Every once in awhile, I see a mention of frowsy stay-at-home mothers. You know the ones. With the yoga pants and the oversize t-shirts and the perpetual ponytail. Complete with an assumption that they don't care about themselves, that they don't respect their vocation, that they must have terrible self esteem.
Every time I read those, I get all up in arms. Because they are talking about me. Tattered, ill-fitting jeans? Check. Husband's shirt? Check. Ponytail? Always, always check.
But the thing is, I like myself fine. I love my vocation. I'm pretty happy about life in general. I just can't make myself care about clothes.
When I was a kid, my mom considered me a "fashionista." I liked putting together weird outfits. I am not exactly sure when I grew out of that phase. Maybe it was when I finally went to school and got bullied over the clothes I had thought were nice. Or just the well-meaning friends who were always, always trying to give me a makeover. I appreciated the thought, but at the same time I would think, "Why is it always me who gets the makeover? Is there something wrong with the way I look?"
Right before I left for boarding school, I had a style. It was rather awful, but I was thirteen and I'm pretty sure everyone's style is awful at thirteen. My favorite outfits included:
*the confidence outfit, which I wore if I was feeling shy: giant cream-colored skirt down to the floor, prairie boots, and a sleeveless button-down lavender blouse
*the medieval outfit: loose white pants tucked into slouchy black boots, a large yellow shirt belted at the waist with a thick black belt
*the homey outfit: knee-length jean skirt, white silk undershirt, open flannel shirt
Yeah. I was pretty funny-looking. But I was homeschooled at the time and was really enjoying being able to wear what I liked instead of what would be accepted by everyone else.
I had to have eight outfits for boarding school, and they all had to be skirts or dresses. That was fine by me, because I liked them better anyway. I went shopping at my favorite store (Goodwill) and borrowed some clothes from my mom. I am positive I looked pretty ridiculous in some of those clothes, but I loved the way I looked and I had a level of confidence in my clothes that I haven't had since.
As soon as the summer program was over and I had decided to stay, one of the consecrated took some time with me to go through my closet. She wanted to make sure I was looking like a real "Woman of the Kingdom." Well, it didn't go very well. She made a few quips and chuckled a bit over my clothes, and I laughed along in a sort of embarrassed way, because yeah, now that she mentioned it, my clothes were kind of ridiculous. Even the "confidence skirt." So silly that I had ever felt confident in that. Now that she mentioned it, I could clearly see that I looked like a bag lady in it and that everyone had always thought so.
So I agreed to let them send all my clothes to the Salvation Army. (My mom was furious of course, because half the stuff was hers -- I hadn't thought of that.) And then this consecrated woman took me "shopping" in the little room in the basement where they had some good clothes. Some of the outfits I loved. Some I really didn't like (oh, olive green corduroy jumper, how I don't miss you!). But I accepted all of her choices and that was just what I wore. After I got sent home, I pretty much kept wearing the same things until I left for college.
Since then, I've just hated having to choose clothes. I hate shopping for them, I hate spending money on them, I hate trying to make them into outfits. I don't have much of a fashion sense, and I don't trust what little I do have. When I really take some effort and put things together that I like, I feel great -- for about half an hour. Then I start doubting myself and feeling like I've taken a horrible risk and probably everyone thinks I look like a doofus.
So I get advice from friends, and basically never go shopping alone. But that carries its own risk, because if I'm not careful I end up going home with stuff I don't like. And then I never wear it because it's not comfortable or it feels like a costume, like I'm dressed up as someone else.
I feel like I ought to dress up more. I should care how I look. Every time anyone gives me clothes advice, I feel like what they're really saying is, "Have a little pride in how you look. Dress up. Stop being such a slob." But why should I care how I look?
I mean, am I dressing to impress strangers? Why do I care what strangers think? How often do I even see strangers? I leave the house maybe twice a week. And are these total strangers really judging me because I'm in jeans? I usually have on a clean shirt, so why should they care?
Or am I dressing up to impress my friends? Pretty sure my friends know what I look like. And if I'm still on the level that I feel like I have to dress up for their approval ... I just don't know if we're really friends. I dress up so professors, bosses, etc., don't judge me, but I don't have those anymore. I find it really freeing to know that I really don't have to impress anyone I don't want to impress.
Am I dressing up for my husband? That's what people say, but the reality is that my husband really doesn't care what I wear. Really. Truly. He prefers it if I don't wear makeup and if I keep my hair long, which I do, but other than that he barely notices. If he had his way, he'd never wear anything but sweatpants. If I had my way, I'd go naked. Really. It's more comfortable and I really think the human body is much prettier than anything we put on it. But Adam and Eve just had to eat that apple, so here we are.
I do like the argument, "Well, you dress up so that people will know you care." And that's a nice thought. I want people to know I care. But what, exactly, is the caring thing to wear? What I think looks nice, or what they think looks nice? And how am I to know either one of those? And if I just wear what everyone else agrees is nice, am I going to feel like I'm walking around in someone else's ill-fitting skin?
Today I went shopping. I went with a friend, but I tried to get clear in my mind what I wanted so I didn't get anything I didn't like. I got some jeans with an embroidered flower on them, which are awesome, and a dress which I think I like. Not quite sure. And yes, having a flower on my jeans does make me feel better about life, just a smidge. I like the thought that I might meet new people in these jeans and that they would know this tiny detail about me right off, that I'm the sort of person who would wear a flower on my jeans. Though maybe I'm expecting too much, because I never notice what people are wearing.
I just feel kind of dysfunctional, as a female who doesn't care about clothes. Was my fashion sense stunted by childhood traumas? Or did I never really have one? Because nine days out of ten, since I can remember, I just grabbed stuff out of a drawer and put in on. I liked having a uniform. It was one less thing to think about. These days, I just grab what's closest. If I know I'm going to be going out, I try to make an effort to wear a shirt that actually belongs to me. I envy men everywhere their ability to wear the same basic uniform almost every day. A man in khakis and a polo shirt is rarely out of place anywhere.
Is something wrong with me? What's the solution -- to get with the program, somehow find myself some nice clothes and force myself to wear them daily? (Plus actually buy new ones when I've worn out the old ones, which is the worst of it ... if I actually find something I like, I wear it to tatters because I know I'll never find something else just like it.) Or should I let go of what people think I should wear, and just be a slob if I feel like it ... and also maybe a little funky if I feel like it?
What would you wear if you had no one to impress?