Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do the clothes make the mom?

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?


Enbrethiliel said...


Am I allowed to comment even if I'm not a mother? ;-)

If I had no one to impress (and a climate that permitted), I'd wear a cross between a novice's habit and a boarding school uniform. But with an A-line skirt because that cut flatters my figure and I do have some vanity. And yet I wouldn't want to have to think about it too hard, you know? The comparison to habits and uniforms is actually quite apt because I'd love to have five versions of it and to be able to wear it all the time.

Except when doing my workouts, of course. Then I'd wear baggy shirts and shorts. Or those sweatpants with a drawstring at the waist but no garter at the ankle.

On a disinterested note, it seems to me that mothers--especially if they're also full-time homemakers--already have so much on their plates that adding "dressing to impress" to the workload is extremely unreasonable . . . at least without sacrificing something else on the to-do list . . . or without delegating it to a stylist. =P

Sheila said...

Ah, so I'm not a total freak then, with my love for uniforms.

I actually knew a mother who invented what she called the "Our Lady Jumper" to wear every single day, intended to be like a nun's habit. But .... I just loathe jumpers, so I couldn't get behind the idea.

The thing is that most childcare workers who are not mothers also dress very casually. The reason for this being that child care is dirty work! And yes, it takes brain space as well, which is in short supply these days.

But if I say this, people say, "Oh, but there's Goodwill if you can't afford it! Or online shopping if you don't have the time! There's machine washable stuff for the mess!" And I suppose that *if it were really important to me,* I could dress up. It just doesn't happen to be one of my core values, and I don't like to waste time and money on something I don't find important... I could spend it all on gardening or baking, you know? Why do I have to prioritize something that isn't a priority to me?

The Sojourner said...

I have a distinct lack of caring about clothes too. Of course, up until a year and a half ago my mother had veto power on most of my fashion choices, so there's that. It's hard to find your own style when somebody else is well-intentioned-ly trying to get you to wear MORE COLORS. (I have figured out, through many laborious conversations with my fashion-conscious best friend, that I'm a "summer", which seems to mean that I look horrible in bright or dark colors. Which I knew. But now THE INTERNET is telling me to wear cool pastels all the time, and my mother can't argue with the internet, right?)

I currently have nobody to impress (I do some part-time babysitting, which as you mentioned calls for dressing down), and I bum around in knit skirts and various t-shirts that I accumulated at college. (Was that just me, or did everybody come out of college with about 20 school-themed t-shirts?)

If I had nobody to impress AND the ability to plan and purchase a wardrobe, I'd wear dark or neutral A-line skirts with very simple, relatively close-fitting blouses in cool pastel colors. (So, maybe a little more adorned than a t-shirt, but not by much. My figure doesn't wear froufrou well.)

The thing that most paralyzes me about wardrobes is how you make them FIT. I lost 35 pounds in the last 6 months (treating underlying health problems works better than dieting! WHO KNEW) and have no real idea where I'll end up, and then once I get there I wouldn't mind having a baby or two. (Or six or ten or whatever.) Unfortunately, from what I've heard, pregnancy involves MORE CLOTHES. And my husband is scrawny, so that narrows my wardrobe even more. :) (I'm not at all well-endowed and his t-shirts still look really scandalous on me, even when I'm thinner.)

In short: I feel your pain.

Sheila said...

Oh, yes, the constant size changes! Forgot to mention that. My first pregnancy, I was working, so I bought a lot of maternity clothes. Every day I faced agonizing decisions about what enoooormous clothes that I hated I was going to wear that day. The second one, I just wore the same elastic-waist jeans every day, and lots of my husband's shirts and sweatshirts. It made for a lot less angst. (He is skinny, too, but he has big shoulders, so he always wears large at least.)

Knit skirts are neat, they actually let you move normally the way most other skirts don't. (Giant skirts do, too, but I have been feeling claustrophobic in them lately. It doesn't help that kids try to climb up them or under them.)

We should make a club. The "stop trying to make me care about clothes" club. We will show up to meetings wearing whatever the heck we want.

Sugar Coater said...

Once upon a time, I had to be dressed up to go to work. I was in the public eye, and wore skirts and blouses, or slacks and sweaters and such. I was a clothes horse, and had a real SHOE problem. I loved to wear high heels and I wore them alot (still love them but can't stay in them very long).

When my job changed to computer repair and handling prisoners, my wardrobe went to jeans and sweaters, and good running/walking shoes.

Now that I'm (happily) retired, my wardrobe is jeans and sweatshirts or tees. Oh, and a lot of hooded sweatshirts in different colors. (because I like colors).

I wear what's comfortable for me, and don't particularly care if anyone likes it or not. Wear what is comfortable and functional to you, a mom with two youngsters. If that means skirts or sweats and your husband's shirts... well then so be it! :)

My motto has become "If you don't like what you see here, look somewhere ELSE." It's been very liberating. :)

Sheila said...

I should listen to you more. Someday I would like to have the guts to say the same!

Sugar Coater said...

And someday, you will. I was one to worry about how others saw me, not only because of my clothes, but my face, weight, everything. Then I realized they didn't deserve that power.

But did it ever take me a long time to get to this stage. It's my hope it doesn't take you as long as it took me. (I think by the time I got to the 'gutsy' stage about my looks, I was about 45!)

Anonymous said... one to impress? I think I'd live in flannel PJs and combat boots.

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