The Sartorialist's Dilemma

In yesterday’s introduction, I mentioned Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that poses a simple question, one I spend a good deal of time, energy, and money in efforts to correctly answer: What should we have for dinner?

Here, I’m posing a dilemma even dearer to my heart (rather than my stomach), that also has a bit to do with value, as well as values.

What should I wear?

I spend even more time, energy, and money thinking about what to put on my body than I do thinking about what to put in my body. Both of these “dilemmas,” the omnivore’s and the sartorialist’s, are problems of privilege. It’s because we’re blessed with so many choices, and presumably, a little bit of time, energy, and money, that we can question these matters at all. Combine that with an affinity for fashion, and ever-increasing information, and you’ve got the makings for a great deal of debate.

What on earth am I going to wear?


Sometimes it’s a question of fit, others it’s a question of cost, sometimes it’s about instinct, history, or dare I say, love.

Here’s an idea…I’ll deconstruct what I’ve got on in that snapshot (taken last fall,not for the purpose of this exercise) to give an example.

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Okay, the necklace was my mom’s. It’s a tiny butterfly on a gold chain that my dad gave her a long time ago, and is unquestionably my favorite accessory. An identical necklace would probably twinkle at me from a jewelry store’s display case, but what makes it irreplaceable is its sentimental value.

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The white top came from a little vintage shop in Rio I wrote about for Nylon. You can read a few of the reasons that I loved their store in that little article, and they sort of apply to the top too: it took a little bit of looking to find it, it’s one-of-a-kind, and both delicate and durable. Although the straps are a little fragile, it has worn beautifully. The fabric is a woven cotton, kind of like a thin sheet, so it hasn’t gotten stretched out or pilled. I have no idea how old it is, but I do know that to buy something similar (handmade and well-designed) new, rather than vintage, would be very expensive, and without the joy of discovering a little gem in a special shop at the top of a hill.

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The cardigan is a sample from Edun, the fashion company I went to work for in 2006. I have lots of stories to tell about that, but let’s stick to the sweater. It’s a sample, which is sort of like a rough draft for the fashion industry. It was made at a small factory in Lima, Peru, where the boss lady was a fantastic creative problem-solver, which is pretty important when you’re trying to make a quality product at a specific price. That particular style didn’t make it into the collection, which means the stores didn’t purchase enough to warrant manufacturing, so it was cancelled. At Edun we used to dream about a collection called cancelled to incorporate all the lovely styles that never made it to the market. In the meantime I have my own little collection of cancelled samples–some from various jobs in fashion, others from sample sales. I’ve since updated this one by switching the buttons from metal to old-fashioned black leather knots.

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Topping it off is a wool hat I bought in a market in Arequipa, Peru–a souvenir from a visit to Edun’s yarn manufacturers in the Andes.

So…as you can see, everything has a story. And I’m only scratching the surface here. My hope is that I’m going to be able to use my closet as a case study, to begin asking, on various levels–whether economic or ethical, scientific or sartorial…what to wear?

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Sartorialist's Dilemma

  1. Pingback: TODAY in the NYC Garment District « The Sartorialist's Dilemma

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