The House Fire Chronicles: The Things I Wore

Serving cake in my favorite purple sweater

Serving cake in my favorite purple sweater

I don’t write about clothes.  I’m not a fashionista; I don’t think I’m qualified to give anyone wardrobe tips.  But I’ve had to think about clothing—my clothing—a whole lot in the little-less-than-a-year since our fire.

What a strange almost year it’s been.  Living in a house that isn’t mine, several blocks away from the house that is mine.  So close to home but not home at all.  Everyone asks about the house (it’s coming along nicely; we’ll move back very soon) and about the kids (doing great considering.) Everyone asks how our insurance has been (pretty good—not perfect) and of course how we all are.  We’re doing really well, given the whirlwind it’s been.  I haven’t written about the fire for months and months, mostly because after the first few posts, I couldn’t.  I was sick of hearing myself talk about it.  I just needed to live and take care of my family and make the best of the situation we were in.  We’ve been so lucky, to have insurance that really took care of us, for friends that helped in too many ways to count.  For the supportive schools my kids are in, both of which cushioned the blow.  We are beyond grateful for this community.  We are more than fine.  My family is whole and mostly healed and poised to move back into our new-old house.

I wrote early on about the mementos and pictures and trinkets we managed to save.  Enough of us for us to feel like ourselves.  As for the little things we no longer have, we think of wistfully of them from time to time and move on.  Things occur to us, like the wall where we’d marked off our children’s increasing heights over the years.  We’ll never get that back.  But for everything we lost, it seems like there are many more important things we recovered.  Pieces of our identity.

But for me, there’s something I realize I’m still mourning just a bit.  My clothes.  My boots and dresses and silly sweaters and jeans that might have been sort of out of date but who cared?  The things I put on every day that went into making me me.

There were the a-line skirts I’d bought in the 1990s at the Limited, which had held up for some reason.  There was the blazer I’d bought before my daughter was born, at a stoop sale in Brooklyn Heights, tweed, hip-length, by some German designer, which was just about the most flattering thing I’d ever owned.  It went with anything, could turn my casual-mom outfits into work-ready ensembles in the blink of an eye.  Utilitarian sweaters in abundance, one for every mood, every configuration of my body image, every kind of weather.  And dresses, little black ones, flowing, floral ones, more dresses than I needed, but a memory was tied to each.

Right after the fire, the insurance company gave us a lump sum that we were to use right away, a short term advance to replace what we needed immediately.  The fire took place right after Hurricane Sandy, on November 2nd.  Winter was coming, so what we needed were warm clothes.  For my kids, this meant replacing hoodies, easily done since the cut of zip-up sweatshirts doesn’t fluctuate much from year to year.  But I needed sweaters, and found nothing anywhere to replace a single one I’d lost.  (When I shop, first stop for me is always Target, then Kohl’s, before I’ll even consider moving up to Bloomingdales.)  All the sweaters I found were drape-y and thin: no buttons, not even a zipper to close and keep in the body heat.  Otherwise they were skimpy and low-cut with funny, asymmetrical ties.

Here’s the truth: I’d expected to show up at a store and find ALL MY OLD CLOTHES, waiting for me cheerfully from their racks, as if to say: Surprise!  Here we are!  We weren’t in the fire after all!  And there would be a big reunion.  Me and those amazing, quintessentially-Lisa wardrobe finds dating back to 1989.

Of course it wasn’t like that.  Nothing on the racks felt very much like me.  I spent the winter, and then the spring, in a few basics from the Gap and some hand-me-downs from a friend who is close to my size but way more fashionable.  It will take time to rebuild my closet, adapting what I have of a fashion sense to what there is out there now.  Slowly but surely I’m doing it.

I know I am very fortunate; our insurance company was good in terms of content loss.  This isn’t about money; it’s about missing old, faithful duds, my reluctance to replace them with strangers.  Almost a year later, I still remember how each piece felt, how it looked, what it went with.   Some of them I still see in the photographs we salvaged—not always flattering, but a record nonetheless of what I once wore.

13 responses to “The House Fire Chronicles: The Things I Wore

  1. Dearest Lee — I understand; there can be a pang to leaving those quintessential trappings behind. But life can be funny in giving us an opportunity to redefine how we express ourselves, even if it means trying on new things. There are clothes that shout and sing and whisper “Lisa W. Rosenberg” out there; I just know it. If you need some girlfriends to help find them, that may be part of the journey back home, too 🙂

  2. Oh, thank you for this, Lou! It’s all true. And you just made me think of The Jeans–the acid-washed, zipper-ankle jeans we all loved and shared!

  3. Oh dear, yes I can get just a bit of how it must be – wardrobes evolve don’t they and it takes years and years.

  4. I understand this feeling. I love to shop for just that one thing, that is always there and always feels just right. I have things in my closet like that, things I can’t imagine being without. You will find them, slowly but you will find them. Try Vintage shops, Consignment shops you might be surprised.

  5. Thanks, Val. I actually did find a brown, wool skirt in the Housing Works thrift shop recently, that reminded me of one that was lost. 🙂

  6. I think all of us women have certain articles of clothing that we could “live in” – so much like your physical home, these sweaters, jackets, etc. were all things that you donned and felt at home in. I hope you find some really good basic pieces that feel comforting and inviting. x

  7. Sometimes the simple things that we take for granted are the very things we end up mourning. What a horrendous year you’ve had. A year of rebuilding your lives. Perhaps you can think of it as a re-birth. Fresh start with new clothing. Slowly you’ll restock your closet and it’ll feel comfortable again. Sending hugs your way!

  8. I would really miss my clothes. Maybe you’ll have some unique finds at thrift stores. That’s where I get the best stuff!

  9. Yes, it takes several years to build up a wardrobe that you like and one where clothing lasts.

    The problem with shopping after losing lots of clothing in fire, is that it takes time to wander around in stores (even a thrift shop). I’ve lost a lot patience over the past decade in browsing among clothes or being in stores other than grocery stores.

    I have a major problem where I’m quite petite so a lot of stuff just doesn’t fit me. It’s too painful to think of massive sewing since I used to sew. That takes time too!!

    You’ll get there Lisa. Glad that everyone is healthy!

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