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Letting Go

You know them when you see them. They rock sweaters furrier than Steve Carell’s chest; “black” pants that come much closer to gray on the color wheel; and designer dresses so haggard the designer himself wouldn’t claim them. They’re the folks who just don’t know when to say goodbye — to their clothes.

“It’s all emotional attachment,” said Stacy London, co-host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and host of the upcoming “Fashionably Late with Stacy London.” “All the sudden, they’re blind and can’t see how ugly something is because it’s attached to a memory.”

Although London can be seen mercilessly shoving beloved garments into trash cans as owners passionately protest on “What Not to Wear,” the process behind the cameras is much less “tough love.”

Before items with particular sentiment see the Dumpsters, staff remove it from the owner’s possession for a week. If they feel life can continue after seven days without the dear garment, it heads to the landfills. If not, the owner reclaims their garment, but not without solemnly swearing to never let the item see the light of day.

According to London, as much as stylists would like to, “telling (someone) they’re stupid for holding onto something just falls outside the bounds of being helpful.”

Lindsay Burns, a local personal style specialist, has heard every story about holding onto a garment. “Some reasons are valid, but some just make you go, ‘Oh boy,’ ” she said. A few falling into the latter category include holding onto an old T-shirt because it smelled like a cologne the client couldn’t buy anymore; a pair of black, outdated jersey pants that the owner kept because of its resistance to cat hair; a hideous dress the client conceived two children in; and a pair of red, orange and white polka-dot bell bottoms the owner kept around because “everything eventually comes back in style.”

Burns lets clients keep the garments only their owners could love, but with a condition. “They have to put it in a bottom drawer, under their bed, in a nice hope chest. They just can’t keep it in their closet,” Burns said.

Jenna Doughton, local life stylist, maintains the same policy. Apparently storing a “don’t” item in a client’s closet is like filling a dieter’s pantry with Twinkies: far too much temptation. Doughton has noticed that the higher the price of the item in question, the harder it is to throw out. Add a tattered designer label to the mix and parting ways turns into “Sophie’s Choice.”

Louis Vuitton bags with lining falling out of them, coffee-stained Yves St. Laurent blouses — the client only sees the label, not the damage. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Donna Karan or Dolce (& Gabbana),” Doughton has to tell her clients, “You’re never going to wear it again!”

While sentiment and material cause the grasps to tighten, nothing can ignite a true tug-of-war like the glory days. A decorated letterman’s jacket from the early ’90s and shoulder-padded power suit never go out of style to the person still re-living those days in her head. Doughton had a client who kept finding a way to sneak a belt back into her closet after it had been purged several times. Although the client scored it at an arts festival in the ’80s and it resembled a chastity belt, she couldn’t let it go without a fight because the belt provided tangible evidence of the tiny waist she once had.

Regardless of the item, Doughton says there will undoubtedly be a story lurking behind it. If the defense can’t seem to rest, she allows clients to keep one item in their closets and one alone. “They can hold onto the most memorable piece,” she said, “but they can’t hold onto everything!”

Contact fashion reporter Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0477.

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