Getting Dressed – Part 1

The other day, I had kind of an epiphany about my clothes.

I have a bit of a confession to make first, and that’s that I really don’t know how to dress myself.  I think a lot of women (especially women who are not a size 2-4) think this about themselves, and with some it is true, some it is not, and with almost all of them it’s a negotiation.  Just like you have days when you feel good about your body and you have days when you can’t stop piling the self-criticisms on top of one another, so it goes with clothes.  That’s ok! Not every day has to be a home run in the body adornments department (or in the naked department either).  A lot of people tell me I dress well, but I don’t feel like I ought to accept the compliment.  A lot of people also tell me I have excellent t-shirts, and that compliment I will take gladly, because it’s true.

Exhibit A. Sadly, not available at Threadless at the moment.

Why the former but not the latter?  It’s probably because I’ve never really been able to completely dress the way I want to, though the road blocks I’ve been throwing up are largely self-created.  Ed. note: haha, “throwing up.” Also, I am typing this as I am writing the post. The root of this wardrobe blockage? Body issues, mostly. But, the reasoning behind why I look good in my clothes but don’t actually love or even like most of them? Well, I think I can blame What Not to Wear for that one.

Poor Mayim Bialik… I would feel that way too, wearing either of those outfits.

The stylists who run this show are right about a great deal of things: that you probably will look like shit if you feel like shit, that old habits (mental, physical, economical) are incredibly hard to break but sometimes worth breaking if you want to move on from a bad situation, that it’s always a good idea to take care of yourself in every way you can manage, that a good tailor is a godsend (if you can afford it), and that certain clothing shapes will work very well for certain “problematic” body types.  They are also wrong about a lot of other things: that every woman should be wearing high heels, that almost no women should be wearing skinny jeans, the whole concept of dressing someone as a “mom on the go,” the amount of make-up you actually need to wear every day, and the idea that if you don’t know what to do with your hair, you should probably just have it chopped off into a long bob.  I mean by “wrong” that they apply these rules with very broad brushstrokes, often covering up a lot of things that the women on this show seem to want.  They try to beat a lot of “unhealthy” behaviors out of people, often to good effect.  Wearing sweatpants all day, not brushing your hair/performing basic hygeine, and spending all your money or time thinking only about your kids, husband, job, ill family member, etc. are usually indicative of deep unhappiness that needs to be addressed in some way. I’m not saying that buying some pretty clothes can fix this, but “fake it to make it” does, to a certain extent, work.

But, but. A lot of their “fashion no-nos” are really just preferences that they push on people in usually the same way they push the concepts of self-care and representing yourself positively to the world around you. If a woman is only just starting to try to take care of herself a little better or indulging themselves in developing a sense of style, is it the best idea to push her towards these sort of outdated forms of fashion conformity?  What is “unhealthy” or “negative” about flats, well-fitting skinny jeans, little or no make-up apart from chapstick, and t-shirts?  If you legitimately think you look good in these things, or without these things, (and can dress appropriately when the occasion calls for fancy/professional dress), what does it matter?

So, What Not to Wear did teach me how to get out there and figure out what looked good on my body and what didn’t, but it also made me go into the world of “dressing well” thinking I need to wear a-line skirts, prim cardigans, fancy dresses, lots of patterns, accessories out my ears, scarves, high heels, wide-legged jeans, tons of jackets, and blouses.  So, up until probably last week, that is what I did!  Even though it’s always my least favorite thing the hosts of WNtW say to their clients, if something looked good on me, I bought it, even if I hated the pattern, color, the way I felt in it, etc.  I could say to myself in the mirror “I look good, and I think other people would think I look good in this,” but it still didn’t make me feel good to wear these things.  So, I would start off strong and wear one of these new-but-not-loved things for a few weeks, then slowly it would float to the bottom of the wardrobe rotation, then eventually out of it all together. I thought maybe I would come to love these things, because they made me look prettier, skinnier, whatever, but ultimately they bored me or just didn’t feel good to wear.

External appearance is very much about emotions to me.  If I feel good, I will look better, and if I love a piece of clothing, it will make me feel good and I will look better, and so on.  If I’m not entirely comfortable wearing something, for whatever reason, it will make me feel uncomfortable, and I will look uncomfortable and get whatever it off my body as soon as possible.

In real life, I decided to do a little experiment and look at my closet as it stands today.  To the right, I shoved everything I have in my closet that I love and wear on the regular.  In the middle I put a very few dresses that I love, but do not have the occasion to wear all that often (I mostly only get to wear them to weddings and such, or if I have a work event).  On the left I put things that, if I was being honest with myself, I would give to Good Will in a hot second, and probably feel much better about never seeing again.

Now, this is only my hanging stuff.  I do also like most of my jeans/shorts and a good 1/3 of my t-shirts.  I definitely need at least 1 pair of new jeans, since there’s a pair that died a long time ago, but I keep clinging to them.  I don’t even want to go into the amount of pajamas and work-out gear I have, but I do promise I don’t wear any of it anywhere but the gym/around the house.  I surprised myself by having a lot more “keepers” than I thought I would.  It might have been that the things I wanted to throw out were actually weighing kind of heavily in my mind… Anyway, the only day-to-day keepers I have on the right there are most of my cardigans, two skirts, two of the same dress in different colors, and a couple of other random pieces.  So, here’s what I ended up with.  I had quite a bit of fun with Photoshop:

There are, also, the exactly 2 winter sweaters I plan on hanging onto after last year.  One is a pretty gorgeous red button-back thin sweater and the second is an awesome zipper shoulder oatmealy-grey colored wool number on deep discount from J Crew.  As you can tell by my adjectives, I’m very attached to them.  A good sweater is hard to find (for my giant rack and short torso).

Anyway, I did this little experiment and started this kind of epic blog post because some part of my ego finally started listening to my id’s opinion on clothing and managed to get past my superego’s style choices and directly outlined for me what I actually want my closet to be filled with. That’s some Freud for your fashion sense, people, get into it.  What did Kid Id have to say?  Join us next time for “Where There’s a Frill, There’s No Way” or “A Fringe Too Far.”

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