School starts next week, and as a middle school teacher, I feel almost the same pressure to put together a back to school look as I did when I was a student. First, I’m anxious about making a good first impression. Second, I want people to see me as I, for a short time, see myself: recharged, optimistic, capable of confronting life’s challenges.

This morning, the new me pulled everything out of the old me’s closet. The old me tried to stop her, but it was no use. The new me just kept flinging clothes onto the bed, with no intention of hanging them back up. The nerve. Eventually, the old me had to leave the room. The new me has nothing to wear.

I know. I’m exaggerating. My closet runneth over. The easiest thing to do is go shopping, but, ironically, the new me has declared 2009-10 the school year she pays off her credit card.

A couple of months ago, I heard about a Web site called Closet Couture. The site allows a woman to upload images of her clothes into a virtual closet, and mix and match items to dress a female silhouette. Watching the site’s instructional video, I couldn’t help but think: this is paper dolls for grown ups.

Don’t get me wrong — I love paper dolls. When I was little, my mom’s mom, Grandma Doris, introduced me to Dolly Dingle (one of the Campbell’s Soup kids) with her chubby cheeks, blond ringlets and stamp-filled passport. I loved lying on the floor, exchanging her dirndl for her kilt, and her kilt for her kimono.

But do grown-ups — recharged, optimistic, capable grown-ups — really have time for this? After joining Closet Couture, you need to photograph each and every item in your wardrobe against a solid background (like a white sheet, or a white wall), and upload the images into your virtual closet. If you get bored mixing and matching your own clothes, you can “try on” items from different retailers, or reach into the closets of your virtual friends, and put together outfits for them. The site even allows you to “borrow” your friends’ clothes.

Of course, if you have no friends, not even of the virtual persuasion, you can hire a Closet Couture stylist for $25 to put together one outfit for you. One outfit. From your own closet. (My suggestion: Get a friend. Spend your money treating your friend to Cynthia’s On The Corner’s blackberry cobbler a la mode. Then, back at your place, ask your friend for fashion advice.)

Perhaps the most ridiculous feature of Closet Couture is the calendar, which allows you to document when and where you wore (or plan to wear) specific outfits — a helpful feature if you are being stalked by the paparazzi or are an amnesiac.

The best thing about Closet Couture is that it helps you take inventory of what is in your closet, but you don’t need a digital camera and laptop to do this. Take everything out of your closet and drawers. This is not about weeding, or throwing anything away. This is about looking for basics, needs and untried combinations.

Your basics are things like the little black dress, a trench coat, a pair of black dress pants, a white button down shirt, the perfect pair of jeans, an occasion top, a skirt, a daytime dress, and a fitted jacket. If you don’t have one of the basics, this becomes a need.

New me, I give you permission to go shopping for needs.

Mariel Howsepian digs black coffee, fairy tales and a man in coveralls. She lives in Santa Monica and can be reached at Mariel_Rodriguez@antiochla.edu.

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