Aspirational-sized clothes = self-esteem killer.

While out thrifting on a Sunday night, I unearthed the most gorgeous vintage chambray skirt. Without a second thought, I plunked down $1.79 at the register and excitedly raced home. As I searched my closet for a hanger, my fingers just happened to glance on the hem of another skirt. A chambray skirt. Almost exactly like the one I'd just purchased. Clearly, the time had come to purge my closet.

I own many things that are sartorially sinful. Like those outdated preppy button-downs I had purchased for a failed career as an executive assistant (don't ask.) And that gauzy peasant skirt from the one week I decided I was meant to be a gypsy. And those miniskirts I used to tart around in back in my early twenties which truthfully would make better Swiffer pads today.

So, I purged. I purged like I never have. Gone! went the thin v-neck sweater that magically made my small B's  look like medium C's. Gone! to the leopard-print miniskirt that I thought would go with ANYTHING but turned out to be wrong with everything. Gone! to the cropped jeans, and the silver python print heels that killed my feet, and the psychedelic print maxi dress that recalled a particularly hallucinogenic scene from Across the Universe.

Most of the stuff was easy to ditch. But the clothes that were especially difficult to part with were those in aspirational-sizes, clothes I held onto purely for their ability to self-flagellate. Peer into a woman's closet and you'll almost certainly discover a cashe of someday-I-will-wear-this outfits. In 2006, a Talbots National Fit Study poll asked 2,200 women ranging in age from 35 to 65 about their clothes-buying habits. Here's what they found:

  • More than 33 percent admitted to having clothes in their closet that were too small for them to wear; and 
  • Forty percent purchased clothes that were too small in hopes that they would one day be able to wear them after losing weight.
As I looked at my pile of too-small clothes I wondered if holding onto these items actually helped women lose weight, or if they just resulted in increased negative body image. So I did a bit of research and came up with a compelling list of reasons why keeping too-tight clothes actually hurts your self-esteem.

  • These clothes are a constant reminder that you're not at your "ideal size". While this thinking might seem motivating, it actually leads to lower self-esteem and self-worth. Whether your body has changed as a result of childbearing, illness, aging or weight gain/loss, holding onto too-small clothes does nothing to help you accept your body as it is today. 
  • Too-small clothing makes you feel like a failure. End of story. It doesn't matter if you're making progress on a weight-loss regime. Just as many people rely too heavily on the scale to measure their success, trying on clothes that don't fit can set you up for failure, too. The scale - or the size of your jeans - doesn't necessarily determine your progress accurately. 
  • Holding onto aspirational-sized clothing could result in unsafe, and potentially dangerous, dieting practices. During my lowest points in my struggle with anorexia, I used pre-teen sized clothing to measure my descent into illness. One of the bravest things I ever did in my recovery was burning these clothes. Literally. I threw them into a bonfire while in treatment. And I haven't missed them since. 
  • Longing for your former figure can prevent you from finding true happiness today. According to a February 2003 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, a fear of failure drives many women to starve themselves back into smaller sized clothing. Instead of embracing who they are today, they focus their attention on getting back to the size they once were.
My too-small clothes existed to shame me into starvation and induce guilt about anything I put in my mouth. These clothes taunted me into a downward spiral of decreased self confidence, disgust and despair. Getting rid of them was a symbol of reclaiming my self-esteem. And it doesn't hurt that I have more room in my closet now.

I ask you - does your closet contain too-small clothing? Why do you believe you hold onto these items? Have you ever considered getting rid of hem? What would a closet purge mean to you?


  1. Currently I don't have anything that I know to be too small. That is disregarding the fact that I'm pregnant. I know in 6 months or so I will most definitely re-evaluate my wardrobe.

    You look great today. I like that skirt a lot, and it looks great paired with the chambray shirt.

  2. I do have a few things that are too small, but not too many. One is a dress that I bought a few months ago, and it DID fit at the time LOL! Well, 5 lbs later, I'm not wearing it right now.

    About 1.5 yrs ago I lost 20lbs and looking at those clothes in my closet that didn't fit was a bit depressing. My self-esteem was definitely at a low point. I have been the same size since high school (pretty much), so getting rid of clothes in my "normal" size seemed like such a waste. I lost the weight, and got back to my healthy weight. I have rather bad knees when I gain weight and don't exercise, so I definitely have extenuating circumstances where I have to nip that weight gain in the bud or it hurts to walk. :(

    I can definitely say though, that pre-baby body and post-babies body has changed quite a bit. I have accepted those stretch marks and loose skin, as there isn't much I can do about it. I have purged things that don't flatter my squishier self. :)

  3. Yes, BUT I sell clothes for a living and I am really and truly loosing weight. I started a size 18 in march and right now I'm a size 12 which is getting baggy. My normal or average or had most of my life is a 7. I try to keep two pairs of blue jeans in the next size in my closet. When I hit a 12 I had nothing and it was a little bit of a panic moment (you know size 12 is a kind of rare size, who knew). I rarely pay more than a dollar for my clothes, heck any clothes in this house. So I didn't want to have to rush out and pay full retail because I was naked. But since I do sell clothes I don't think I get emotionally involved with my closet. Actually days like today when I trudge into my inventory holding area to organize yet AGAIN. I hate clothes with a passion.:) Love your look today, beautiful as always! And PS I meant to post this on Friday but internet was wanked. I did a link to you from my most recent post. Just a heads up, hope you don't mind.

  4. I love you for posting this. I certainly don't subscribe to the "if it hasn't been worn in 6 months, donate it" philosophy, but hanging onto clothing that once fit or that you WISH would fit just trains you to feel dissatisfied and uncomfortable in your today-body.

  5. That outfit is awesome. Love the blue on you.

    I do have many things that I don't wear because I don't like the fit(too tight) on my big belly and on the girls. It's hard to get rid of things I love, just not on me.

  6. love the outfit. Your skirt is absolutely beautiful.

  7. I hear what you're saying and I think the gist of your post is certainly a good one - and congrats on letting all the useless stuff go!

    But I do think that saying "Peer into a woman's closet and you'll almost certainly discover a cashe of someday-I-will-wear-this outfits." Is harmful. Especially when, as you immediately follow with, "almost any" translates to 30-40%.

    I get that it's a solidarity thing, which is good stuff, but holding up these Bad Female Habits like a badge of shamefaced, girls-together feminine pride.. it just feeds in to the idea that that's normal, that a certain amount of i-am-the-wrong-size is natural and unavoidable and just something to shrug about because it'll never go away. It's less we can beat this and more we all have to live with this, even as you talk about purging it from your wardrobe. It says this is how to be a woman, when you write 'almost any woman'.

    I remember, as a teen, hearing peers, older girls and adults talking about these Bad Female Habits and feeling like that's something to emulate or I'm doing it wrong. I think that exaggerating the fraction of women who adhere to this template, and talking about it like a universal female thing, it a part of the downward spiral.

    This is a compassionate post and I can see that your motivations are all admirable. And that the bulk of the post succeeds in being positive and helpful! I hope you don't think I'm attacking you! I just.. when I read things like that, I feel like to NOT dream of being smaller is to be rolled out of the Lady Club, you know? I don't suggest that you meant it that way, I can see that it's friendly chat. It's just..

    It's a mixed up message.

    Thanks for listening! You look great today.

  8. I did that for a while. I was very skinny when I was younger, then gained some weight in college, then more than I wanted while in my 20s. I hung onto some of my beloved smaller things (always pants; all the extra weight got packed in the trunk, as it were). I was frustrated by the weight gain and didn't want to feel like it was permanent.

    And it wasn't, not completely. I finally settled into my intuitive weight and while it's lower than it was, it's still higher than those skinny pants. Once I accepted that, it became much easier to keep my wardrobe edited.

    Acceptance really is the key, isn't it? True acceptance, not just resignation.

    Interestingly, I was just writing about changing weight and wardrobe last week, but from a slightly different perspective--i.e. for those who are losing weight but don't want to keep dressing in the clothes of their larger sized selves. (

  9. I have quite a bit of clothing that doesn't fit right now, but it's because I have just hit that point in my pregnancy where none of it fits! I will be keeping the clothing too because even though my body will be beautiful no matter what, I was healthier at that lower weight. Now, my body will most likely change, my hips will likely be larger and the girls already are. By a year after my daughter comes if the shape of my body has changed too much for my clothes, and losing the baby weight is going slow (or even not happening), those clothes will be gone. It's just we don't have the money for me to get a whole new wardrobe and I have a lot of good transitional pieces. Also, I've got such long legs I've only ever been able to thrift 3 pairs of pants. However, right before I got pregnant I got into size 10 shorts and some medium clothes that fit, but were probably purchased a little to soon, those items are gone! No reason to torture myself, it took a long time the first time around, it'll take a long time now too!

  10. What a great post. For me, a closet purge means letting go of excess baggage that feels like a burden, whether it's clothes and shoes I rarely wear (which make me feel guilty for having stuff I rarely wear), or things that don't fit my current body. I'm still the same weight I was when I was 19 or 20, but that's not to say things haven't shifted and my body hasn't changed and gotten curvier in certain places. I wore things back then that I wouldn't wear now. Why keep them around to make getting dressed in the mornings a more difficult task and to make me feel bad about myself?

  11. First of all, I think you look radiant in this outfit! Second, I admire your willingness to be vulnerable. I think a majority of women do have those few things in the closet that they hold on to. I'm still learning to accept my body as I mature. It's hard to let go of what once was instead of embracing the what is. It's nice to know I am not alone which opens the door to acceptance.

  12. love that skirt, elissa! looks so easy, light and summery.


    weren't you going to open an etsy or something? you should sell your overthrift and "aspirational" stuff in there...

  13. I love this look, shirt belted over a maxi, Elissa - it's so cool. I love your post too. I've gotten rid of my aspirational-sized clothing because it just made me feel bad about myself, for No Good Reason. I am so in awe of you actually burning yours.

  14. I'm so guilty of this behaviour. In the pasrt month I've gotten rid of most these clothes. Still holding on to two suits, one for sentimental reasons and the other because it's a high end brand. After reading this I'm seriously considering of throwing those out as well.

  15. Oh My! You are preaching to the choir here! I work at a gym and I see this same thing as often as I see myself in a mirror! I don't know why we pay ANY attention to sizes. They really mean NOTHING. This weekend, I went to Ann Taylor outlet and couldn't squeeze into a size 10 pair of jeans. So imagine my surprise when I tried on a size 8 and they fit like a dream! Go figure! But it just goes to prove that sizes can be arbitrary...try it on. If it's snug go up, if it's loose go down. Forget about the size. Great post! ~Serene

  16. You have some fab thrifting skills LOVE that maxi skirt...its summertime perfection.

    I have to say this is the one area that I am really GOOD about...(as I should be as I clean other people's closets as my part time work right now)....I have always overhauled my closet every couple motto is if you haven't worn it in 6 are NEVER wearing it (excluding cocktail dresses/formal attire) and it really keeps my closet up to date w my favorite things...and they all FIT!
    I completely agree w you...too small clothing doesn't punishes you and makes you feel guilty- and for me it make me think about the dollars I tied up in buying something that didn't fit..when I could have purchased and be WEARING something that DOES!!
    Great always. Hope you had a fabulous PURGE!

  17. I just purged my closet this weekend, actually. Ok, so purge is not actually an accurate term, mostly it was just reorganizing, but I did have a few items that I had paid good money for, but no longer fit. I had been holding onto them in hopes that some day I would fit into them again. But I have had to come terms with the fact that some of these items I simply will NEVER fit into again, even if I dropped 15 pounds, simply because my frame is a bit different now than it was a year or 5 years ago. It felt good to decide to let them go, and honestly, even though I am bigger than I was 6 months ago, I am quite happy with my weight, and my new curves (I am still quite petite, but the curves at least give me a little definition instead of the figure of a boy).

  18. Love your outfit!

    If it doesn't fit I get rid of it. I learned it's not worth keeping stuff around "just in case". And by getting rid of it I make room for new stuff! ;)

  19. I'm terrible at buying things I already have!

    But I'm moving to London soon so I'm listing lots of bits and pieces on eBay and ASOS Marketplace, now just to keep my wardrobe streamlined! (Wish me luck.)

  20. Great post! I've been purging my closet a lot since I'm moving apts. Last year I moved from NY to Chicago. In that year I gained 10 lbs part from lack of exercise and part from being able to afford food. But its good because I was actually 10-15 lbs underweight in NY. But 10 lbs means a lot of your clothes doesn't fit. I also haven't been able to afford new stuff in awhile so I had to purge the things that were falling apart. It felt good but in some cases it was sad. The designer/new stuff is going to a consignment store while the rest was donated. The up side is now i get to replace things with more late 20s appropriate clothing :)

  21. BRAVO!!! Two thumbs up to your purge and your post.

  22. I have a few size 10s in my wardrobe from my "skinny phase" in 2009 (10 pounds less than now). It's not entirely unreasonable to think I'd get to that weight again so I have a hard time tossing out these few cool items that I really love. But, I could see that they make me feel a little guilty, too, about having bought while my weight was down and then letting it slide up again so those clothes became a waste of money.

    I had a hard time getting rid of my sizes 22, 20, 16, 14 while I was losing weight in my early 30s, too -- I would always think "well yeah but what if I gain back, I'd better hold onto that".

  23. I definitely hear this. I rarely buy clothing that won't fit (I try everything on like mad because of my body shape), but my aunt gifted me with a lot of clothing when I was in high school, and I had such a hard time getting rid of some of it because, you know, it was a GIFT! And so pretty, and I might make it work someday.

    Fortunately for my own brain, I took the last of these ill-fitting items to my book club on Wednesday and gave it away to another girl who looked fabulous in it. Better that someone else enjoy it now! It's pretty sad if I want to hoard it for myself just on the off-chance that I'll wear it again someday in the nebulous future.

    Thanks for this post, it was great food for thought.

  24. I agree that keeping items in your closet/dresser that don't currently fit is a recipe for bad inner thoughts. But, if you really love something, I say keep it stored away, in a place you don't visit often. The 6 month rule is not applicable to all - I have items I wear now that I haven't worn in 15 years. Good thing I held onto them!

  25. Such a great post. I had been holding onto some clothes that fit me while I was suffering from an eating disorder, and finally got rid of them at the beginning of this summer. It's not so much that I was hoping I'd one day be that thin again (since I know that weight was so unhealthy)...but for whatever reason I still kept them. Then in May I went through my closet & drawers and forced myself to put everything that didn't fit me now into a bag of clothes to donate. It felt good...and freed up room for clothes that do fit/look good on me! :)

  26. I have been hanging on to one pair of jeans & one or two pairs of black trousers from when I was at my lowest weight ever... a time that I, my husband, & my friends all agree I didn't look very good, I didn't keep photos from, even tho' I was "technically" healthy (like, in the "right" BMI range, which is a whole 'nother rant). But I'd never worn pants that small.

    And when, about 6 months later, they were too tight, I figured I'd hold on to them. Classic styles, they won't go out of fashion! Surely I can lose the weight again; I never thot I'd lose it the first time.

    That was, oh, 6 years ago & all the weight came back, as it does. The pants are still squirreled away in my dresser drawers. They do kind of haunt me, & they definitely take up space. They probably have added friends!

    After reading this, out they go & I'm not going to feel one bit bad about it! Thank you :-)

  27. I don't have any too-small clothes now, but I do own a skirt and a pair of pants that were too small two years ago. I'm glad I kept them, especially the lovely skirt. OTOH, I've never bought anything in hopes I'd 'shrink into it'. :-)

    IMO, keeping *too big* clothes around is much worse than keeping too-small ones. If you're on a diet, give away your old clothes as soon as they get too big! Hanging on to them signals to yourself that you expect to fail.

  28. I'm always reading about how many women have a habit of collecting (and keeping) more clothes than they need; I have a weird habit of purging recklessly, and combined with my extremely infrequent shopping, regretting it later when I have nothing left to wear by the end of the week. I own one pair of pants that is skin-tight. If I gain five pounds (even monthly bloating), they go back on the shelf, and that happens more often than not.

  29. What a great post. I gained 15 lbs about a year and a half ago. Not a lot, but just enough that most of my clothes didn't fit right anymore. I put the worst offenders in a suitcase in the basement and then was frustrated with my closet because there wasn't much in it, and what was left still didn't fit as well as it did when I bought it.

    In that year and a half, I spent a lot of time thrifting items in my new size and have a decent wardrobe that I'm happy with. I liked my slimmer body better, but only slightly so. I'm still happy at my new size. Most of my frustration was less about my body being different than about the fact that over the course of 10-12 years, I'd built up a lovely (expensive!) closet full of clothes that looked great on my body - the way it was 15 lbs ago! Now I would have to start all over again.

    I've had enough time to get used the fact that my clothes just don't fit anymore, and I've built up enough of a wardrobe in my current size that I'm starting to let go of the smaller stuff. I have a stack that I'm going to list on Smashion sometime this summer or fall, and others that I've already donated to local thrift stores.


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