Jane Austen Is A Hot Mess & So Am I


A very long time ago, on a hot summer day, Jane Austen put ink to paper and announced she was a hot mess. Naturally, Jane was a little more Austenesque with her language. She actually wrote, “What dreadful weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.”

If the summer of ’22 has taught us anything, it’s that we have all been forced into inelegance to varying degrees, in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. From extreme heat to record droughts to wild weather, inelegance seems to be more than continual. It’s normal.

When it comes to gardening, South Florida doesn’t provide many options. Standing still or moving about, I’m a hot mess. Still, when I discovered this quote, I couldn’t help but think Jane had captured my essence. It’s as if she actually witnessed me mowing my South Florida lawn in my elastic-less bathing suit, sweat-stained t-shirt, worn wide-brimmed hat, and grassy bits. I could actually hear her say, “My word! That man is a hot mess, figuratively and literally.”

When it comes to my clothes, I have a sort of filing system. My closet, for example, is reserved for the fancy outfits. In my case, that’s button-down, collared shirts and long pants. In my dresser, I have a drawer dedicated to cargo shorts and nicer plaids and solids without all of the pockets. Another drawer is for graphic t-shirts. As these clothes become frayed or stained, they’re moved to the bottom drawer.

The bottom drawer is for my gardening clothes. It’s the final drawer before my clothes become the final straw and find an afterlife as garage rags — and it’s packed with shorts and bathing suits, assorted tees and golf shirts that are far beyond their faded glory days. Some people would say they’re tattered and torn. I prefer to think of them as comfortable and lived in — or, to paraphrase a horse-riding expression from my sister-in-law, Donna, my gardening clothes have been worn hard and put away wet.

After keeping socially distant during the COVID years, I found my filing system falling apart as quickly as some of my gardening clothes. For the past two years, I have essentially worn the same two shorts, bathing suit, and handful golf shirts and t-shirts. Naturally, seams and collars have frayed, while the actual fabric has — shall we say? — opened up.

It was now impossible for these clothes to step out into the world. They were, though, perfectly fine for gardening. They had to be moved to the drawer of last resorts.

The bottom drawer, though, was packed with clothes in even worse shape. There were holy (not in the religious sense) t-shirts, shorts with tears along the inseam or just under the pockets and legs with threads unraveling. One pair not only lost the button to keep them closed, but the zipper kept slipping down. These were the shipwreck survivor clothes I wore in front of my neighbors — which probably explains their looks of amazement when they saw me dressed in clothes that actually clothe.

The final straw was my flowery bathing suit. Nine times out of ten, I garden while wearing a cheap bathing suit so I can quickly jump in the pool, cool off, and get back to work. One day, while mowing the lawn, I walked too close to the saw-toothed edge of a bromeliad leaf.

My flowery bathing suit shredded, as if I had just had a garden encounter with Wolverine. Thankfully, the netting underneath remained intact — which is why I threw caution and propriety to the wind and continued with my mowing, flesh and netting peeking out with each step.

At that moment, I out-ineleganced Jane Austen.

Yes, it was time to tackle the project I had been putting off for a rainy day, a project I had ignored on rainy days. It was time to clean house, or at least the bottom drawer, and make room for the Great Clothing Shift.

Going through the bottom drawer was a bit like an archaeological dig. Normally, I wear only the items on top. I very rarely dig deeper. Once through the top stratum, I re-discovered clothing treasures from years (decades) gone by, shirts stained with paints of the past, and waist sizes I hadn’t seen in a long time.

I don’t consider myself a hoarder, but how did I manage to not get rid of ratty clothing while making rattier replacements? I think a large part of the answer is frugality. Once a short or shirt could no longer be worn in proper company, I would tell myself, “It’s still good for gardening or painting. I’m sure I could squeeze a few more wearings out of it.”

I also wondered if it had to do with genetics. Growing up, my father held onto a flannel shirt, one with hunters and dogs and ducks, for way too long. For the longest time — literally, the longest time — that shirt was the butt of family jokes. It was a legendary shirt, a king among shirts — and that fact was driven home when a near-identical flannel replacement joined his closet. A flannel dynasty was born.

As I continued my journey through the layers, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least, I told myself, I didn’t have my own clothing dynasty. That’s when I discovered the mother lode — three pairs of stone-colored cargo shorts.

Naturally, the oldest — and my favorite shorts of all-time — was in the worst shape. I loved those shorts — and over the years, I was able to find two other similar replacements (three, if you count the pair sitting in the wearable drawer).

In my world, no matter what the stylists and fashionistas say, every wardrobe should include a pair of stone-colored cargo shorts. It has pockets and it’s a neutral color that goes with every single fancy shirt in my closet and t-shirt in the graphic-t drawer.

That’s not pride and prejudice talking. That’s just sense and sensibility.

24 thoughts on “Jane Austen Is A Hot Mess & So Am I

  1. Kevin, you are fortunate to garden in shorts. Here in central VA, I must don long pants and long-sleeved shirts, sprayed with pyrethrin to enter the garden during growing season! Although zone 7A, the high heat and humidity create the perfect storm for biting insects. At this writing, mosquitoes are everywhere. I think that they thrive in the neighbor’s nearby unkempt woods. And they love to bit me! The smaller they are, the more toxic their bite!

    As for the defunct wardrobe…did you know that Goodwill collects textiles for recycling? I have a large Ikea tote sitting in my living room, that I am slowly filling. The one item I will miss the most is an old Patagonia flannel shirt that came apart at the collar, and refused to hold mending tape.I thought that Patagonia items never died. At least if the old stuff gets shredded and recycled, we can hope our waste becomes reborn.
    Just like me, parts wear out and must be replaced…and I find garden replacements at TJ Maxx.

    Too bad my inevitable hip replacement requires a big chunk of my time/life to replace! If I had a pool, perhaps I could wash that away.

    Take care, and keep cool. Diane

    • Hi Diane… I’m so sorry to hear of the hip replacement. I know that’s a long recovery journey — and as much as the replacement helps, it does mean some limitations. (At least, that’s what I’ve learned from family members who have gone through it.) I’m no stranger to mosquitoes and Goodwill. I’ve donated my share of blood to the bugs and clothes to Goodwill and other assorted charities in my area. In my case, winter clothes and professional clothes (now that I’m retired) have been donated. I did, though, had to chuckle with your mention of long pants. In my bottom drawer, I do have a pair of jeans, which I saved for cooler weather winter gardening. I’ve never worn them. It never, ever gets that cold — although long sleeve shirts do make nice light cover for winter mornings and evenings here. Be well!

      • Kevin. Oh, how nice it would be to wear shorts outdoors during summer! Not here in biting bug central VA. Despite whatever hot/humid weather we have here, I must wear light but long pants/shirts whenever I go out to do any chores during the summer! Since I don’t apply repellents to my skin, clothes that I can spray is the only remedy. So I find lightweight, clearance pants with elastic ankles and wear men’s long sleeved cotton shirts and flip up the collar. No spontaneous runs to the garden for moi!
        Needless to say, I spend my summers indoors enjoying the garden views from my buggless AC interiors. Too bad there is not a perfect place to reside on this planet, and it appears Fla weather is coming to VA.
        Beam me up Scottie. D.

    • Diane, I feel your pain – or more accurately, itch!!! I too must garden in long pants (with elastic at the ankles) and long sleeve shirt (Coolibar, SPF50) all year long here on Long Island which is zone 7a and humid, just like you. I am a mosquito’s favorite food, in preference to any other human in the vicinity. Just the other day I ordered a gardening hat with a built-in (pull down or tuck up and and away) bug net because with my legs, arms, feet, and hands all covered, they go for my face and neck. I forever curse whoever brought the Asian Tiger Mosquito into this country….! 😡

      • Yes, I seem to be doing more cursing in the garden this year…especially when I am on hands and knees in July/August pulling out the dastardly spotted spurge in my gravel paths! Even Preen applications do not phase the stuff!

      • Diane — I feel your pain. One day of weeding can put me out of commission for days. I’m having to give myself pep talks, like a coach at halftime in the locker room. 🙂

      • M’Lady — I remember the mosquitoes on LI. Sadly, they love Florida, too. Here, they also carry dengue fever and zika virus. As a result, we have to be extra vigilant about getting rid of standing water. Be well.

  2. “Vanity and pride are different things though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” Jane Austen
    Wear those rags proudly, my friend!

    • Hello Michele… excellent point. I do love my rags… it’s the body parts that ooze and slip and peek out of the openings that I’m wary of. There’s no room for wardrobe malfunctions where thorns are concerned.

  3. Kevin, you had me laughing out loud as you described your “archeological dig” in closets, cupboards and drawers. I can readily understand holding on to favorites even found in tatters when the goal is to eventually utilize them as gardening clothes, but it does sound like you got a little carried away. I absolutely adore the Jane Austen references. I think she would have found your attire very amusing. 🙂

    • Hello Debra. I’m not sure Miss Austen would be amused. Blushing? Yes. Amused? Perhaps a giggle behind her hand. I do have a few t-shirts that will never, ever be tossed. Their rolled up and placed in the rear of my t-short drawer. They’re from when a dance club I used to go to when I was 20. One of those influential, coming-of-age places for me. I don’t dare put them on. I’m afraid the age of the fabric and my middle-aged girth may disintegrate them. Still, they bring me back to a time and place — and I love them for that.

      • Kevin, I have a Bruce Springsteen tank top from one of his ’90’s concerts (collectible) that I should send to you. Tunnel of Love I think. Never worn but a size small. 😉

      • I think it’s great you’ve held onto some of those items of clothing that connect you to another time and place. I have never stopped thinking about some tie-dyed bell bottoms that I wore in the early ’70s. I couldn’t wear them again under any stretch of imagination, but I still wish I had them! My granddaughters would be so amused, as would I! 🙂

      • Debra — you have to find at least one pair in a thrift store — or do a tie-dye project with your granddaughters. You may not be able to wear them, but imagine how they would look under glass and framed… or even some tie-dyed outfits for your granddaughters, made with grandma’s love.

  4. Ha! I, too, have practically lived in my “farm clothes” these past few years, but mine were in the second drawer so that I could save all my squats for the garden.
    I just went through my clothes a few days ago myself and…now my bottom three drawers are entirely empty. I’m not sure what it means, but I rather like the openness to possibilities.

    • Hi PD. Hmmm. Now that you mention squats, I may have to shift my work clothes up a few drawers. My body is making a lot more noises these days, so squatting is a bit like the sounds coming from an old house. I found a stash of graphic t-shirts that I collected when I was in a bagpipe band in NY. Since I’m no longer in a band, I’ve pulled them out and added them to my casual, everyday wear. Someday, they’ll make a fine addition to the garden drawer. 🙂

      • Ah, yes — the bagpipes. I started playing about twelve years ago, when we lived on LI. I was in a band there — and it was great! Free lessons and a uniform — and all I had to do was commit time for practice and parades. When we moved to Florida, I joined a band down here, but it wasn’t the same. It was also way too hot to wear a wool kilt and play. Now, my pipes are in their case until winter — and I’m no longer in a band. How Bagpipes Changed My Life

      • What a great post! I even learned a bit of trivia: that ghillies means shoes. Until now, I always thought that ghillies were either camo suits worn for paintball (don’t ask!) or Scottish gamekeepers (a la ‘Monarch of the Glen’) ! 🙂

  5. What a shame you’re not a painter ( I hesitate to use the word artist which conjures up someone well known). Many of my old clothes go to my husband for painting rags.
    I’m like you though, have been wearing very old things for the last two years and now find it a pain to get ‘dressed up’.

    • Jane!!! My paint stains are from painting walls, not canvasses. (Although, I’m toying with the idea of taking that up. I’m just not sure if I like the idea of painting or just having one of those portable easels to set up somewhere, a la Monet.) I also find dressing up is a pain. Fortunately, South Florida is very casual, so there’s no need to get all fancy — plus one season (hot) means one wardrobe. I do, though, have a drawer of sweaters for those just-in-case moments — and when I pull one out, I will be Mr. Fashion, circa 2012. 🙂

  6. Kevin, you have given me the best reading-laughs in a long time – Hilarious, but so true! One thing I have done over the years is to move away from keeping any clothes (other than what Jane Austen would have probably called ‘unmentionables’ or ‘smalls’) in drawers; everything, even the relatively few sweaters, are on hangers. I have a separate closet section for gardening clothes, of which there are about a dozen SPF50 shirts (ultraviolet is not my friend), an old pair of jeans, and two pair of Sloggers canvas gardening pants which of course were discontinued long ago. They are 20+ gardening-seasons old and still look like new. I suspect they stopped making them because nobody ever needed to buy replacements, LOL.

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