What to do when the clothes are too small

The Torment Nexus of old clothes, the onslaught of the passage of time, and how to not feel bad about feeling bad.

What to do when the clothes are too small
Alyssa Strohmann via Unsplash.


This is the paid Sunday Ask A Swole Woman edition of She’s a Beast, a newsletter about being strong mentally/emotionally/physically.

The Question

Hey Casey,

Can we talk about clothes? How do you let go of all the cool shit, like cropped lime green Levi’s corduroy jackets, that will no longer slide over biceps or spread across shoulders? Lilac linen cropped pants that looked amazing 10 years ago before hips spread to accommodate a baby, and the resulting C-section pooch that just won’t go away? It’s a mental hurdle that always makes me feel like shit when I have to purge old stuff I really liked that used to make me feel great, and makes me dread shopping for clothes because I can’t bring myself to grab stuff in sizes that will actually fit and flatter. It doesn’t matter how jacked and energetic I felt after I crushed my last boxing workout, or that I’m proud I can easily lift my chunky toddler and carry him around. Clothes suck and they aren’t fun anymore.

You’ve mentioned your food triggers before and this isn’t the same, but it feels similar to me, and honestly I can’t see people talking about it. How much does body recomposition really affect and change clothing? I have no one to talk to about this, so if you choose to answer this, thank you.


The Answer

tw: disordered eating, body image, weight numbers

I agree that clothes suck right now. For what it’s worth, I do feel like the fashion industry is in a state these days, can’t decide a direction to swim in, and all these designers are all pulling against each other, like a rat king or Twitch Plays Pokémon.

But that aside, there are a few possible situations going on here, and you need to deal with them separately. One requires being almost ruthlessly realistic about the logistical challenge of change. The other requires being far more idealistic about what your body owes the world.

My parents’ parents were Great Depression kids (one child of; one child of children of), so I developed a lot of reflexes that served me pretty well in the enduring recession/depressed wages times we lived in. I read a lot of Pioneer Woman–type stuff, and I spent a lot of my strapped early adulthood learning to do things like repurposing corn husks, saving shopping bags and turning their ribbon handles into friendship bracelets, things of this nature. My mom is also a champion repurposer, a refashioner of items previously thought useless, an Olympic jerry-rigger of solutions hacked together from stuff that’s just lying around. Thanks in part to these instincts, she also taught me to have an almost violent attachment to stuff, because you might need this someday. Every day, I wake up and actively resist becoming a hoarder.

One person needs only so much stuff, and yet our livelihoods such as they are under capitalism involve the constant acquisition of stuff. Some of this isn’t even by choice: if I buy a shitty $2 Forever 21 tank top[1] that, despite its best efforts, develops holes and an overall loose appearance after its 10th wash, I’m gonna need another shirt to look presentable in society. But what do I do with this $2 tank top that still fits and is functional, yet not presentable? My instincts are to turn it into a “house” top, then a cleaning rag.

Until a few years ago, “getting rid of ‘perfectly good’ stuff” was not really in my grown-adult toolbox. But space fills up. It got to a point where I was dragging around the albatross of all of the literal garbage I had managed to scrape together in my adulthood. It was trash, but darn it, it was MY trash, bought with my sweat-and-blood dollars.

It’s mentally burdensome to paw through an ocean of shit you cannot wear every time you have to put clothes on. Not only is it burdensome, but you do it at least once and maybe several times a day. Our livelihoods are already barely hanging by a thread; I don’t have time or energy to be taking psychic damage multiple times a day from my dresser or closet.

So: you have stuff you don’t need. I had to make a whole point of learning that it is legitimate to not want to give a permanent home to even perfectly good stuff, because it is no longer perfectly good to me, and to banish it in a way that made sense to me.