Dressing for My Next Life

She used to be a couture-wearing fashion editor. Now she’s a suburban mom, taunted by a closet full of designer clothes.

By Lesley Jane Seymour

Farewell, FashionistaIf a Chanel blouse hangs in your closet but you no longer wear it, does it really exist? It’s not that the delicate little flower-print blouson I bought in the spring of 2005 isn’t still gorgeous; it is. And it’s not as if it didn’t serve its purpose. When I was editor-in-chief of a major fashion magazine, that blouse spent an entire season as my go-to look for high-powered business lunches. When I amortize that thousand-dollar (or more) blouse across all the times I wore it, it probably comes to about $10 a viewing — quite frugal in the high-fashion world.But last spring, I lost my job. While it was a deeply painful experience, it opened a door to a summer spent recuperating from international burnout. (I’d been out of the country 60 days a year.) It also gave me the chance to figure out, at 49, what I really want to do with the rest of my life. All summer long, that wisp of a Chanel blouse hung in my closet like some lonely, cast-off love, taunting me about my old corporate self every time I opened the door. "What are you going to do with me?" it sneered as I stood before it every morning with my just-washed hair (bliss: no more blow-drying) and bare face (super-bliss: no more makeup). "Are you going to move me into your ‘what-was-I-thinking closet’ next to that ghastly periwinkle blue shearling dress you bought at a sample sale? Or are you going to wear me again?"No wonder the first thing one of my friends said on hearing of my sudden lifestyle change was "But what about the clothes!" When I joined Vogue magazine as a lowly copywriter back in the 1980s, I always felt sartorially inadequate. I was the girl who had the perfect black outfit (shoulder pads and all), but the pantyhose were the wrong thickness or the shoes were too pedestrian. When I finally reached the top rung of the publishing business, I made it my goal to build the kind of professional wardrobe that could go anywhere in the world and look chic — and I did.So now what am I going to do with that closet full of empty suits?I know what the fashion gurus say: Just team that old Dolce & Gabbana jacket with a pair of your everyday jeans and voila: instant chic. But to make that work, you have to wear your tight, slenderizing jeans instead of your roomy, comfortable ones, and you have to add spike heels to give the look the right proportion; then you have to throw in the blown-dry hair and the makeup; then — well, you may as well be working full-time again. Plus, I honestly can’t see myself wearing my black leather Chanel motorcycle jacket with the multiple gold zippers to pick up a prescription. I’m fine with not being a fashion editor anymore, and I see no earthly reason to dress like one if I don’t have to. Been there, done that.Although I never thought it possible, it’s actually delightful to go from having more money than time to having more time than money. I love having this chance to reconnect with my kids. I even enjoy sitting in my yard watching the sun go down over the treetops. (I should have known I needed a change last March, when I sped down the Champs-Elysees in the back of a chauffeured car and never once looked up from my BlackBerry.) It’s a luxury to be able to say "yes" and not "hold on" when my daughter asks me to "com’ere" and see penguins dancing on some goofy Web site or to go shopping for yet another pair of shoes she doesn’t need. I’m relishing the beauty of the words last minute — a concept that had been expunged from my vocabulary (and my life) years ago. Last-minute lunches, last-minute beauty treatments, last-minute movies. And naps.So I’m calling this my gap year — you know, the one you’re supposed to take between college and work. I was such a type-A worker bee I threw myself onto Seventh Avenue the day after graduation and hammered away for 28 years, stopping only for two maternity leaves. Now I have the downtime I’ve always craved. How do I dress for that? It’s not like I’m never going to work again. When headhunters call and ask me what I’m looking for now, I say simply, "to have fun." And then I add: "I don’t want to get married again. I just want to date around." My private term for this is "project slut." And when I’m doing project work, my designer clothes will suit me just fine.

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