It took me about forty years to admit that I care about clothes and the way I look. Before that I lived in denial, hiding my desire for style. In high school, I read the famous feminist works and misinterpreted them, thinking a feminist wasn’t supposed to care about clothes or looks. And like Billy Joel, I always go to extremes. I wore untucked flannels and chunky brown leather hiking boots or a pair of black cowboy boots that inspired snarky serenades of These Boots are Made for Walking as I clunked down the hallway. In college, I (briefly, thank God!) stopped shaving my legs, armpits, and lady parts. Boy-short bikini bottoms were popular at the time, so the public was spared pubic hair spilling out of my bathing suit bottoms. Makeup? That was for vapid girls who wore Juicy sweatpants.
The other thing about me that interfered with my personal style was that Fred and Carey could base an episode of Portlandia on me. I was (and am) that annoying do-gooder girl. In eighth grade, I ran for President as a member of the Peace and Freedom Party in our social studies elections. My delegation entered the auditorium to Harry Chapin’s The Shortest Story. (If you haven’t heard this song, listen to it and you will understand.) In law school, mischievous vandals replaced my name on my law review placard with the moniker “crunchy hippie chick.” I’ve stood at farmer’s markets collecting signatures for a moratorium on the death penalty. I’ve considered raising chickens in my suburban backyard. Someone like me, I thought, was supposed to wear a utilitarian wardrobe that took minimal time, money, and effort. For work, a non-descript suit; on the weekend, jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and converse; the rattier the sweatshirt and older the converse, the higher my do-gooder street cred soared.
I lived a lie because I did care about how I looked. I liked clothes. I wanted to look cute. I tried to look as pretty as possible without trying to look like I wanted to look nice, an exhausting process.
After having kids, I subtracted more time from self-care. I wore a nursing bra well after I’d weaned my babies, and my pants were always saggy in the butt. I learned that I could go a full twelve hours without using the bathroom and would lose track of when I’d last showered.
When did things change for the better? It was a confluence of the mellowing of self that takes place around age forty and a good therapist who asked me to let go of all my “shoulds.” I also discovered a way to shop that didn’t make me feel dirty. Malls always depressed me with their endless racks of clothes crammed with labels that had become more important than the substance of the garments themselves, and the impersonal, climate-controlled space that looks the same no matter where you are in the world. I was invited to a friend’s trunk show at her home where I shared wine with friends and bought some beautiful clothes unedited by the middle management of big fashion, clothes that I loved. The rebel in me liked that I was supporting this new alternative, shared economy, and the hippie in me felt like I was taking part in a community-building experience.
I felt liberated to buy things I’d always secretly pined for like clothes, jewelry, and make-up, when I knew I was directly supporting a local momtrepreneur or business. I allowed myself to embrace fashion on my own terms, making it my personal crusade to buy with several criteria in mind; items sold locally, made locally, or from companies with philanthropic missions. I could do good and look good at the same time. I fell so in love with one of these companies, cabi, that I recently started selling the clothes myself!
I think Betty Friedan, my high school idol, would approve of my new-improved self. I recently felt compelled to check The Feminine Mystique out of the library. I doubted I would read it again. I just kind of needed to check it out. I ended up reading most of Chapter 13, where Betty Friedan describes how women have forfeited self-actualization to care for husbands and children. The book was written in 1963, but spoke to me as a teenager when I’d misinterpreted it, and now almost thirty years later when I truly understand. Betty wants us to fortify ourselves, meet our needs, not put the needs of others or societal expectations in the way of our own development and happiness.
[self sign with a flat lay and Friedan book]
“[E]very woman has to listen to her own inner voice to find her identity in this changing world. She must create, out of her own needs and abilities, a new life plan, fitting in the love and children and home that have defined femininity in the past with the work toward a greater purpose that shapes the future.”
Have I become a fashionista? Absolutely not. I’m just a person who likes to fill my environment with simple beauty. I’ve extended that license to appreciate beauty to myself and my appearance. My wardrobe staples remain Converse and distressed jeans. I’ve simply upgraded my game and allowed myself to be the best should-free version of myself. Consider this your license to do the same.
[flat lay, mix blouses with jeans, zebra belt with converse]