The Island of Lost Clothes

When you live your life eternally rummaging through a suitcase around the world, although you end up with an interesting collection of ticket stubs, post cards, knick-knacks and foreign hot sauce, you are also left with an astounding lack of clothing.

Most of my trips have encompassed a strapped-on backpack, not a rolling matching suitcase set, leaving me with no other options but to recycle clothing over and over again, mercilessly wearing them down until they have only two options to deal with their remaining shelf life – get abandoned or get lost.

Abandoning clothes at various airports throughout the world due to one too many holes, a lack of effectiveness of the sitting on a suitcase for those few extra inches of space, or simply the obvious end of an item never makes me feel guilty – instead, it makes me feel like I got my money’s worth and I actually made an economical purchase in buying something that I kept until its unfortunate end.

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Not everyone makes it through customs.

However, in my possession, besides the fact that most of what I own turns to dust, the rest of what I own simply disappears which does make me feel an insurmountable amount of guilt. Dresses, sandals, boots, shorts and tops all mysteriously vanish as they journey across the world with me, almost as if they decided all on their own that it was time to part ways and move on to a new, nameless owner.

There aren’t many things that are more frustrating than using time and effort shopping for clothing, spending hard-earned cash that could easily, and possibly more responsibly, been spent on food, and creating a place for it in an already minuscule closet only to have it evaporate into thin air and leave one forced to think back on trips weekends and weekends ago, wondering whose car or whose hotel room it could possibly be living in. I find myself constantly digging through my own laundry room, trying to remember the last time I’ve seen an item and questioning if the dryer is really eating things like I’ve always suspected.

Just today, I realized that a piece of clothing I brought with me on a weekend away was missing and I unapologetically harassed the concierge desk at the hotel asking if they had it stuffed in their lost and found. They seemed baffled that someone would call in for anything other than jewelry, wallets, car keys or other irreplaceable items, but for someone with limited time and money as myself, even this is good enough reason to inquire.

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Someone lost one two many t-shirts.

As I began to deal with the loss of yet another item, I began to really wonder where these things were ending up when I realized I was keeping my own island of lost clothes – things I had (embarrassingly) found or been given that had once  belonged to another. A tank top a friend found on the side of the road at Syracuse University, a red dress the same friend had stolen from a laundry room and sent to me, accompanied by a clever poem. A bracelet I found outside of a dining hall, a designer top an old employer had passed over to me after digging through her exceptional closet.

They were just faceless items, but like what I currently had in my own closet, I truly hoped that my past things had found new homes somewhere else on their own island of lost clothes. I hoped that someone had found them, probably a 14-year-old girl that fit into my stuff, and felt like she was having a pretty lucky day in the fact that she had just scored some nice thing for absolutely nothing.

Clothes are clothes and things are things – and they don’t carry real memories like we do. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have history. And I, for one, like to think my own things that have been left globetrotting about have quite the stories to share as they jump from closet to closet and country to country, soon to be left in the hands of yet another relentless traveler.

Travelista

All kinds of lifestyles inevitably bring forth different types of dress. You live in the South? You’re probably rocking some sun dresses and cowboy boots. You party in the city? I can guess you’re running around in bright, metallic shirts and skirts and high heels. You’re hanging at the beach? If you wear clothes at all, then it’s probably perfectly acceptable to stroll the street in your bikini.

And, fittingly, those who choose to roam the world have developed their own sense of style for themselves. It doesn’t usually consist of bright colors, any sort of elevated shoe, or jewelry that could attract a mugger. However, one thing it does do is notify the world that you’re in the road business for the long haul. Here are some key pieces to help you pick out those who don’t know where they’re sleeping tonight:

1. Crossbody bags, not purses. I don’t want to say “purse,” because the world “purse” in itself implies something cute and compact. Crossbody bags are great because for some reason, they never run out of space to stuff your water bottle, extra pair of underwear, and random piece of bread. Oddly enough, even though they probably cost under $10, they also tend to last years on years helping you tote around town.

2. Many, many elastic hair ties. Don’t let the name fool you- hair ties aren’t just for hair, although they are handy for when you suddenly decide to jump into that lake or need to take a run for your money, literally. However, they’re also pretty great for tying up your skirt, cinching a too-big shirt, and securing the tops of bottles. Who would have thought?

3. A most-likely stolen watch. For most rogue wanderers, a cell phone, especially an international one, is probably out of the question. There’s too many fees, too many risks, and let’s be honest here, it’s probably not going to make it home in the first place. However, a scratched up hand-me-down watch is perfect for blaming when you miss the train once again.

4. Shirts from the side of the road. One time I was making fun of my sister and calling her own style “hobo chic,” in which she confidently told me, “You found that shirt you’re wearing on the side of the road.” Actually, in truth, MY FRIEND found that shirt on the side of the road and gave it to me. This isn’t the point. Soft, worn clothes that have seen the world have character! Stories! Plus, when you fall in the dirt you won’t mind nearly as much.

5. Stacked jewelry, also most likely stolen. For some reason, even though stacked jewelry attracts muggers and thieves, wanderers love this junk. When running the world, we want to take something with us, and God knows we’re not taking a magnet. Instead, we buy something little and glittery, something that feels almost magical and can be carried without being carried.

When you’re on your next family vacation, take a look around. If you see someone wearing all of these things and looking a little soggy, chances are that right now, they’re already scoping out their next bed.

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Nomad Couture

“I don’t know anyone who breaks as many shoes as you do,” says my boyfriend, after I tell him that I broke my fourth pair of shoes this semester.

Which, may or may not be a valid observation. Studying abroad, aka traveling more than you most likely will travel in your entire life ever again within a three month timespan, takes a lot out of you, and a lot of out your… stuff. For example: I often find myself silently praying not that I have a safe flight or that the bus is on time, but instead that Please, PLEASE let my backpack make it, just one more week. That’s it. I promise I will stop drinking so much beer. 

And it doesn’t stop there with my backpack. Mostly, this applies for shoes, since those (and, come to think of it, basically everything I own) cost less than $20 and has the quality to reflect that. Not only do I just happen to break many things, but I also walk a lot and get lost a lot and lose my stuff a lot. SORRY OKAY!

Anyway, the great thing about studying abroad is even though you started accidentally dressing like a gypsy, you’re basically a nomad anyway so it’s kind of acceptable. (“This ten-year-old backpack is so handy.” “This shoes with these ginormous holes in them are so comfortable and it’s easier to tell when it’s raining.” “I love this big ugly jacket that some idiot must have accidentally left in the dumpster.”)

Now that I only have two pairs of shoes left when I came here with literally like ten, everyone keeps telling me that I have a great excuse to buy some nice Italian leather to take home. But what I’m really thinking is I could get myself a really nice steak with that money instead, and I’m gonna need the space in my suitcase that those shoes would have taken up since I plan on taking home a hell of a lot of four euro wine.

Also, this thought process makes you see that things are just that- things. Italian leather boots are still just a pile of leather you’ll be sick of in a few months, and a beautiful patterned jacket is just something you’ll need when it rains. Instead, the only thing fashion matters for when you have no money and no space in your suitcase is if your Facebook pictures will still look okay so all your friends can be jealous of all the fun you’re having.

So now, when my shoes break at the airport during the security check I’ll actually be glad, because this means I can take out my spare pair and that’s one less thing I’ll have to carry on my back. Will I still look like a crazy bag lady when I get back home and have my wonderful closet back? Probably not. But for now, it’s kind of nice to jump in the mud puddles, get soaked in the rain, and leave clothes in the hostel that you’ve been wearing for a week straight.