‘There’s No Going Back to the Way It Was’: Sarah Rutson Is Cleaning Out Her Closet for a Post-Lockdown Moment

Style Statement

Sarah Rutson once admitted to owning 500 pairs of heels. She was so synonymous with her stilettos, in fact, that she learned to run in them, and was known within fashion circles as “the girl born in heels.” Fast forward to 2020, and she informed me on a call from Los Angeles that she was wearing Birkenstocks. “I’m literally grounded in every sense of the word,” she said. “The heels really have stopped for me.”

Rutson built her wardrobe over 30 years as a buyer for Net-a-Porter and Lane Crawford—and, as she tells it, she “kept everything.” More importantly, she wore it all, too. “Clothes are there to be worn,” she said on our call. “I’ve always felt that my clothes have to be chameleon-like and adaptable, and when I moved to L.A., my life looked very different from the life I’d led for 27 years. And now with Covid, I’m not traveling at all. I’m working on Zoom calls, and I thought, you know what—there’s no going back to the way it was for me. I cannot see myself running around having multiple meetings a day for weeks and weeks on end with a wardrobe that needs to reflect that. I’m going to be sitting on a lot of Zooms, and having limited meetings with limited people,” she continued. “I’m not going to be walking around my house in a jacket and a pencil skirt. So I thought it was time to clear out the rest.”
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She sent much of her wardrobe to The RealReal, including dozens of pieces you’ll recognize from Phil Oh’s street style photos: a slashed Junya Watanabe biker cape, a red and navy striped Dries Van Noten blazer, a tropical-print Proenza Schouler skirt, an orange strapless Chloé dress by Phoebe Philo, tons of Alber Elbaz-era Lanvin runway pieces, and lots of sharp jackets by Givenchy, Sacai, and Haider Ackermann.

Many of those items are at least 10 years old, and to fashion obsessives, they’ve only become more iconic (and harder to find). They won’t be available on The RealReal for a few more weeks, but when Rutson teased the sale on Instagram, she was flooded with DMs from followers asking about sizes, how to secure a specific piece, or—the most popular question—whether she’d regret giving them up. “I never live with regret, and I’ve worn all of these pieces so many times,” she said. “I wore and wore and wore them—and for my real life, not just at fashion week. I still hung onto some precious things, but I would look at these clothes and feel sad because I wasn’t wearing them anymore. Clothes aren’t meant to be ghosts in a wardrobe.”

Rutson at the spring 2017 shows in Milan her Gucci skirt will be available on The RealReal.

Rutson’s particular gift as a buyer was understanding how an avant-garde runway piece might work in a real woman’s wardrobe, and that’s reflected in her own style. She never looks overdone, uncomfortable, or unlike herself; consider the Junya cape, which she styled with a simple black sweater, pajama pants, and oxfords back in 2015. Or a metallic pink heart-printed Gucci skirt, which she toned down with a crisp shirt and a striped cardigan around the waist in Milan in 2016 (the skirt will be on TRR, too). Rutson’s great hope is that the women who buy those pieces aren’t afraid to wear them the “right” way. “The number-one most-asked question I heard from customers was always, ‘how do I wear that?’” Rutson said. “My skill as a buyer was to show them how and make it real. Designers want their clothes to be worn by real women, not just fantasy women [on the runway]. Isn’t that the beauty of it?”Rutson and Lucy Yeomans at the fall 2016 shows in Milan Rutsons Preen coat and Rag  Bone suit will be available on The...

Whether you’re in the market for one of her Sacai jackets or not, Rutson’s message resonates in our post-lockdown reality. She wore, re-wore, and remixed her clothes constantly, and refused to buy something just for fashion week or for a single event. “I wish people would utilize their wardrobe more, and experiment with what they have,” she said. “Circular fashion and examining what you buy and how you buy should have been important before Covid, anyway. I think we need to be far more thoughtful.”Rutson at the spring 2017 shows her Proenza Schouler skirt will be available on The RealReal.