Peeks into my Closet – From Karl’s Clothes to Vintage Flowers

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Let’s talk wardrobe. 

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My favorite garments have a story to tell. 

When I first saw this coat it was hanging in the window of a somewhat unremarkable second hand shop in my hometown in Germany. It was 1986. The color (haha) was perfect and I thought it would be great to wear with boots and black tights. I fell in love. This coat was meant for me.

When buying second hand clothing, a look at the label is crucial (just like when buying food these days). There are many garments that look wonderful, but feature some mystery fiber, which behaves unpredictably in the washing machine and requires one to keep a deodorant handy at all times.

A look at the label made me gasp, and my heart beat faster. Karl Lagerfeld, it said. OMG, I thought to myself, I’ll never be able to afford that. It was 50DM (Deutsche Mark), which would be roughly USD25 and the price was not negotiable. You’re going to laugh, but at the time it seemed so EXPENSIVE. I was 19 and didn’t have 50 Mark, but only 20 which I gave to the clerk. The coat stayed in the store for a whole other week.

I still wear this coat. It has been traveling and living with me for 25 years and will not retire anytime soon. Having a relationship with what I wear is important to me. I’ll spare you more background stories, but instead show you another one of my favorites:
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This skirt is made from recycled charcol and midnight blue suiting wool, pleated and patched with raw edged cotton squares. Here’s a close up, I thought it could inspire my friends who are playing with refashioning ideas?
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When I wear it, the skirt makes me resemble Mary Poppins, but as she was really cool, I don’t mind.

The coat below is by Carolina Herrera, bought at a local thrift shop not long ago for $1,50. (It was $3, but it was 50% off). Its a silk cotton blend, made in Italy and impeccably tailored. It fits like a glove:

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Last for now, here’s one of my “going-to-a-movie-in-summer” flower dresses:
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Here’s a word about labels… I really don’t care about them. What I do care about is that my clothes are well constructed, timeless, beautiful and inexpensive. They also shouldn’t fall apart after a year or two. The merchandise from most big department stores don’t meet these standards.  Admittedly there’s also the bargain hunter’s pride for a fantastic deal. Believe me, I also have many schmattes in my closet, which will be introduced at a later time.
I live in the country side (I just say Land’s End), so dressing up is not an everyday affair. My “weekday” attire looks more like this. It’s all jersey and stretchy and wonderfully comfortable with layers to spare for the unpredictable North East weather.

Why am I showing you all this second hand stuff from my closet? Because I’m doing a premature spring cleaning while waiting for a snow storm to hit. It’s nice to take stock and this is what I came up with: 70% is second hand, 10% is hand-sewn, 10% is store bought and new, the remaining 10% are gifts or hand-me-downs.

It helps that I live in a college town with an Ivy League school where students with lots of cash recycle fantastic, almost new clothes. Second hand or vintage shopping is my preferred source as there’s a limited, but special selection to choose from, which make even a Gap sweater seem one of a kind. It’s also usually a third of the original price (or less) and what’s not to like about that?

Now I’m curious, how does your closet look and where do your clothes come from?

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10 Responses to “Peeks into my Closet – From Karl’s Clothes to Vintage Flowers”

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  1. Leena says:

    The skirt is COOL! I want to fix same type of one for me, as well!!!

  2. Monica says:

    it always amazes me when I read these recycled stories because at barely 5 feet in height they NEVER carry petite sizes by designers only junk stuff. So when I read about great finds I know you must be at least 5ft 6" and thin. In other words a perfect fit for the size on the label.

  3. Jo says:

    great stories, thanks for sharing!
    My gran was a constant in my life until her death 2002. She was a seamstress who had the quickest hands in the universe (all that hand stitching…)and I spent my years before school sitting under her sewing table, looking through the 3 copies of Vogue's she could get in that small town in Lapland (this is the late 70's).
    My appreciation of clothes comes from knowing what goes into making a suit/dress/trousers that fit. I ALWAYS look at the tags, not the brand but the washing instructions, the manufacturing country and the fibres. Gran didn't like synthetics, neither do I!
    As a teenager my rebellion meant that I wanted the exact same clothes as my friends had, what an idiot I was. I'm still baffled by clothing that do not fit… I have all the party dresses and such that she made for me, I don't use them though.
    Nowadays I try to aim for natural fibres, classic cuts and endurance.

  4. Cathy says:

    Kathrin,

    Loved the peek into your closet. Just last week I was thinking about doing the same thing on my blog! Some of my favorite pieces in my closet are those that are uniquely made by the designer, whether it's a tunic sweater made from reclaimed sweaters, a wool top lined with hand silkscreened fabric, or a reclaimed black sweatshirt with machine embroidered art by the designer.

    Even though I love fashion and owned a clothing shop, I actually don't have a huge wardrobe. It just seems to make life a lot easier in the mornings.

  5. Sharon says:

    oh what a great great post kathrin! really good info and inspiration to take stock in what is in the closet….i have a very small wardrobe…i like to purge at least once each year. i too love to poke through a good thrift shop and though i have never scored a really good designer piece, i have picked up a couple eileen fisher pieces i love but would hate to pay full price for. i also really like tracey porter clothes…i don't currently own but one dress…black linen, i really need a couple more but can't find anything i love. living on a farm and not working away from home, i wear jeans for winter and linen capris for summer…big shirts, and layers, lots of layers! at this point in life, COMFORT is king…i am LOVIN' your wardrobe posts….keep them coming!

  6. Terri says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It was so much fun looking into your closet. I can't wait for more. What's in my closet? Hmmmm well, I do hold on to some pieces that sadly do not fit me anymore but I love them. These are jackets I used to wear when I worked in an office and some designer pants. I would love to find a fantastic designer piece at my thrift stores but have not. I still look though. I love shopping in thrift stores and am blessed that my sister gives me all her clothes she doesn't wear anymore. I still haven't answered your question though I realized. I have about three pairs of jeans I love to wear. They are all patched with pieces of fabric I love. I want to make myself some dresses to wear alone with tights or over pants. I also need more tops. I have a pile of favorite cotton tops that I want to refashion either by lengthening or doing some reverse applique ala Alabama Stitch. I hardly ever buy anything new because I love to find something wonderful in great condition at a great price!!! The feeling is awesome as you know. Plus I love to reinvent my clothes as well. I love, love what you did to the skirt. That coat you found is absolutely beautiful. I love the simplicity of the dress. Your everyday wear is perfect!!! : )

  7. Anonymous says:

    I love the expression "schmatte"! Today, I have to sort out quite a bit of schmattes at my day job… And your Carolina Herrera coat is stunning! What a find! (Karl's, too. Love the surface design of the weaving.)
    My closet is stuffed with a mixture made of second-hand retro pieces and "once new to me but now actually retro" pieces. And quite a few functional pieces, too, for cycling in the German "Grossstadtdschungel". If I buy, I try to get high quality (often organic) and carry the things really long. I certainly want to increase the amount of selfmade clothing. Second-hand and selfmade works pretty perfect for the kids, but still not so good with me.
    One of my favorites is a tweed suit made by the Islandic label spaksmannsspjarir. Wonderful women designing even better things.

    Have fun playing with light summer dresses, dreaming of a spring to come… Elke

  8. suse says:

    …die geschichte vom karl lagerfeld mantel ist wirklich wundervoll! wie gut, daß du ihn gekauft hast :-)

  9. veryberryhandmade says:

    I buy lots of clothes 2nd hand, but I haven't done as well as you.. what lovely things. Most of the 2nd hand clothes shops (that aren't proper vintage shops) here in the UK are known as charity shops, and shopping from them is commonly referred to as 'chazzing'. Horrible word…!

  10. Katie Bee says:

    I do love the peek in your closet! That coat is gorgeous and I cannot believe how little you paid for it…
    I'm turning (slowly but surely) into a secondhand wardrobe owner. Probably half my stuff now is bought secondhand, maybe ten percent (tops) bought brand new (and then always on mega clearance sale), and the rest gifts or things I've had for awhile. I'm always looking for ways to make things useful-or worthwhile place to give the things I don't wear and use, so my wardrobe is often changing…

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