Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Let's talk about fashion!

Once upon a time, I was thin and worked in a job that I had to dress up for but then nursing school happened and I gained weight along with a sloppy student wardrobe. As a nurse I wore scrubs every day and I gained more weight. Now, my nice wardrobe of yore is old and most of it doesn't fit but I have a job I have to dress up for. (Sort of.) Our dress code merely dictates no jeans, no tee-shirts, no sandals. There's probably an unwritten rule against nudity. They took away our casual Fridays, which doesn't bother me so much as I don't find jeans to be any more comfortable or easy to wear than other types of pants. Alas, the workplace isn't ready for "yoga pants Fridays."

I've had a lifelong, mostly thwarted, desire to be fashionable. I wore a school uniform right through high school, but as anyone who has worn a uniform can tell you, there are ways to assert your stylishness, even within the confines of a plaid skirt and maroon blazer: your shoes, the quality of your white cotton button down, even your socks. For a while, at my high school, it was the fashion to wear one's boyfriend's thermal long underwear under your skirt, like leggings, (or if you didn't have a boyfriend, your father's or brother's) but the nuns put a stop to it.

The consequence of the school uniform is that I had never really had to dress myself until college, hence a long personal history of fashion disasters. I was continuously pregnant for almost the entire decade of my twenties and there are photos of me in the most appalling outfits. There was a brief period between the births of Brigid and Grace that I achieved slimness and cuteness, and even a modest degree of stylishness, but mostly I looked awful. My chief fashion goal during that period was to find a cute sundress that allowed nursing access. I never found one.  I had this one pair of pants that I bought between Grace and Seamus--a pair of Gap high waisted khakis that closed with a side zip. (Oh God!) These, I would pair with oversized knit shirts handed down from teenaged nephews. Then came the denim overalls phase. Overalls with tank tops, overalls with heavy sweaters, overalls all the time.

My thirties were my fashion renaissance, but I made mistakes. I have a habit of disorganized shopping--buying a skirt here, a shirt there--so I have a wardrobe of random pieces that don't go together. I have a large collection of Anthropologie dresses of the sort one wears for drinks in downtown bars. I had an idea that I need to accessorize more, so I bought some belts and scarves in the same haphazard manner that I bought my other clothes. Jewelry bores me and I actively resent the misogynist stereotype that all women are crazy for diamonds. Shoes--I refuse to wear cheap shoes--but since I can't afford a wardrobe of good shoes, I have become one of those women who wear their Dansko clogs with everything. And I mean everything--skirts, sundresses, anything. I am not alone in this, at least in Charlottesville, where there is a class of women who exude a sort of chic confidence while clomping around in clodhopper shoes.

Choosing something to wear to work, or even just making oneself semi-presentable for a trip to the grocery store can be a monumental challenge at times. It would be nice to look stylish and pulled-together, and some days I think I achieve that. There are, however, days when I get to work, catch a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror in the bathroom, and am just grateful that I'm decently covered.

Various famous people have stated that it's disgraceful when a woman appears in public without having made any effort to look good. I used to think this was harsh, but the other day there was this woman at Target. She was obviously a mom. Her hair was scraped back from her face in bun and her bangs looked like she trimmed them herself. She was wearing a slumpy red sweatshirt, blue sweatpants and bright, white sneakers. On her backside was a smear of dirt, as if someone wearing a dusty boot had kicked her in the bum. I wanted to put my arm around her and say, "Oh honey." It's not that I felt critical of or superior to this woman, but I did feel a bit angry with her husband and children who apparently amused themselves by kicking her in the backside and were undoubtably benefiting from the fact that she sacrificed her own needs for theirs. It's not necessary to be stylish for a trip to Target, but if you are walking around with dirt on your ass, you just look sad.

I don't have a well-defined personal style and I'm attracted to all sorts of disparate garments. I read a few style blogs, such as alreadypretty, which has thoughtful content and looksandbooks, which combines literature and fashion.  I love tomandlorenzo, especially their hilarious recaps of "Project Rungay," as they call it.  TLo may call a girl out for appearing on the red carpet in something hideous, but they're never nasty about body types. I recently discovered wardrobeoxygen. It's nice to see a not-skinny woman rocking her outfits.  (How distorted has our image of the ideal body become, that "skinny" is a compliment?)  For a local perspective, there's Cville Fashion and Style. I like blogs that show ordinary women, and except for TLo, am not really into celebrity fashion or stuff that's coming down the runway because all that is way out of my reach.  And it's amusing to see the outfits that a woman like myself would put together.

I've considered doing an occasional "what I wore" post, but I wouldn't want that to become the focus of my blog and I am hardly someone you would look to for style advice.  One Christmas when my extremely stylish sister was visiting, we arranged to meet for a hike.  I pulled on a pair of yoga pants that had a sizable rip on the front of the thigh.  I didn't want to change the pants so I slapped a piece of duct tape over the rip.  When I met my sister, I saw her looking askance at my alternative mending job and I explained what happened.  She said, "So you think this is a good look for you?"  Duct tape on your pants: is that worse than dirt on your ass?  I'm warning you, that was a rhetorical question.

Anyway, I have a couple of outfit shots that I've taken over the last several weeks, partly to illustrate mistakes and partly to get a handle on what my style is, if it exists.
Weekend grocery shopping (Oh God, I am regretting the short hair already.  Dammit.)
Hoodie: Gap, striped shirt: Urban Outfitters.  Jeans: AG .Belt:  J. Crew (2009)

One of my outfit mistakes at work
Hoodie:  Gap. Dress: J. Crew

for the fashion crime of wearing Dansko clogs with this dress.
Dress: Prana  Belt: Lands End Canvas

Alas, I know that pictures were taken on the day of the duct tape hike, but I can't find them.

Do you feel you have a fashion style that you stick to consistently, or do you go into shops and say, "Oh, a pretty!" and buy without thinking?


  1. I *love* your hair! If I could have that style and have it look good on me, I would.

    I read most of the same fashion blogs you do and I've learned a lot from them and have been working to improve my daily look. I also read the Vivienne Files (http://theviviennefiles.blogspot.com/) and have learned a lot. She does great posts focused on one color -- take the time to go through her archives (not difficult, as she's been blogging for a short time) and take a look at her wardrobe ideas. (If you're feeling unmotivated, tell me and I'll go pull up a few key posts for you to read.)

    As for the Danskos, there are cute non-clog Danskos that you might like for dressing up. Beyond that, you might try popping into Scarpa to try on different styles. You don't have to buy anything and the ladies there will still be happy to help you out. If you feel weird about doing it, I'll go with you.

    Getting to your wardrobe, I'd suggest that you take everything out of your closet and figure out what you have, then figure out a few basic pieces to help pull things together. Focus on one color to start with -- black or blue, for example -- so that you can get some matching outfits pretty quickly.

  2. I don't read any fashion blogs other than Tom and Lorenzo, which is more for entertainment than fashion advice, but what I really appreciate is (are?) people who seem fashionable without seeming to be aware of what they're wearing. I remember your overall phase and think you have a great sense of style these days.

  3. oh my, well, I wear jeans every day and when I'm feeling like I need to dress up, I wear NICE jeans, heeled boots, and a sweater.

    I also have no idea how to put "outfits" together. My advice for decent work outfits: go into Ann Taylor Loft and buy the pre-arranged outfits. Most of it is mix & match within a particular season, too. Their clothes are professional, but just young & hip enough. I love their clothes :)

  4. You look adorable! I am like you with a DESIRE. But I'm awful at accessorizing. I wish I had a stylist because I know I stumble around looking like a huge Glamour DON'T.

  5. I think the short-hair looks great. You look fine with in the picture with long hair too, but the short hair looks more like an intentional style, which it seems is something you're after :-)

    I don't have much style except comfortable and clean, so I don't imagine I'll be much help.

    Except --why a hoodie? It seems like it would be possible to buy a slightly more tailored jacket that could take the place of a hoodie. I actually use a light Lands End fleece as my jacket-to-go-with-everything. My color choices are usually earthy, and I bought a dark brown fleece --it's light enough to wear inside as a sweater, and it goes with almost everything I own :-) Fleece might be too casual for the look you want, but I'm guessing you could find something you'd like that was versatile.

  6. I miss my overalls. I think I could have written this blog - or at least I can totally empathize with each age and stage.
    For what it's worth, I love the top photo with the short hair! You look great!

  7. I have no business commenting on a post about fashion. My go-to look is always jeans with some kind of tee or tank-like thing and a cardigan. I have a googillion cardigans. It's a sickness.

    I'm having a hard time picturing the clogs with that dress.

  8. Sorry, I'm a bloke. Fashion is what happens to other people.
    If it's clean and comfortable I'll wear it.

    Always remember: Peach is a fruit, not a colour.

  9. Oooh I can be a fashion victim as well, and although I've consciously improved over the last few years, I still stumble over everything you just said. Except the overalls. Thank god I came of age during lululemon era.

    Anyhow, one piece of advice is to have an outfit or three in mind before you purchase each piece. If you can't think of what you'd wear it with, either buy the missing pieces right then, or reluctantly put it back. I love the idea of pre-matched outfits, and also shopping in high end consignment stores can be great as you can afford to mix and match without blowing too much money.

    Also, I love comfy clothes with the best of them, but have started to insist that I look awful cute in them. i.e. if I buy yoga pants/jeans and a top, I want it to be the cutest version of me possible. You know how some people look good in everything? I aim to look at least that good in casual clothes. It's more work, but infinitely more rewarding.

  10. I used to have gorgeous clothes and then i became a librarian and quickly had to buy a lot of less formal work clothes. And then I became broke and I'm still wearing those same ratty things. But! I do have a blog suggestion: theartofaccessories.com. She has brilliant color combinations and is a truly likable person (and, admittedly, friend)

  11. Now a days FASHION is everything for youngsters in my country.