Table of Contents
Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown:
“Reading Adena’s story made me want to throw open the doors of my closet and hear the stories my own clothes have to tell—from my first Galliano gown, to a pair of Earth shoes that I wore in eighth grade with a pair of Calvin Klein jeans. This book reassures the girl in each of us that she’s not alone in her search for the perfect outfit and the confidence that, we hope and pray, comes along with it.”—Cindy Crawford
“You’ll fall in love with Adena, her mother, her family, and her friends. I did. Though she can’t control her life or lovelife (who can?), she can control her closet and her spirit shines through that closet.”—Ilene Beckerman, author of
Love, Loss and What I Wore
Makeovers at the Beauty Counter of Happiness
“A witty and lighthearted memoir.”—Pages
“[Adena‘s] heartbreaking, hilarious, and sometimes humiliating tales will have you reaching in your closet for your worn Z. Cavariccis and puffy-sleeved prom dress to revel in your own fabric nostalgia.”—
wrote a popular series of essays entitled “The Haute Life” for the back page of
magazine, which reaches 3.1 million readers monthly. She is a contributing writer for
and has written for
The New York Times.
Adena earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dramatic writing from New York University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in screen-writing from The American Film Institute. A proud Philadelphia native, she resides in Los Angeles with her overflowing closet.
Although some names and identifying characteristics of the people in this memoir have been changed to protect their privacy, all references to clothing remain unchanged no matter how humiliating it looked.
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Published by Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First trade paperback printing, June 2007
Copyright © 2006 by Adena Halpern
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Target underwear and a Vera Wang gown : notes from a single girl’s closet / by Adena Halpern.
eISBN : 978-1-101-07787-0
1. Women’s clothing—psychological aspects. 2. Clothing and dress—Psychological aspects.
3 Fashion—Psychological aspects. I. Title.
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For my mom and dad
If I Had a Closet
ometimes I wish that rather than photo albums or scrap-books, I had a closet full of every piece of clothing that meant anything in my life.
Looking from the left of the closet, I’d find my grandmother’s mink coat, a broken strand of faux pearls in the pocket that she’d smashed when she and my grandfather had gotten too wild in their salsa dancing. Next to the mink would be a perfectly preserved gray flannel suit of my grandfather’s with a perfectly folded handkerchief in the pocket. Next to their section, I’d have the steel blue, circa-1970s Oscar de la Renta gown of my mother‘s, a Louis Vuitton bucket bag, and a cream-colored tailored suit—those classic styles that always make her look timeless. I’d have my dad’s white doctors coat, a stethoscope hanging out of the right pocket, and I’d think about how important and serious he looked when I visited him at the hospital. Next to the doctor’s coat would be his well-worn blue sweatsuit, the one with the permanent pizza stains on the jacket that he’d put on the second he got home. That sweatsuit always meant playtime. I’d have my brother David’s varsity wrestling jacket and brother Michael’s varsity cross-country jacket to remember the feeling of being the awkward little sister who thought her older brothers were the coolest, strongest, and most popular boys in high school, but would never let them know.
I’d take out my college sweetheart’s eighties 8-ball jacket and lay my old Madonna wannabe bustier and leggings next to it and reminisce about that feeling of first-time true love. I’d even have my Girbaud orange-neon-colored parachute pants next to a pair of split Dolphin shorts, those major fashion faux pas that at the time seemed the height of fabulous and only now follow the words “I can’t believe I ever wore that!”
My friend Susan is always amazed when I can immediately tell her what anyone was wearing at significant moments. Susan, for example, was wearing a pink Betsey Johnson Lycra flowered dress with a ruffled collar when I first met her, an outfit that I later borrowed. Heidi was wearing a pair of blue-and-white-striped drawstring pants and a white T-shirt. Rachel wore a three-quarter-length black suit jacket on her first day at her big new job. Amy wore a pair of white leggings and a long white T-shirt hiked up on the right side with a banana clip the day we graduated from high school. Serena was wearing a pair of red-and-black wool ticked pants and a black sweater the night her husband proposed to her.
The plaids, the velvets, the minks, the leathers, cottons, silks, and denims. If clothes make the man (or woman), then for me, certainly, it’s the clothes that make the memory.
I’d love to write a book about all of my Gucci, Dior, and Givenchy outfits and the vintage dress of Princess Grace’s that Oleg Cassini gave me for my twenty-fifth birthday. I’d love to tell you the funny story about the time Mr. Valentino came over and we spent an entire rainy Saturday munching on pizza while making up crazy designs for dresses. Unfortunately, none of this has ever happened. Fashionista, I am not. Simply, I am every teenage girl who ever
to have the item that all the other girls had, whether it looked good on me or not. I’m the college coed who fell in love with a boy at first glance because his leather jacket made me swoon. I’m the best friend who borrows clothes and never gives them back and the woman who is forty-five minutes late to work because she has nothing to wear. I’m the lover of clothes and shopping whose passionate memories are always connected not only to the clothes that I wore, but what friends and family and boyfriends wore too.
Since I don’t have that closet full of all the items that bring back times both magnificent and heartbreaking, these stories are for everyone who keeps an old piece of clothing in the back of the closet, wishing that one day those clothes would get up and start talking about the cherished moments they once shared together.
Learning from the Masters
grew up outside of Philadelphia, but when I look back on my early childhood, it feels to me that I really grew up in the dressing rooms of all the major department stores in and around the city. My earliest memories come from the Lord & Taylor on City Line Avenue. To this day, thinking about the scents of Tea Rose and Chloé perfumes that filled my nose as I walked in makes me wince to the point of nausea. The tiny electric shock I’d get if I touched one of the glass counter displays full of jewelry or handbags should have been a deterrent to turn me off shopping for life. Days at age five and six were spent squirming in a dressing room chair watching my mother, Arlene, and grandmother, Esther, duke it out over whether Esther was a size eight anymore. “It just hugs a little,” Esther would say as she blanketed the center buttons of the Geoffrey Beene lilac-colored silk blouse with her uniform gold chains. The eternally size-six Arlene would make a quick switch when Esther wasn’t looking and retrieve a size ten. Later that week, Esther would come over wearing the size eight blouse. We’d know it was the size eight, especially my brother Michael, who’d dive for cover when he realized he was in direct target range. God forbid Esther had opened her arms to hug him; the buttons would have popped out and blinded him.