Would someone please stop me from shopping for clothes at Kohls? I mean, I love the 30% coupon as much as anyone, but I never find anything there I really like. Kohls only seems to sell three kinds of shirts, none of them flattering. Not to mention the fact that when I look around the store mostly what I see is future landfill fodder. There’s just too much stuff.
The problem is, I’m such a lazy shopper that just the idea of spending a morning or an afternoon wandering through shops at the mall exhausts me. I’m cheap and easily overwhelmed, so I end up buying horrible things from the sales rack that make me question my sanity once I try them on at home.
I think clothes shopping is an art. My friends who dress well know how to shop. They know what looks good on them. They have the patience to look at a lot of different things and try on a lot of different things.
Of course, the elephant in this room is the fact that my weight has fluctuated (sometimes dramatically) all of my life, and that means there have been shopping trips that have left me in the depths of despair. I can’t tell you how many visits to the mall have resulted in me rejoining Weight Watchers yet again. These experiences have scarred me for life. I’ve been at a good weight for the last year or so, and I’m starting to think that maybe I’ve figured out how to maintain it, but I fear it’s too late. Shopping will never be fun for me.
The only decent shopping experience I’ve ever had is the time my friend Danielle went with me, probably fifteen years ago. Danielle knows how to put a look together. She knows how to accessorize. We went to Kohls, because Kohls doesn’t overwhelm Danielle (I also have the vague feeling that Kohls might have been better back in the day, but maybe that’s just the misty glow of nostalgia). I stayed in the dressing room and Danielle brought me outfits. She brought necklaces. She brought shoes. I was getting ready to go on a week-long book tour, so the pieces she chose for me were both professional and stylish. When I looked at myself in the mirror, a stranger peered back at me. A chic, well-accessorized stranger in flattering slacks and flowing, flowery blouses.
Sadly, Danielle has moved (though I’m sure with the proper enticements I could lure her back for another shopping trip). The fact is, I rarely need the kind of outfits like the ones Danielle helped me put together, and as lovely as those outfits were, I didn’t feel quite like myself in them. I’ve always liked an androgynous look–no frills, no pleats, no flowers. I’m most at home in long-sleeved L.L. Bean tees in navy blue and black, skinny jeans and clogs or boots. Throw in a cardigan sweater and some hoop earrings and that’s my look. My uniform. I’m never unhappy in this outfit. Everything fits well, so I don’t feel frumpy. I still wear a touch of makeup, still get my hair cut and colored on a regular basis. I stay as far away from frump as I can, but I never lean into fashionable looks.
Sometimes, though, I feel like I should try a little harder. You recommended looking for a cardigan in burgundy or red, and I like that idea. I can pop a little color if the occasion calls for it. And I love color! I make colorful quilts, love colorful flower bouquets, and colorful clothes–on other people. So I’m going to go in search of the perfect colorful cardigan–and I’m going to do it online. No more Kohls. And maybe no more malls. A few posts ago, Marsha H. made a comment that really resonated with me. “Just last month I made a long overdue trip to the mall for a little shopping,” she wrote. “I lamented to both my adult daughters (in their 30’s)…. just where do I fit in at this mall?” I’ve never felt like I fit in at any mall, a condition that may only worsen as the years go by.
P.S. Ordered the sweater!
Why is getting dressed so hard? I’ve never found fashion easy, but like you, I’ve struggled with my weight most of my life and I have fallen into a trap of buying “temporary” clothes (hello Kohls!). I find myself not wanting to invest in the nice quality clothes I deserve, because I am hoping that in a few months, I’ll be down ten pounds, the clothes will be too big, and it will all be a big waste of money. Have you been there?
And on a related note, instead of building a wardrobe, I tend to completely wear out my small wardrobe, so I’m in the pattern of replacing versus building.
All that said, I think I’ve found my groove in the last few years. Funnily enough, it was because of the pandemic. But let me back up. About five years ago I came across the concept of a capsule wardrobe. The idea is that you focus on a few key colors that all work together. This was tremendously appealing to me. Gone were days of being a slave to whatever color palette The Loft outlet put together for the season. Gone were the days of wearing colors that didn’t suit me because were “in”–colors like spring green, orange, or purple.
I figured out that a few basic colors in bottoms like black, gray, navy, and denim all went with the colors that look good on me. For tops, I stick to pinks, blues, dark green, and burgundy. Throw in a few white, or even better – cream tops and suddenly it’s not so hard to get dressed anymore! It was a joy to purge all those colors that I knew didn’t work but had bought anyways. Packing for a vacation became less about putting together outfits, and more about figuring out how many pants, tops, and sweaters would get me through the allotted number of days. They all go together!
Back to the pandemic. Somewhere around month five of lockdown, I read a tweet that basically said, “If you’re still wearing jeans, what are you trying to prove?” There were options?! I was aware that a lot of people who were new to working from home were wearing pajamas or sweats all day, but I had been working from home for the last ten years and I always made it a point to get all the way dressed for work. Hair, makeup, and reasonable clothes. All I really had that fit the pants category were jeans. And skinny jeans at that! It never occurred to me that I could be more comfortable.
I was not going to slide into pjs or sweats for work, however. This is when I discovered linen pants. I’ve always wanted to capture that J. Jill vibe of flowy linen clothes, but it had never come together for me. As I’ve played around with this look, I’ve found some more affordable options. I practically live in Old Navy linen blend pants and have a number of linen and linen blend tops as well. There are a lot of good choices at Gap and Old Navy. I’ve found that shopping online gives you many more choices and the return policies are good. Because of the blend, they don’t wrinkle as much as true linen and they get softer every time I throw them in the dryer. Over time, I’ve put together a handful of pants in black, olive green, natural linen, and white, and I’ve even added a crazy for me pair of mustard yellow pants that still go with most of my tops and are a fun change.
For everyday footwear, I’ve almost entirely switched over to Birkenstocks (I’ve now got four pairs in various styles) and when I get dressed in some linen pants, a linen top, and some Birks, I’ve never felt more like myself! I can dress up appropriately when needed, but this is my everyday look.
We recently went on a bucket-list family vacation to Italy and I was able to pack for the trip in a carry-on. Four pairs of linen pants and a variety of tops to go with them, everything from a basic t-shirt to dressier tops for dinner. I added a few sweaters to dress things up for evening and wore a denim jacket on the plane and had everything I needed. And I even came home with a linen shirt from Italy—linen seems to be everywhere there!
As the seasons start to change, it’s been easy to add a few pieces in my go-to colors to freshen things up or replace the t-shirts that wear out. I’m no longer replacing everything when I’ve worn holes in them, but finally, feel like I’m building a wardrobe that fits my casual lifestyle.
P.S. Love the sweater!
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