Closet Skeletons

28/08/2012 13:21 BST | Updated 27/10/2012 10:12 BST

It's a funny experience, the Eminem thing. Clearing out your closet. The annual weeding out of the garments which have got too big, too small, too old, too young, too out of fashion...

'Does my bum look big in this?' you ask (or other stock phrase from the 'appearance opinion' phrasebook). You see the shadows of doubt clouding in.

'Well,' he replies, with a growing smirk of satisfaction and, just possibly, a tiny little bit of revenge for a few recent jokes about hairlines or ageing, 'it's not so much that your bum looks big. It's more that you look as though you should be sitting on a saddle, but the saddle has somehow got trapped inside the trousers.' You stomp off, outraged and half-laughing, thinking sadly of how all those models looked so good in that style, and yet you look as though your hips have swallowed a saddle. You try again.

'Um well, dear... it's kind of... you've not got fat legs, ok? You really haven't. But they look a little bit like a string of sausages in those jeans.'

And when it comes to retro-chic:

'You see, dear, with those kind of retro things... you kind of... you get (and you detect his sudden and complete satisfaction as he suddenly cuts the hedges and fillers with the same confidence he applies to the garden) - you get to an age when it doesn't look retro. You just look old. And with those on, you look... older. Than you are. Than you normally look. You see what I mean?'

Oh, you see what he means all right, and what he means results in you carting so much stuff off to the charity shop that you end up feeling clothes shopping should be tax-deductable. Except that, as the three bags of unflattering garments which seem to have the same effect on your frame as the Hall of Mirrors in the local amusement arcade, turn out to be so heavy that Husband ends up carrying the bags into the charity shop from the car, joking flirtatiously with the ladies who run the place, and returning to the car with a satisfied and rather guilty grin which makes you realise that the joking has been at your expense. Quite literally, in fact: 'Darling,' he says, 'it's days like today that make me realise all over again that the secret of a happy marriage is separate bank accounts.'

But it's not as simple as that. A hall of mirrors has materialised in the single mirror on the front of your wardrobe, offering up a hundred different versions of yourself. And it's not just those jokey comments about your hips, because the bathroom scales and the size labels show that you haven't actually internalised a saddle or turned into something last seen on a barbecue. It's not just those 'what was I thinking?' moments when you couldn't face the rigours of the fitting room or the figure-assessing scrutiny of that size zero assistant. It's the times you thought you looked ok - nice, even - and now you wonder... why didn't someone tell me that I looked ten years older or six pounds heavier? Were they happy to see me engage in a fashion car-crash or was it worse - was I actually fashion tumbleweed? So invisible that no-one even noticed? 'What was I thinking?' drifts through 'What were they thinking?' to the despair of 'Was anyone thinking anything at all?'

We define ourselves daily by what we wear. You dress in a particular way for work; off-duty, you're faced with the challenge of being just you. And that's when it happens... the bewildering array of decisions and choices and definitions. And just as you're trying to make the right impression on the people who are judging you, they're probably trying to make an impression on you and on one another as well, and you're back in the hall of mirrors as the whole artifice of outward image perpetuates and repeats itself in a series of everlasting reflections.

We've all got closet skeletons. You might think they're just those impetuous sale purchases, where you didn't think for long enough, intimidated by the crowds, about why that style or that colour didn't sell. The real skeletons, though, lurking in the dust at the back of all our closets and cowering, scared, beneath the fronts of costume and artifice we try on for one another every day, are the rattling and bony insecurities which hold us upright in front of one another. The structures of fear which underpin the artifice of the outward images which we present to one another every day, in the hope of being visible, or of being seen, in some kind of positive way, as who we'd like to think we are.