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Monday, April 15, 2013

My Love/Hate Affair with Fashion

Full disclosure: I have a love/hate affair with fashion.

I found these fashion drawings at a thrift store. Pretty cool, huh?
 Now let me say that when I was a tween, my greatest dream was to be a fashion designer. I created outrageous outfits from my own odds and ends, supplemented by my mother's closet. I was undeterred by the fact that my mother was a good 8 sizes bigger than me at the time, and wore power suits to work. This was the 1980s, baby. I knew that I looked uh-MAY-zing. 

I also educated myself about the bones of fashion. When I found a Willi Wear skirt at a garage sale for a dollar, I was in heaven. I was a devotee of Lagerfeld, Donna Karan, and Diane Von Furstenberg. I tried to create the same ensembles that the top designers paraded down the catwalk or onto the pages of W Magazine, using my own pitiful resources. I was so proud of myself and my sense of style. I even created my own logo and my own name, ready to take on the world of fashion.

Until...we moved to Midland, Texas. That was oil country, and my mom enrolled us in the toniest private school available. I think she did it because it was the middle of the year and she thought the transition would be easier on us in a small school. But it wasn't. This school, unlike most private schools, had no uniform. And these kids? Were rich. You can only imagine the bombshell effect of my outrageous creations. Nowadays, we would say that I was bullied. Back then, it was like "Stop wearing crazy stuff and toughen up, kid."

But did I? No. If anything, my outfits grew more extreme out of a sense of stubborn pride. Until one day, I overheard one of the wealthiest and prettiest girls remark, "You know, it doesn't matter what Lily wears. She always looks wrong."

That comment, casually made but deeply cutting nonetheless, changed my outlook on fashion forever. Instead of dressing to be seen, I dressed to hide. Black became my staple; in fact, looking back on it now, I was grunge before it was chic.

I find myself at another crossroads now, decades later, as I lose weight and as I have started working outside the home. My boss, who has been highly supportive of my weight loss, has started urging me to stop with the black. "It makes you look bigger," she states flatly, as we go out for our morning coffee. She waves her hands at the shop windows as we pass, showcasing mannequins wearing impossibly tiny chiffon shorts in a rainbow of sherbert hues. "You should wear colors!"
But...these were the same colors I festooned myself in as a teenager--the same kind of outfits that made me look wrong, no matter what.

I'm not willing to give up the black yet. And I won't be recreating any Karl Lagerfeld ensembles using my mom's power suits. But I have been branching out by reading more fashion blogs so that I can reeducate myself on proportion, style, and yes--colors. I really like Wearing It On My Sleeves, Clothed Much, and No More Mom Jeans. These blogs make style accessible and wearable by women of all ages and sizes--it's fashion, down to earth. In fact, I think blogging has done a lot to make fashion more democratic and less didactic. I also like The Beheld for a glimpse of the intellectual side of beauty. And Missus Smarty Pants has been a tremendous help for clearing out my closet. If you follow the Flylady system of housecleaning (and I have for years now) then the Missus Smarty Pants approach is very familiar and helpful.

So, now you know about my love/hate relationship with fashion. What about you? Do you have any fashion ideals you're not willing to let go of, like my obsession with black? What blogs or magazines do you enjoy?

11 comments:

  1. Nice story and I can relate. Wear what makes you feel good. I have tons of black, but I now add a punch of color and have other bright/colorful pieces in my closet as I'm still trying to break my "black habit". I'll never give up black as it's elegant, classic, and slimming if it fits you well.

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    1. Hey Anita--I know, right? I thought black was supposed to be slimming, but my boss says otherwise. Thanks for having my back on this one. ;)

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  2. I kicked black to the curb after I had a front row seat at one too many funerals several years ago. I don't like wearing it today. However, I wear a lot of blue. It comes in all shades and adds color.

    That is the thing about high school and fashion. For some reason, we have to blend in, and if we don't then we start dressing to be invisible. I wish I figured out that sooner. I also wish that we didn't carry these moments into adulthood.

    Lily, I don't know you, nor have I read any of your work. Just know that some stranger behind a computer screen is sending you good vibes and encouragement to start stepping out of your comfort zone. Let the negativity go and start dressing the way you want to dress. (I know this is much easier said than done). Best of luck on this journey.

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    1. Amanda,
      What a sweet message. I completely agree about wishing we didn't carry those moments into our adulthood.

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    2. Aww, thank you so much, Amanda! I love blue, too. You know, I went to a garage sale this weekend and found a white dress with black polka dots. I'm wearing it today. First time I've worn white since high school, because I was afraid it makes me look fat. So you see? I'm branching out. ;)

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  3. Lily,
    The pretty rich girl sounds like she was jealous. Congratulations on your weight loss! I like black, too, and I don't think it makes people look bigger if the clothes fit. It took me a while to embrace my curves and wear clothes that weren't baggy on me. Colors are great and a big mood boost for me when I wear them, so give them a try. I love dresses best, though. It has been cold and wet the last few days, but now the sun is out, so I'm planning on dragging out one of my favorite dresses and boots for today. :)

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    1. I've heard that colors can really change your mood, Samantha. I'm thinking that maybe I could branch out by wearing a pop of color now and then to relieve the black. Maybe a pink scarf? Baby steps. :)

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  4. My look is MINIMAL. My basic colors are black & gray with contrasts of violet/purple/lavender/berry. This way, everything goes with everything else. It also minimizes stains & spills. I only own black shoes and gray/black coats, scarves, bags, skirts, pants. I own a pair of jeans, a denim skirt & a denim jacket which also goes with both black & gray. I actually find black slimming for me. I've also drastically downsized my wardrobe, too, so for the first time in years, I'm actually wearing out my clothes! I took a cue from Francine Jay's The Joy of Less (http://www.missminimalist.com) and I love it and have never looked back.

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    1. Awesome resource, Maria! I gravitate towards those same colors. For me, they are professional and I don't have to spend hours planning an outfit. Everything goes together. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. OMG I have a love affair with black. It's become a long-running joke with my colleagues and students. I'm getting perpetual comments; "you need a splash of color, Mrs. C." My eye always goes to black...and I don't doubt that subconsciously it has to do with a weight thing. That said, I have some really stylish black clothes that I love! : )

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  6. I'm a southern girl; I LOVE COLOR! :)

    Fun fact from a family member who's a clothing buyer for a large (nice)retail store: Buyers *always* buy color and prints for stores in the south and dark colors for ones in the north, while accounting for seasonal trends.

    Sorry that girl was so ugly to you, Lily! ((hugs))

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