Today, my very stylish sister takes me shopping. I used to be stylish–maybe 20 years ago–when I had the means, the time, and the desire to look my best. While my internal flair has grown exponentially this year, my external style needs help.
I’m too tired, too old, to be cute.
I’m too spiritual to be stylish. I’m too academic, too poetic.
But there’s a part of me that I’ve left behind somewhere. My external flair has turned to. . . frump.
So my sister has me in a dressing room at a very stylish store. As I pull on layers of beautiful clothing, I’m surprised at what my heart feels.
It feels wonderful to be in these clothes.
And then it feels awful that it feels so wonderful. I know that life is not found in clothing; I know that true joy will never come from a shopping trip. Living with flair means I find my true self in relation to God, not this soft pink sweater or these jeans that somehow make me look like I’m 18 years old again. Besides, I’m on a tight budget. Who can afford these things?
I’m looking at price tags and frowning. My sister sings out as she shoves more clothing into the dressing room: “It’s all 40% off! We can buy a whole new outfit!”
I have a whimsical shopping bag tied with a bright bow with new jeans and a pink sweater. As we leave the store, I mention to my sister that I feel guilty feeling so happy about an outfit. I don’t shop. I never buy new clothes. I’m above that pull of materialism and addictive consumerism. I don’t need these things.
My sister reminds me that I’ve swung the pendulum too far. She tells me I can celebrate being a woman in ways that showcase my unique style and elegance. It’s not ungodly to dress well.
I’m still figuring this all out. I know there are wise and balanced ways to be stylish, and I want to learn them.
Do you have any advice for me on this journey? How do you balance spending money on clothes while keeping perspective on what matters most in life? Do you fear shopping addiction and materialism too?
(It didn’t help when I asked the saleswoman for her advice about my guilty feelings. She said, “Oh, those? Don’t worry. They go away in a couple hours.”)
I had forgotten how nice it feels to dress in coordinates – from underwear on out. I only dress for work and church. I do have lots of good clothes many of which I need to pass on BUT when I “dress up,” I feel so good, feminine and pretty, it is so worth the effort. A friend and I went to Kansas City a few years back. She is my personal shopper. I was in the dressing room; she and an employee kept funneling back clothes. I know I spent too much that summer BUT I have worn those clothes every year, always with compliments. On occasion, it does a soul good to care for oneself & to “be pretty.” Enjoy that sweater and jeans – you will have them for a long time :).
I have advice! I have advice! Not in any particular order: First, never buy anything over $15. Next, look for those things (under $15) that say “Me”. Third, know who “Me” is. (Otherwise, you'll never hear the sweater that whispers to you “I am an external manifestation of your internal flair” as you brush by it….) Lastly, take me shopping with you! 😉
I struggle with the same thing. How I try to approach it is to remind myself to treat me as well as I treat others. Everyone is worthwhile and that includes ourselves. That being said, I still do not buy very much, and only when I need it, because I am trying to reduce my clutter and “things” to a level I am more comfortable with.
Ha! Well, good for you today, Heather. My wife is one of those folks who lives more honestly than I do. She knows certain clothing items make her feel good and she does nothing to squelch the idea. She'll wait for a better bargain or realize she doesn't need those jeans right now, but that doesn't change what she believes: that clothing – when it's right – does us good, just like the folks from “What Not To Wear” would say.
Yet, like you, I have the guilty feelings. Indeed, I often return purchases. I know how quickly the good in that good feeling can turn into a “fix.” Something about the guilt helps me think I'm in control of what could easily get out of control if I had more money and less scruples. And, also like you, I hate to see how these good shopping feelings have gone awry among so many consumers.
As I mentioned in the High Calling post, I fear that something is slowly going awry in me, too.
I'm glad you had a good day with your sister.
Are there any people you admire who could become silent mentors for perspective on the real-me vs. outward-appearance-me balance?
I like to buy nice clothing, but at any given time I only have enough clothes for about ten to twelve days. I save an outfit or two that I feel especially pretty in and keep it(them) for a day when I need or just want a compliment. It's much easier for me when I only have a few things to choose from. It keeps me in nice clothes, and I know that I always get my money out of them. If I want to buy something new, and something I already have is still in good condition, I send it on to goodwill or someone else in need. I know the way I do things is not for many people, but I like my clothes, and I generally think I look nice. 🙂 I think that you need to discover the balance that works for you and your guilt level. This keeps me on budget, guilt free, and feeling pretty.
Look into making a 'capsule wardrobe.' I've read about that idea a lot on uncluttering sites, and it's a good way to make it easy to get dressed, always look polished, and not waste time or money.
I am a modest dresser. I am a fashionista. I love clothes and shoes and handbags. Believe it or not I hate to shop so I keep my shopping to stores. Yes, I shop for clothing at 4 stores. I shop at Macy's, Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and J. Crew. Macy's and Nordstrom are in the mix because they are one stop shopping as they have everything from clothing to bedding if I am in immediate need.
It is quite easy to be modest and very fashionable at the same time. Yes, I spend more money on clothing than you might agree oo, but it's good quality and will last for as long as I want it and then it gets passed on to someone else that has expressed that they want it, or the Salvation Army.
I don't buy trendy because it doesn't last year to year. I've been know to pay $300 for a pair for jeans, actually a lot of jeans, but I still have them all as they don't fade, wear out or stretch out. In the end they are worth every penny.
Honestly, you can tell the difference between a sweater from Gap and a sweater from J. Crew. The quality is obvious, and to me this translate to wearing ability.
I'm middle-aged and I like to look nice. I like to be called by my son to meet him for lunch downtown and be able to dress in nice jeans and jacket. It's simply about looking nice.
I hope you find the answers you are looking for on your search.
Oh, I really understand that. I have an academic background and am an intellectual woman and, for a long time, I thought I just don't need pretty skirts, shoes or make-up as they are all superficial and buying them only supports the clothes industry. In the last years I realized that I am not only my brain that I feed with poetry, science or whatever but that I also have a body. And this body wants and needs attention, for example with a nice body lotion after a shower, a workout, healthy food, compliments or just by looking in the mirror and feeling good because of the pretty jeans. So we are from both worlds, we have a spiritual side and a, well, bodily side and that is why we have to take care of both to feel well.
PS: I love the word “frump”. My mothertongue has no word like that for a woman and I know it is derogative but still it's fascinating for me that you can judge the meaning of it just by the sound of this word.
My mom would do the same thing and ask the saleswoman about it.
Sounds like our family.
We don't buy many clothes.
Lauren, that's good, simple advice.
What great advice! I love these suggestions! I'm so glad others think about these things.
I relate totally to the wonderful feeling of coming home with a new outfit that makes you look great. I have been off the shopping grid for a number of years now (spending more time on family, homemaking and inner pursuits) and find that the less I shop the less I want to shop, and also that rarer purchases bring far more pleasure than frequent ones. But when the shopping urge or necessity push me into the marketplace, one way I have found to make shopping guiltless and fun is buying secondhand–at thrift stores, Goodwill and the like. The selection is great–you don't have to choose between Gap and Land's End because everything's there–the prices can't be beat, and you also have the satisfaction of knowing that you're not contributing to the glut of new STUFF that's choking the planet. Winners all around.
Thank you Heather for your beautiful and inspiring blog!
I can totally relate. I envy my aunt who is a nun. She has three saris and she wears them until they fall apart.
There is a scripture that says GOd looks at the heart but man looks at the outward appearance (my paraphrase). So just from a witnessing stand point (which is spiritual lol) you need to at least look presentable and nice enough where people will be able to receive from you. For instance when applying for a job you can't come in looking any kind of way or you won't get the position, but if you come in dressed for the part you have a better chance of being heard and receiving the job, the same for christians. We can't really be effective representatives and ambassadors for Christ if we look like crap, thats a turn off and would not make the world want to give him a chance. Before I got saved I used to wonder if God is so great why do you look like hell? (no offense meant but hopefully you get what I mean, its ok to look good, and I think it even represents God well when his children look like they are well taken care of by such a great heavenly Daddy.
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I believe there is a huge difference between shopping in lieu of spiritual grounding and shopping because we humans are beautiful and there is nothing wrong with looking nice/interesting/attractive.
Expressing oneself through dressing artfully or by writing poetry or by oil painting or by making a lovely home means we are using all the senses the universe has given us to make life a beautiful place to live.
Art, music, nice things, computers, books of poetry, lipstick, and libraries aren't necessary to basic survival. But if you can allow yourself time to write or read or type (also not necessary for basic survuval), you can allow yourself to look as lovely as the universe intends you to.
We know the meaning of life is not found in a sweater. However, the meaning of life is also not found in denying entire aspects of your *self*, your being. It becomes a slippery slope–should you wear the ugliest clothes? Should you eat only the plainest food? Should you have only the most practical household items?
Lastly, I wonder if, in some people (not necessarily you), the desire to look “frumpy” is, in some way, an unconsious way of saying “Look at me everyone! I am too intellectual to bother with looking nice” or “I am so spiritual and so close to God.” In its own way it could also be as attention-getting as overshopping, but it's attention-getting through scarcity, through denial, through deprivation. But such a person still wants to be noticed, albeit for spirituality rather than sexiness.
In the end I think it's about appreciation: you were born into a particular life. Live with deep spirituality, compassion, active volunteering/helping, all that stuff. But to deny your senses and your body is probably not what the universe had in mind when you were given your body. Now, if you like your old cardigan or whatnot, great. But there is nothing wrong with shopping carefully and having a few things that you love and enjoy and use, if you decide to do so.
Thank you for a great thought-provoking post.
Joe, these thoughts are so wise and so right on. Thank you!