Most people pull out their wool sweaters and socks for warmth during winter. Not me. I hate wearing wool. It makes my skin itch worse than mosquito bites. As a child, I mostly wore cotton—my grandfather kept us well-supplied with Carter’s clothes. My brother was allergic to wool. He had one lambswool sweater that made him sneeze, so my mother didn’t buy much wool for either of us.
Then came the 70s and polyester. I wore a lot of polyester. During my high school years I made a lot of my own clothes, and double-knit polyester was easy to sew.
During college I sported jeans, a variety of tops, and a down jacket. The down jacket was one of my first purchases at Middlebury, and it lasted me through my college years, through law school (in California—it didn’t get much wear), and into my first years in Kansas City. But no wool scarves or hats accompanied my down jacket. I again stuck to cotton or synthetics.
In 1975, I spent the fall semester of my last year in college at The American University in Washington, D.C.. That autumn I decided I needed a nice dress. I don’t remember my motivation—I rarely wore dresses when I was in college. I took the bus from The American University north on Massachusetts Avenue to a nice shopping area where there was a Garfinckel’s department store. I’d never shopped at Garfinckel’s, but I knew it to be an upscale chain.
I tried on several dresses and finally landed on a nice sweater dress. (This was back in the days when I could wear sweater dresses without fear of bulges.) Mostly tan, with stripes across the top. It seemed sophisticated to my 19-year-old self. I bought the dress, and a few weeks later I packed it to take home for Christmas festivities.
That’s when I discovered it was wool. Or at least partially wool—as I recall, it was a blend of wool and acrylic. It hadn’t bothered me during the few minutes in the fitting room, but wearing it for hours at a party made my skin crawl. And sitting still during Mass in it was torture.
For the next few years, I wore it in winters when I really needed a dress. I took the hem up and down as fashions and my tastes dictated. I wore it to a friend’s wedding in December 1977. I wore it with a camel jacket for a few interviews during law school. But I wouldn’t wear it to work, once I started working in 1979—I couldn’t bear the thought of itching all day.
The dress wouldn’t wear out. It was from Garfinckel’s, after all. But I finally donated it to Goodwill sometime in the mid-1980s. By that time (post two children) it didn’t fit as well as it once had, and I could rationalize giving it away to someone who would appreciate its quality and warmth.
I’ve received many wool gifts over the years—sweaters, scarves, and the like. I’ve exchanged the sweaters worn next to the skin as a first layer right away. No use keeping something I don’t even like to put on. I’ve kept most of the cardigans, but been careful to wear them over sleeved blouses. The scarves I’ve mostly donned over turtlenecks or kept over my coat collars.
I’ve had to give up many lovely pieces, but I learned with my Garfinckel’s dress. If I’m not comfortable in a garment, it’s not worth wearing.
What purchases have you made that were a mistake?