Privilege Blog

How To Replace A Closet Gremlin

Almost every one has one piece they wear all the time, unhappily. A sort of gremlin in the closet, always there, never welcome. Replacing it can have a big impact. Even casual or incidental clothing can make you feel as stylish as does a Prada dress, over the long term. But you’ve got to understand why you keep wearing your gremlins, as much as why you hate them.

What’s your closet gremlin? It could be the blouse that gaps, (but is the only one that works with the olive green jacket) those shoes that grate, (but they’re your only metallic heels) or an ugly Princeton sweatshirt that belongs to one of your kids (but it’s so comfortable!).

This is what I kept finding myself wearing to the grocery store, and for brisk walks through the neighborhood. People turned and looked, and I, having of course forgotten what I had on, thought “Oh you nice people noticing the middle-aged lady.” We are frequently invisible. Little known fact. However, my Whole Foods is in a college town, my neighborhood right next to said college town,  and I am flaunting a great big orange Princeton right across my chest. As the kids would say, “Duh!”

Princeton apparently chose these colors in deference to William of Orange. The Prince of Orange. Get it? A) I doubt he cared B) Students, professors and alumni have been blessed with orange and black gear for all eternity. It’s really ugly. It’s in your face. And, having been through the knuckle-biting misery that America calls the College Admissions Process, twice, I feel it’s unnecessary to wear this out and about during acceptance high season. (We will save for another day any discussion of the complex web of talent and privilege that constitutes higher education in America, shall we?)

So I wanted to upgrade. To find something that suits me better. 

Let’s deconstruct. I default to Ugly Sweatshirt because it’s comfortable. Any replacement would have to offer a 98% comfort equivalence, at minimum. (I calculated my tolerances with a protractor.) This constrained the replacement. Usually clothing suits you via either silhouette or color. Given the comfort requirements, I had no wiggle room in silhouette. Which left color.

And this sweater.

L.L. Bean’s Marled Cotton Sweater in Mid-Blue. Predictable? Yes. Trendy? No. Edgy? Not even close. But me and blue, what can I say? It does things for my eyes I can’t deny. Witness that old cashmere sweater. The Naracamicie shirt. At my age, when one’s hair and lips fade, you gotta celebrate any color you can find.

This sweater is not, in any absolute sense, the greatest in the universe. It’s cotton, which is good for California, but a little waxy, a little stiff. Hits just above my hip-bones, a little wider than I prefer. I’m long-waisted, this kind of fit is a body type hazard. But at $39.50, and in colors ranging from Amethyst to Foliage to Stone, it’s OK. Compared to the Ugly Sweatshirt, it’s a veritable ballgown. And does what it should.

Make the world more lovely, and less annoying, one step at a time. I’ve been surprised by the impact.

66 Responses

  1. Great colour for you Lisa! It looks very cozy…Lands End will last too…I have a raspberry cashmere sweater from them which is elderly but as new!

    I have an older brown cashmere cardi with orange edging detail….my favourite “gremlin” alas it is old and has a tiny hole at the back of the neck which is covered by my longer hair now :)

  2. The blue sweater is miles better than that black-and-orange monstrosity – Halloween colours! Gremlin indeed. Glad you’re ditching it. Mine? Mine is a lovely rose colour, my Aunt made it – well, she appliqued ‘Oklahoma’ on it. It’s a status symbol here in Newcastle England.

  3. The Young One’s school colors are black and orange, and he is the only one in the house who doesn’t seem to mind. :) But if you think wearing a Princeton sweatshirt in your West Coast college town is bad, don’t worry – we tend to wear University of Texas garb in an area where Ohio State reigns supreme. I understand the double-takes.

  4. I just gave to goodwill my lilly pink cashmere sweater with holes under one arm and a fruit stain (why so hard to get out those citrus fruit dribbles?)
    i hope someone loves it.

  5. If only we could refer to ours as ‘gremlins,’ but sadly, they are more like tragedies. We do like the Bean marled sweaters, there are a number we wear frequently, including that very blue. :)

  6. I’ll bet your eyes are very happy you have chosen this Jamaican Beach Blue replacement! I just hope the comfort of this said replacement can come close to the comfort of a sweatshirt, regardless of garish color.
    That is exactly the gremlin I possess, an old NAVY blue RALPH zip-up with red “man”. My all time favorite, hands down. It is discolored, raveling around the cuffs, and holey in several(many)places! My family cringes when I wear this but I haven’t found suitable replacement in the last two years!

  7. DOOOOOOOOOOOON’T get rid of it. I love the Pton sweatshirt and I can think of very few other institutions who produce people with so much pride to hail from the bespoke halls.

    The orange reminded me- Princeton would have been orange only but for the men’s rowing team. They were racing and for whatever reason, had to have two colors. Literally they stuck some sticks in the mud and put stripes on their racing t’s or knee socks (can’t recall which) thus birthing the orange and black TIGER stripes!



  8. the style game is all about negotiating between frump and fashion, no? :) besides, isn’t hermes all about making orange super chic? i think how you wear something can make a chic piece ugly, and the same applies in reverse. that llbean sweater looks like it’ll last you quite a while!

  9. Make the world more lovely, and less annoying, one step at a time. I’ve been surprised by the impact.

    That, coincidentally, has been my resolution since the beginning of the year. Sweetness and light.

    I’ve been somewhat more fortunate in my school colors–various combinations of maroon, white, and blue. Where I am now, unfortunately, everything is orange, with blue accents. I have a longstanding dislike of orange, and oddly enough, it has indirectly to do with William.

  10. Once one’s student years are past, when is it appropriate to wear college gear? I’ll make an exception for neckties, but do sweatshirts and hats have a role in the post college wardrobe, other than at football games or homecoming? Are the rules different for one, like myself, who practically still lives on campus?

  11. Oh, goodness–you read my mind! I am wearing my gremlin right now. I try not to leave the house in it, although I have been knowing to walk to the post office while wearing it.

    It is a chenille V-neck tunic sweater–incredibly warm and soft, and my favorite shade of teal. And yet. It is also by far the frumpiest single item in my closet.

    Time to replace it? I almost pitched it last spring, yet somehow it lingers from year to year.

  12. For me, a sweatshirt has to be replaced by something of sweatshirt material. I’ve bought a few things from James Perse, and am thrilled. So cozy. I’ve tried replacing sweatshirts with cotton sweaters, but it’s not the same – although that’s a really nice one.
    Another question – maybe a post? What do you think of recent trend of bell bottom jeans? Great for young girls, but I’m not sure about women in their 50’s….

  13. I am loving those blue shades. Very pretty. My Mom would prob like the color but want a more schnazzy looking shape. ha!

    I am currently facing the same problem – school colors being “Black and Yellow” aka Black and Lemon, formally. Having school spirit means wearing my go-to LBD too much and carrying a matching purse and gold accessories. Sounds lovely, but gets repetitive on occasion. Le sigh…

  14. I try to cull gremlins on a yearly basis, but it’s amazing how the can creep back in. Things that end up in the thrift store box never quite make it to the thrift store quick enough before I dive into that box to retrieve some hideous but comfortable garment.

    You have inspired me. Instead of just trying to weed out the gremlins, I need to find substitutes for them. And also stop procrastinating on taking the thrift store box away.

  15. OSU colors are also orange and black( which I have way too much of). Must have orange and black for game day( happily football season is over). And I wore my Pepperdine sweatshirt almost everyday for over a year when I was writing my thesis. It was my version of a thinking cap. I still have the Pepperdine sweatshirt in my closet and when I need a little extra brain power I will turn to this shlumpadinka garment. I just cannot bring myself to get rid of it. It has too much *power*.;-)

  16. I was struck by your comment about hair and lips fading and the benefits of color. I have found that whenever i wear a short orange trench (a pretty shade of orange), I ALWAYS get compliments about how great the color looks on me. Should be a lesson for sure.

    I’m sure you look great in the blue sweater–much better than in the Princeton sweatshirt.

  17. Ah those gremlins. I think I have addressed mine and another sneaks in behind my back. The blue is lovely and I can see how it would make your eyes sparkle. Sparkle is always good.

    Orange and black, best banished, but then I have associations with that. Orange and black, Princeton, William of Orange, my own protestant upbringing, the taint of the term “Scots-Irish” and my father’s, also a Princtonian and a historian, insistence that we wear orange on St. Patrick’s day as children to stand up for the Protestants and William of Orange. This long before we understood the significance or the history or the politics. The combination symbolized dread and painful pinching in my childhood rather than the fun of trick-or-treat. Could that have affected my own decision not to go to Princeton?

    I will admit I wore a Vassar sweatshirt for many years after graduating, until the school changed the colors from rose and gray to maroon and gray which still feels like a betrayal.

    1. Mardel, my goodness. That’s exactly why I hated St. Patrick’s Day as a child. Luckily I was never pinched, but I was the object of many uncomprehending stares (third-graders knew nothing of the Troubles or their origins, all of which were played out over and over in my family).

  18. Gremlins – the perfect term! I tell myself that when I’m comfortable, I’m more attractive, but sometimes I don’t trust my motives or my honesty. I need to think more about all you have said (and by the way, the blue sweater is really nice).

  19. Oh, I’ll bet that color is just lovely on you!

    A few years ago, biting my lip, I put the last of my folk dance event tee shirts into the donation pile. Memories, yes, but wearing them…no.

  20. Well, I vote for the comfy sweatshirt. Comfy sweatshirts rule!

    But the L.L. Bean sweater looks good, very good. In fact I think I’ll order one.

    I had no idea the Princeton orange had to do with William of Orange.

  21. the complex web of talent and privilege that constitutes higher education in America

    We watched “Trading Places” last night. The first time I saw it, I really didn’t get the skewering of those who might have their positions simply because of luck of birth, despite their lack of ability, but this time, it was pretty clear that John Landis is not a big fan of hereditary privilege. I would be interested in reading your take on the issue.

  22. Oh you have me thinking about so many things! Glad to see you out of the sweatshirt – but understand the appeal. My high school colors were gray and black – can you believe it?! Our motto should have been til death do we part. And don’t get me started on college admissions!! We will have to have this discussion another time – needless to say, I find it rather disheartening. I do alumni interviewing for another distinguished university and I have NEVER interviewed anyone who has been accepted. Those spots seem to go to the athletes. I interviewed a marvelous girl last night – probably best one ever and I will do my best but not getting my hopes up!

  23. I am the type of person who is always getting rid of old clothes to make room for the new. I do, however, have a few pieces I don’t wear, but refuse to get rid of. They’re my little gremlins. I also love my “comfy” pants, flannel pj pants. They don’t leave the house, but I wear them most nights.

    I like your new sweater. Very pretty color and it does look comfortable.

  24. I myself own the blue sweater. When I saw the picture of it in the catalog, it looked so soft. Oh, boy oh boy, was I wrong. I feel like I’m wearing rope.

  25. I like the blue sweater. And you’ve set me to wondering thinking about what I like to wear to schlub around. No sweatshirts, that’s for sure. Nor can I bring myself ever to wear running shoes unless I’m out for a walk. Otherwise, I have to wear “suitable footwear.” You know, because it wouldn’t do to be unsuitably-dressed at the supermarket.

    We WASPs (I don’t know if I’m a high WASP or just a fair-to-middling WASP, myself) don’t do comfy-schlumpy with ease, I don’t think. Maybe it’s because we’re trained up early with that “sense of occasion” thing?

    And yet there’s the East Coast Old Money look that I grew up around — think really high quality clothes loved to tatters and worn with no sense of irony at all. (Like the beaten-up Topsiders we all aspired to, with the sole held on with duct-tape. I kid you not.) In Newport, the understanding is that you can tell the new money types because everything they’ve got on is shiny-new and squeaky, in addition to expensive. Old money never has to try that hard. (And those of us who haven’t got any money? Another topic entirely.)

  26. Sweater should soften up when you wear it. Much better than sweatshirt. Sure you have thoughts to offer on people who wear gear from schools they cannot even locate.

    My gremlins are gym clothes. I’ll buy pretty yoga wear but my treadmill stuff is faded and disgusting. Thanks for pulling up my gym socks!

  27. Oh, I have more gremlins, gremlins that I always vow, in seeing my sad reflection in store front windows, to never wear again, but eventually do because of their lure of comfort. I just gave away some of my pregnancy gremlins (that have stayed with me as a new mom), so I am, at least, getting better.

    Oh, and I vote for the sweat shirt over the sweater, mainly because a sweat shirt does not attempt to convey anything else but one’s desire for comfort. :)

  28. I too have Gremlins…they are way too comfortable but I am slowly ridding my closet of them one at a time. Lululemon’s cute and stylish comfy clothes are helping as well. Try them.

  29. That is a *very* pretty blue.

    My personal philosophy on university wear, by the way, is never to be matchy-matchy. For instance, if I lived in Oberlin, I would never wear an Oberlin t-shirt. And I don’t even own anything with my own college’s name on it. So I think your Princeton sweatshirt in Cali is a perfect (mis)fit!

  30. Oh, Mardel and Staircase, I wore orange on St Patrick’s day, too, but it was my idea, not my parents’ doing! Besides, I had an orange jumper I really liked.
    Lisa, I banished my gremlins last year – some old knit dresses from Lands End. Frumpy, but so comfortable. I did keep one to cook in on “big dinner” days. The cotton is washable and warm enough for SoCal winters. But I should get rid of it, too.

  31. Since I have been trying to give up wearing the BC sweatshirt (daughter accepted to law school today!) I think I, too will go and order some LL Bean for my trips to Whole Foods and King Kullen.

  32. My gremlins are my two favorite pairs of Russell sweatpants, one pair black, the other navy. I wore them for three months when I was recovering from a broken foot. I got so used to them, that I can’t give them up. I really like that blue sweater. Do you think it would look good with my navy sweatpants?

  33. Hello,
    You have an amazing, lovely, meaningful blog that is delightful every single day! I thank you for sharing your pearls of wisdom and insight to making each day more delightful and inspirational! Please- keep up your good work!

  34. Odd to realize, but I lack gremlins. I have done/ do my decluttering so thoroughly,
    that I don´t have a single piece of clothes, that I could name a gremlin.
    Your blue sweaters is SO your color, that any small fault it might have, is unnoticeable : )

  35. We have some Princetown sweatshirts here too. Along with a zillion baseball sweatshirts, etc. And now I have you to thank for the fact I just bought that sweater in GREEN. : ) YOUR FAULT!!

  36. Oh how I love that description – I have a closet gremlin which is just so comfortable I can’t get rid of it… a huge and sloppy sweater with a HOLE in it too.. no, I dont wear it out but still… Not good.. I think your new blue sweater is good – its a step in the right direction Lisa and the colour fabulous.. But, tell me did you actually toss OUT the sweatshirt or is it still lurking?? XX

  37. Oh I have an ancient hoody that I really should get rid of. I look like a depressive slump in it but it’s so warm and cosy

  38. I agree with QueenBee–don’t throw it away! I think a college sweatshirt is great, and has its own peculiar preppy charm. Passing through Charlottesville on a football day last fall, I saw a very attractive lady of about 50 wearing a tucked-in white oxford with jeans and a gray Virginia sweatshirt tied around her shoulders. How can you argue with that? :)

  39. Hostess – Nice camouflage of the cardigan hole! I bet raspberry looks great on you.

    Shelley – Confession. I’m not ditching it, I just won’t wear it out of the house any more:). I am very impressed by your aunt’s efforts.

    Jan – Wearing UT in Ohio State country takes real gumption! The Young One will be getting some replacement colors, right?

    kate – I bet someone will love it – even if they only use the cashmere in crafts. Apparently there’s quite a cottage industry out there in repurposing cashmere for quilts, etc.

    TPP – Ha! Tragedies:). And I am quite pleased by the thought of you and I in matching sweaters.

  40. Deb u naunt – Jamaican Beach Blue. Just the thought of that makes me happy. The comfort is close enough that I don’t default to the sweatshirt to run out to the market any more:). Cashmere wouldn’t work, it had to be cotton.

    QBS – Oh I promise, I am keeping it. Just not inflicting it on anyone else:). I didn’t know that about the crew team, thank you!

    miss sophie – My friend at tells me that Kate Lanphear wears a Princeton sweatshirt sometimes, so, I suppose it would be possible for someone uber-chic to make this wearable:).

    Staircase Witch – Sweetness and light. Very nice. Indirectly to do with William? Piqued curiousity!

    DocP – Yes, it’s perfectly OK, just different ways in different places. I think I’ll write a post on just that question.

    Velma – Sounds like you just need to search the internets for another soft warm teal v-neck tunic.

  41. kathy – Oh I’ve got a James Perse sweatshirt peacoat that I wear a lot. I wonder if he makes a good pullover sweatshirt too? And bell bottoms, not so much, but good flared jean? Absolutely. The new trend for high-waisted flares? All depends on which ones and with what. I will think whether I’ve got insight, and keep a watch out for others who do.

    Worthy – Black and lemon:). Ha! I didn’t want a schnazzy shape, because I am too Sturdy for schnazz at the grocery store:).

    Ms. Bunny – That is really cute. The key is replacement – you can’t give something away if it fills a need.

    La Belette – Oh dear. I just have to wonder – were the people choosing orange and black sort of color blind:)? And I agree, garments with power can’t be discarded, only kept for magic in the stronghold.

    Susan – If you get compliments on orange – go thee and purchase more. This season it’s out there and that’s not always true.

    Mardel – Very interesting addition to my historical understanding. Thank you. Vassar had to switch when they went co-ed, right? Poor misunderstood pink:).

  42. Marsha – Thank you. It’s just a question of staying comfortable, but increasing the attractiveness at the same level of comfort. I can’t do without comfort, myself, either.

    Deja – Thank you. And I confess to still owning a tech tee or two:). They are for workouts…

    Susan – What color sweater do you like?

    class factotum – Hereditary privilege is the one that raises hackles, because other privilege is mostly earned reward. Yes, I can address it. Thank you.

    quintessence – Hahahahaha. Guess your high school officials weren’t feeling too festive? Good look for your candidate. And let’s hope the admissions crunch eases up as the mini-baby boom passes.

    Patsy – Aaack! Come to California, we’ll try again:).

  43. the blue sweater might look better, ok, it does look better but somehow I doubt it feels better. I love those huge cotton crew-neck-sweatshirts and never get along with the less annoying. Especially when they come like “hitting just above my hip-bones, a little wider than I prefer.” No way this can replace the huge gremlin. Does GAP sell simple sweatshirts? That would be my choice. A light blue or even a pastell PINK. :-)

  44. Princess Freckles – I have also kept pieces I don’t wear, just for memories. And comfy stuff I wear, but only in the house. Thank you.

    Julia – Ha! It is not soft. But the shape is forgiving enough and the color pretty enough that I don’t mind.

    Preppy 101 – :). I heart it too. What color are your Gremlins? Orange and white, right?

    Rubtiatona – You know, I can’t wear running shoes with jeans. They don’t “go.” Things in tatters, as along as they “go,” i.e. sailing tatters with sailing tatters, I can do. Odd. It probably is that sense of “appropriate.”

    Duchesse – I’m going to keep washing it. In the washing machine:). And if you get to the gym regularly, I’m in awe, no matter wha tyou wear.

    Jessica – Giving away pregnancy clothes is a big step. I hope it felt good.

  45. Jennifer – Yes! I have two pair of Lululemon yoga pants and I’m extremely fond of them. But I can’t mix sweaters and yoga pants…

    Miss Cavendish – Glad you like the color. And your Uni clothing theory is interesting. We should discuss…

    SewingLibrarian – Clearly someone ought to write about orange and childhood:). I don’t think you need to banish your cooking dress – it’s really an apron, not clothing per se:).

    Colleen – CONGRATULATIONS! Order up a whole bunch of sweaters.

    Tammy B – I wouldn’t mix sweaters and sweatpants. I’d look for a good sweatshirt to top off sweatshirts you aren’t ready to part with.

    Beth – Oh, that is so nice of you! I can’t tell you how much feeling I provide value matters.

  46. Mette – But of course. Of course you have no gremlins left. It’s what you have focused on so well.

    Twenty Four – I bet you look fantastic in the green! Pictures please!

    Sarah – Not tossing it. I wear it at home. And remember my cute pumpkin children. Just not inflicting my black and orange self on the random world any more.

    Tabitha – As long as you don’t go out, no one is the worse for it:).

    John – Not throwing it out. And that around-the-shoulders look IS classic.

    Paula – I don’t know, So far it’s working:). The color is so much better than I actually prefer to put it on than the sweatshirt, if I’m going out.

  47. This post is rather serendipitous, as I’ve been slowly culling such things (the schlumpies) from my wardrobe over the past year.

    I find that if I’m wearing a neat button-down or a tee in a magnificent color (burgundy, for me) while running errands or cooking in the evenings, I feel more energetic and efficient.

    Oh – my school colors are violet and white and the only piece of alum clothing I own is an ancient, ancient tee that I keep for nostalgia’s sake.

  48. p.s. my previous may have been my first post here! I have been reading along for a while now but never felt as though I had anything to contribute. I truly enjoy your take on things, and you write beautifully. Thanks for sharing your talents with us.

  49. Lisa, yes, Mardel nailed my problem with William. And I had no idea this practice was so widespread. An Irish-American identity is often a good deal more complex than is generally thought. (These days, I also have difficulty in wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s another story.)

  50. Hmm, Vassar was co-ed when I was there, though it was probably just as controversial with the women who felt it was too feminine. It took them 15 years to make the color transition. But I still like the idea of “The rose of sunlight breaking through the gray of women’s intellectual life” which was of course quite appropriate in the 1870s and perhaps less so in the 1980s. Actually I was at the college this morning and noted that rose has reappeared on the college hoodies; apparently what I call maroon they call “deep rose”, bowing to changing times and all that.

    I might order one of those LL Bean sweaters as well. There are a few of my husbands old sweatshirts that should really be eliminated from my arsenal of wardrobe choices.

  51. Oh, it’s so true. I made myself throw out my gray New York University sweatshirt when the cuffs started fraying…badly. But it was so comfy and made me invisible, except when I hung out with my glowering ex, who was cut from the NYU program we were in. Yes, how unthoughtful of me. But like you say, gremlins have a way of ingratiating themselves. Such a good idea for improving the day-to-day wardrobe. And I like your upgrade choice :)

    xo Mary Jo

  52. Oh no! I was being facetious about that sweater with my sweatpants. Heavens to Betsy! What you must think of me. I was only making fun of myself for my attachment to the sweatpants.

  53. Love this post. Finally a name for that minor irritant -clothes you don’t really like yet continually and repeatedly wear.

    As for the sweatshirt, I wouldn’t blame the color — orange can be fine, in context. I would blame the writing. I hate logos and writing on clothes. Just so 1983 to me.

  54. IMO – L.L. Bean has been taking a turn for the worse.

    That sweater used to be knitted up in a cotton/silk blend. I have several and I just love them. The silk gave it a little extra texture. It was still easy-care and I for one like that high-hip length. I’m afraid I never bought into the real low-waisted jeans look.

    Now they’ve dropped the silk blend and added that marl. I won’t be buying one until my old faithfuls in Thyme and Raspberry bite the dust!

  55. Marieanne – Welcome. And thank you. And we’ve all got tees of nostalgia in our drawers:).

    Susan – My pleasure. I bet you look great in navy!

    Staircase Witch – So interesting. I think the Irish-American world does get over-simplified.

    Mardel – Oh I thought it was all about going co-ed, or in preparation. Thanks for correcting me.

    Mary Jo – Thank you:). You know, we can always buy new alma mater gear. It can be so reassuring…

  56. Tammy – Ha! My profound apologies! I am just such an earnest sort that I do miss those kinds of nuance sometimes. Sturdy Gal failing:).

    Marieanne – I love it. Community.

    Elizabeth – Oh, thank you very much. Blame the writing. Ha. So 1983:).

    GingerB – I would have loved a cotton silk blend. As long as it remained washable. So much softer. I don’t mind the marl, but the stiffness I am hoping will abate.

  57. Hmm…you want to upgrade from Princeton, and like blue. How about a Yale sweatshirt? Just a suggestion.

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