clock menu more-arrow no yes
Photo: Lisa M. Robinson/Getty Images

Filed under:

The Clothes From My Marriage Helped Me Through My Divorce

I didn’t get rid of the clothes that reminded me of better times — I let them carry me through the hard ones.

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

It was spring when my husband left. Before, as pink cherry blossoms fell brazenly from the trees, I floated around the city in cotton dresses and bright blazers. After, shell-shocked and living in a new reality, I continued to wear those same outfits, even though I was no longer the happily married woman I’d been yesterday.

Putting on my brightly colored spring skirts, tops, and dresses, applying my makeup and jewelry, fixing my hair in a certain way — these acts were my rituals, and they soothed me. I was comforted by the continuation of my morning routine, by wearing the same clothes I’d always worn, by going about each day in exactly the same way as yesterday, when everything had felt very different.

Navy Blue Mary Janes

For a few months, I was in denial. No matter that my world had just been upended, the clothes I wore each day made me feel somewhat safe, like everything was fine. Whenever I’d look down at the beautiful navy Mary Jane shoes my husband had bought for me just a few months prior to him ending our marriage, I felt a sense of relief — these shoes were still new, they represented an act of love. So everything had to be okay, surely? As I walked through those most surreal of days, I wore those shoes often.

In the days and months after my husband’s departure, I still went to work as a teacher every day. I appeared to those who saw me to be the very same Mrs. Oster*, newly married, wearing my engagement and wedding ring, my familiar clothes, shoes, even the same wide smile. They were a kind of strengthening exterior, making questions about my interior world less likely. When the school year ended, few people at work knew what had happened.

Summer arrived and I moved out of my marital home, suitcases of clothes in tow. The days were long and they felt even longer. I wore clothes that helped me feel put together, confident, organized, and safe — all the things I wasn’t actually feeling. As I began to tell more and more people my news, many expressed surprise. People told me they’d had no idea that my marriage had suddenly imploded, in part because I hadn’t presented myself in the way they would have imagined a grieving person to look. I wasn’t disheveled or unkempt. My shoes were the same, but walking through the days of my life in them felt very different.

Short Green Dress

As the leaves began to fall from the trees, divorce proceedings began, and it felt important to me to hang on to the things that I still had. Though my identity as a wife had fallen by the wayside, my identity as a fashion-conscious, well-styled professional woman was still there. I tooled around the city in a green dress that fell a little above my knees. I’d worn this dress to parties with my husband; it was a dress that told brilliant stories from another time. I felt that this dress was too lovely, too much mine, to be given away. It had more stories in it left to tell, husband or not.

I wasn’t one of those people who, as soon as the divorce papers were issued, started to clear their closets of memories. For me, the clothes of my past represented a reality I was fond of, a reality that was remembered and validated every time I shimmied my way into that gorgeous dress. Though my husband had gone away, when I put on the green dress, I could recall happier times: I could feel that my short-lived marriage of just seven months hadn’t all just been a dream.

White Wool Hat & Cashmere Scarf

Grief was a constant, and with my life in flux, I was reassured by the anchors of clothing from my past — particularly a cashmere scarf I’d bought on a shopping trip with my husband before our first Hanukkah together and a wooly hat I’d bought on a trip to Estonia together. I wore these items almost every day. The fabrics felt warm and soft on my skin, and the recollection of the circumstances when I acquired these items were warm and soft, too. These memories validated something important —that I was right to be grieving, because I had lost something happy, something soft, something good.

Divorce Dress

Deep winter. Hailstones and snow. On the day I was to appear in a Jewish court to receive my Get (an important divorce document), I couldn’t find a thing to wear. I had a closet full of clothes, but none felt right. I’d never had to dress for my own divorce before. Divorce called for a look that said I was strong and well-presented and empowered, even on a day where something very sad was taking place. In the back of my closet I spotted a slim-fitting navy blue scoop neck cashmere dress that my husband had bought for me a year ago, a dress I’d never had the right occasion to wear. I slipped it over my hips. The Jewish divorce brought some closure, at long last. Painful as that day in the courtroom was, it was also cathartic, and there was a feeling of relief when I clutched the Get under my arm like a clutch bag and left the building.

I wondered if I’d ever have the heart to wear that dress again. It was the divorce dress now. But much as divorce brings about the loss of one identity, it also signals the remaking of another. I started to think of the dress as the first signifier of my next chapter, and I began to wear it for many of the occasions of my new life. It’s a dress my husband had chosen and liked, yet now it’s being worn independently of him, repurposed for my new life.

Starting Over

As I write this, it’s spring again: season of rebirth and renewal. The strangest year of my life is now almost behind me. I’m getting ready to move apartments again, and in preparation, I’m looking through my closet with a newly acquired lens — the lens of a divorced woman starting over. Through that lens, it feels right to get rid of several of the garments that were anchors from my past; I realize that I have no further need for them. Others I choose to keep, because though they tell tales from a different life, they are still a part of me.

Essays

Aging, but Make It Fashion

Essays

The Death of the Plain Preppy Sneaker

Essays

Navigating the Intensely Gendered World of Hair Salons When You’re Queer

View all stories in Essays