

According to a study by Elizabeth Bye and Ellen McKinney in Fashion Theory, 85 percent of women “have clothes in their closets that do not fit.” The survey found that most women will keep three different sizes in their wardrobes—including “thin” clothes and looser clothes, for weight fluctuations.

It’s no surprise, then, that so many of these clothes never actually get worn anywhere! How many times have you bought a dress, top, or jeans that you tried on in store and decided to take home—for when you lose five pounds? I do that all the time. Guess what? They go out of style way before I’ve lost those five pounds.

Keeping loads of unwearables in your wardrobe isn’t always about size, though. Sometimes, it’s about how much you’ve spent, or an experimental new look you wanted to try—and refusing to admit fashion defeat! Saulo Cwerner, Ph.D., who writes extensively on consumption and material culture, says, “Because the wardrobe is a kind of clothing library, it could be regarded as the guardian of free thinking as far as dress is concerned. In its privacy, it provides the elements for numerous permutations away from the expecting eyes of the public.”

Yes—that pricey preppy work tote I shelled out four figures on a few years ago? I carried it once, it’s totally not me, but it is going to live in my closet forever, dammit! And that hot pink flared skirt, too, along with those spiked D&G peep toe pumps.

One of the most extreme cases of fashion hoarding was unveiled in 2009, when 77-year-old shopaholic Joan Cunnane died in her home, crushed under a three-foot pile of cases filled with brand-new, never-worn clothes and accessories.

“I think it just gave her pleasure to buy things,” her neighbor told the press at the time. “None of it was really essential. I once asked her how many scarves she had. She said she thought about 300. I asked her why she needed that many. She said they were all different colors.”


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