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Dressing Up

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Sometime in the fall of 2020, after working from home for several months and noting how infrequently I opened my closet, I got rid of a lot of my clothes. I’d been marinating in a shallow brine of streaming recommendations, an eye-opening blend of “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” and repeat viewings of “The True Cost,” a 2015 documentary about the ravages of fast fashion.

Very little in the wilds of my closet sparked joy; in fact, much of it sparked bewilderment and guilt. “What was she thinking?” I asked myself about myself, adding five of the same dress in different “fun” prints to the sell-or-donate pile. After I’d winnowed the inventory down to the things I still liked, I vowed to buy used clothes whenever possible. If I bought new clothes, they’d be durable and responsibly made.

It’s the in-between season now in the Northeast, when the temperature fluctuates by 20 degrees before lunch and people wander around murmuring “layers.” It’s the first fall since the closet culling that I’ve regularly gone to an office, and rather than finding my minimal wardrobe clarifying, it’s been challenging.

In a recent installment of her fashion advice column, my colleague Vanessa Friedman addressed a reader who had asked how many clothes a person truly needs. Vanessa cautioned against going “all Jack Reacher on your wardrobe, imitating the Lee Child hero who wears one outfit at a time until it gives out, then disposes of it and gets another so that he never has any clothing baggage.” I hadn’t quite taken my closet to this extreme, but it’s true that I’d supposed having a limited wardrobe would make getting dressed simpler, that it would make my newly resumed leaving-the-house routine less of a chore.

“Clothes feed our emotions and our imagination,” Vanessa continued. “And that can help get us through the day as much as clothes that function.” That balance between the emotional and the practical is one I hadn’t fully reckoned with. I had kept clothes that fit well and that I felt comfortable in, but while that solved the “getting dressed” portion of the day, it didn’t necessarily take care of the rest of it, the eight to 12 hours in which moods and conference room climates and audiences are constantly changing.

After my first week of being in the office more than being at home, I felt an itch to acquire clothes and shoes, to address any contingency that might arise. What if these shoes that were comfortable in the morning started to chafe by afternoon? What if I had plans after work that necessitated a change of costume? I found myself sympathizing with the old me, who’d stuffed her closet with joyless “just in case” clothes, insurance policies against being unprepared.

My colleague Guy Trebay spent a few afternoons recently observing the fashion on parade at Brookfield Place, an office complex and mall in Lower Manhattan. He found businessmen attired in crisp white shirts, slim-fitting suits and oxford shoes. Meanwhile, I’ve had several conversations with colleagues in the past couple of weeks about the virtues of the wildly popular Birkenstock Boston, a slip-on shoe that’s a door-knock away from a house scuff.

I think my wardrobe’s caught somewhere between the buttoned-up uniform and the comfort clog, between the clothes that serve a purpose and those that serve a vibe. How many clothes should a person have? Vanessa compares the question to Thomas Aquinas’s asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: an interesting question in theory, but impossible to answer definitively. I’m still figuring it out, trying to balance a desire for simplicity and responsible consumerism with emotional considerations. If you have any ideas for how to do this, let me know.

🍿 “Ticket to Paradise” (Friday): I’ve been hearing for a decade or more that the Hollywood romantic comedy is dead. Even if that’s true, there’s still something warmly appealing about seeing a couple of megawatt movie stars like George Clooney and Julia Roberts mix it up in one. Here, they play a divorced couple who must reunite — in Bali, no less! — to stop their daughter’s wedding.

📚 “Liberation Day” (Tuesday): Part of the reason that it was such a delight when George Saunders won the Booker Prize in 2017 for his novel “Lincoln in the Bardo” was because he is best known for his mastery of the short story. In his review of Saunders’s “at times difficult” new collection, Colin Barrett writes that the best stories are “as thought-provoking and resonant as a fan of Saunders might expect.”

Most of the olive oil cakes I bake are whisked together, one-bowl affairs. Samantha Seneviratne’s version, however, is a little more involved — and absolutely worth the extra effort. You beat the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer to get the correct, velvety texture for a cake with a complex, fruity flavor (from the olive oil) and an almost creamy moistness. You could bake it if you’re having friends over for a cozy autumn dinner this weekend — or even if you’re not. The olive oil in the batter helps leftovers keep well for days. Midweek snacking never tasted so good.

A selection of New York Times recipes is available to all readers. Please consider a Cooking subscription for full access.

Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs, N.F.L.: This is the best rivalry in football today. The last time the Chiefs and the Bills met, in the playoffs in January, they delivered one of the most thrilling games in recent memory, scoring a combined 25 in the last two minutes of regulation. Both teams are still great this season, with the highest-scoring offenses in the league. Their quarterbacks — Josh Allen for the Bills, Patrick Mahomes for the Chiefs — are both front-runners for M.V.P. Expect a great game this weekend, and hope that they meet again in the playoffs. 4:25 p.m. Eastern tomorrow on CBS.

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