A closet catastrophe in search of style with comfort
I read Katherine’s post on dressing as a new mom with a tinge of guilt. Never a fashion plate, I took some meanhearted comments about baby weight heard when I was still pregnant too much to heart, and went far in the opposite direction of refusing to give a hoot about worrying over dressing well when I had a baby to keep alive, a career to also keep alive, and so on. “Getting dressed” didn’t mean very much more than changing from one set of comfy pajamas to the next, on harder days, and into cargo pants and tees on the easier ones.
There’s a happy medium between not caring about how you look and being obsessed with your appearance to the exclusion of all substantive things. My life fits in the middle, caring when it matters to me, and leaving it the rest of the time, but I’d left that by the wayside.
The casual nature of my job didn’t help. The SF-standard CEO in tee-shirts and flipflops isn’t just a stereotype! To make matters worse, I’m digging through a wardrobe that still has clothes dating back to 1999. Because I might go somewhere warm again, someday! And it still fits! And… no, that doesn’t mean I should still wear them. For someone who came from having very little, discarding things that still “work” is a hard notion to wrap my head around.
Now that I’m out walking more, dressing down and even sloppily is my camouflage, protection against the street harassment. I can’t walk across the street with LB alone without being harassed, and this isn’t one of the worst neighborhoods in town.
I’ll keep dressing in “ugly” camo for those jaunts because life is too busy to waste time wishing fiery deaths upon that worthless scum that catcalls, stalks and harasses women on the street. For the rest of the time, though…
An essential part of being a professional, secondary to high performance, is presenting myself professionally.
It’s time to shape up. It’s never been easy to put together a wardrobe that looks professional but can be worn day to day. Like Cloud, I’ve never had lofty ambitions in the fashion arena. I don’t need to be fashionable, I need to be not frumpy. Finding where that coincides with my need for comfort and low maintenance level, is the challenge.
We’re not in a position to replace my entire wardrobe in one go, now that I’ve paid off Uncle Sam for the year, but I wouldn’t do anything without an action plan either.
First, the purge
I’m starting the process by ruthlessly digging out the sartorial deadweight.
Those old sweaters that I bought back when I was cold all the time and was just desperate for warmth, any warmth. Like a bear facing winter, I was adding layers with cardigans that did the job but nothing for my appearance. Same for the long sleeve shirts that are now too tight in the arms. PSA: Lifting a 25 lb weight between 1-6 hours a day will do something to your biceps. I’m guessing that Hulking out of my sleeves isn’t the current look. But whatever the look is, I like my blood circulating, thank you very much.
Pants are problematic. I’m staring down a pile of pants, they’re all a little bit off. Those jeans are 19 years old and look like it. These jeans are a breath too tight. The newest pair of jeans are too long and loose. The older jeans are tight but the right length. It feels like the best thing to do would be to toss all the oldest and start over but I can’t bring myself to do that. I don’t have a good replacement yet and I’ve learned the hard way not to go purging willy-nilly. As Donna and her commenters pointed out, ever so timely with this post, it’s not a good idea to go overboard. Then again, I have a bit of history with breaking my pants with new jobs. It’d be better to lose an old pair than new when I move on!
There are about a dozen geeky tees that I refuse to let go of. These have a place in my life but we need to do better. This has sparked the thought that I need to design a business casual line of geek-inspired clothing to replace the geeky tees that aren’t interview or boardroom ready. Would I be my only customer? I could live with that.
Next… I need help!
If I were tall and willowy and Gina Torres: everything she wore in the first few seasons of Suits, get in my closet! Kerry Washington’s styling in Scandal is also impeccable. If I were way cooler than I am, I’d be cool with the wardrobe for Maggie Q from Nikita. But not their shoes. I can’t do any of their heels.
Then again, none of their clothes are kid-friendly. I wore a nice blouse and slacks to a parent volunteer thing and came home with three kinds of fluids on me from kids who used my shoulder as a landing pad for their drippy faces. There’s always one kid who thinks I’m their person.
Naturally, I’m none of the above. I’m short, slim to the point of being skinny. My knees (and every other joint from the hips on down) are a no-heels-zone. They need support and cushion, it’s not optional. The ideal uniform is easy to put together, baby friendly, me-the-klutz friendly, and travel friendly.
If we still lived in the southern half of the state, this Polka Dot Silk Wrap Dress and this silk chain link print shift would be in my shopping cart just waiting for a great sale. But if 60 degrees doesn’t feel like freezing anymore, it’s still not warm, I don’t care what you say. I know you’re laughing at me, Canadians – I’m at peace with that.
In truly temperate weather, I’m in a cotton shirt, jeans or stretchy slacks, a draping light cardigan or sweater. I love my Bobeau fleece and Caslon drape neck zip cardigans. They don’t sell the zip cardigans anymore so I’m glad I gave into the temptation to buy it in both colors. In cold weather, I have one great winter coat but my ability to go from light to heavy layering is limited.
Shoes are typically flats or flipflops or sneakers. I’d love more classic styles but loafers and other similar shoes often look like clown shoes on me. Alternate suggestions?
In real life, I adore Jean’s and Kelly’s styles. Also Wendy’s. They’re even close to my body type. But as you can see, they’re far more polished, and oftentimes fancier, than I.
On second thought…
It turns out the act of writing this out is clarifying. When I started writing, it was mostly a mess. But I’m starting to see that my ideal style looks put-together and feels great to lounge and work in. That’s not impossible! Right?
My idea of matching colors is appalling, let’s get that out in the open right now. I think the general rule of thumb here is to remove all pieces that aren’t in a complementary color palette and restrict any new clothes to a simple color palette. Does anyone know how you do that?
I gravitate toward dark greens, blues, black. They’re easy, combined with white, though white is not awesome for me with an over-active child to chase and feed. Is tan and beige a good alternative? I really like the look of a crisp white blouse but probably that life isn’t for me.
Every so often, a bright color grabs my attention and I can’t resist. That’s one root of my current crisis. For example, I went wild and bought dark red slacks a while back. I like them but they seem to go with exactly one blouse. Like pantry cooking, people will helpfully suggest several combinations, but I currently own none of those other pieces!
That means I need a list of acceptable colors that would go with the basics that I already own. Ideally, I should be able to mix and match all tops and bottoms.
Now that I have a semblance of a game plan, I’m eager to start making this work.
Sidebar: Though we don’t dress each other, PiC and I share a similarly relaxed approach to style but it’s so much easier for him to look effortlessly business casual. Why is men’s clothing so much simpler?
:: What’s your style, how long did it take to refine? How did you figure out the color and the matching pieces thing? Who do you rely on for advice about this stuff?
:: The comment was “She still has ‘baby weight’. It’s been two years! I’d kill myself if I still had baby weight two years later.” I’m used to hearing horrible comments about women and their weight but that got my goat.