On Clothing Taxonomies

by F.

I’m a sort of househusband and that means I do the laundry. Poorly.

There are a lot of rules around our house about the laundry, such as when to do it (between 9 AM and 3 PM when energy rates are lower); how to do it (that whole “darks don’t go with lights” thing that I’m still trying to get my mind around); and how to put it away. Of these, the last is the most difficult.

I don’t have any trouble putting my clothes away. I wear mostly T-shirts and shorts. I have a T-shirt stack and a shorts stack. Simple. Rather, I have trouble putting my wife’s clothes away. In fact, lest I put them in the wrong place, I usually don’t try. I wash, fold, and abandon them, usually on her dresser.

I don’t this solely because I’m lazy. It’s also that I can’t understand the classification scheme she uses. It rivals the well-known animal taxonomy described by Borges in his story The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which divided animals into the following categories:

  • those that belong to the Emperer
  • embalmed ones,
  • those that are trained,
  • suckling pigs,
  • mermaids,
  • fabulous ones,
  • stray dogs,
  • those included in the present classification,
  • those that tremble as if they were mad,
  • innumerable ones,
  • those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
  • others,
  • those that have just broken a flower vase,
  • those that from a long way off look like flies.

Recently, understandably tired of finding her clothes piled on the dresser, my wife educated me on her classification system. We went through a stack of recently washed clothes, top to bottom, and put each article away. As the article was placed in it’s proper place, my wife explained the categories, Linnaeus-like.

She picked up something black, with straps, and opened the dresser.

“Why is that going in there?” I asked.
“It’s a jog bra”
“Doesn’t that go with the underwear?”
“No. With exercise clothes. Here.” And she pointed to the right side of the lowest drawer.

She opened another drawer and put in some tights. They had their own special area.

“Don’t those go with socks?” I asked.
“Why would they go with socks?”
“I don’t know—Things That Go On Feet?”
“No, that doesn’t make sense.”

The we moved into the closet. She put some short pants on the shelf.

“Short pants go here,” she said, pointing at a stack of pants, all of which were knit.
“What about these?” I asked, holding up a knit pair.
“Those go in this stack.” She pointed at stack on an adjacent shelf, composed of short pants, none of which were knit.
“But these are knit?”
“But they are casual.”
“Ah.”

This went on for some time. Finally, we were done and I went into the other room, grabbed a notepad, and wrote down the classification scheme so I could, on the next laundry day, put everything away correctly. Here is what I came up with:

  • things with cups
  • short pants—casual
  • short pants—dressy
  • things with ventilated cotton panels
  • socks
  • white socks
  • nubby things
  • other
  • exercise clothes
  • pants with a smooth finish
  • sweaters smaller than size 2
  • sweaters with moth holes
  • shirts—nubby
  • lost and found

I think that just about covers it. I’m ready.

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