Monday, March 21, 2011

You are what you wear

I like to refer to my wardrobe as shlubby chic, minus the chic part. As a stay at home mom I don't have stylish *work* clothes or even *office casual* clothes. I have my assortment of jeans, yoga pants and when I am feeling really fancy in the fall and winter months, cords. My shirts are equally unremarkable. The problem is I love clothes but I have nowhere to wear them. You look ridiculous wearing a chiffon blouse, skirt, hose and heels to drive your child to soccer practice or work in the kindergarten art class. If you decide to dress up for a PTA meeting you get suspicious looks and comments. The same kind you would get in a business casual office if you suddenly wore a suit to work one day (are you going on an interview?). Or worse, comments telling you how nice you look, implying that the rest of the time you look like you just rolled out of bed. I envy those whose wardrobes have a purpose and get to dress accordingly.

The other night I was at a school board meeting. The school board chair is a woman who is always dressed in suits, and not the Hilary Clinton pant-kind. It is the real deal with the skirt and heels. I had never seen her before and was mesmerized by her appearance up in front at the head of the table wearing her smart red suit. She exuded confidence and authority and was clearly in charge. I was so captivated by her powerful appearance that I have absolutely no idea what she said but I am sure it was important and meaningful while adding a touch of wit. All I knew was that I was seriously missing out by not having anywhere to wear a suit if I owned one. Which I don't anymore. I finally gave them away to charity when I realized that even if I were to return to the corporate world tomorrow shoulder pads and pleats weren't coming back. But if I started wearing a suit as my regular wardrobe, despite my lack of an office, I surely would command respect from everyone I came across: my children, the barista at Starbucks, the checker at the grocery store, the employees of Target and the rest of my usual weekday crowd. They would all listen to me with rapt attention. And then act accordingly.

In an attempt to satisfy my inner clothes horse I occasionally buy items that clearly don't have any place in my current lifestyle. These are the items hanging in my closet with the tags still attached (don't tell my husband). I also have a stack of hosiery sitting in a drawer - probably close to 10 pairs in assorted shades of black and nude. They are just waiting for me to have an occasion to wear them. I suspect they will disintegrate into dust before that occurs.

I find that the best way to fulfill my needs is to focus on accessories - shoes, hand bags and occasionally jewelry and sunglasses. These work for a couple of reasons. First, you can find ways to wear them with jeans and still not look like you are trying too hard. Even the hand bags you can pair with work out clothes and get away with it. Second, they never make your hips and thighs look large (unlike a suit) and you don't have to worry about getting a run in them (hosiery). Of course the big down side is I am drawn to the ones that typically cost as much, if not more than a suit (again, don't tell my husband). But none of them still have the tags attached so that makes them worthwhile, right? I am very big on amortizing my purchases. Clothes can only be worn once or twice a week, but the right hand bag and sunglasses can be used every day. I refer to this brilliant economic justification as *cost per use*.

Unfortunately when I do have the occasion to wear something besides my shlubby chic collection it causes panic trying to figure out what to wear. This is followed by a frenzied and desperate round of shopping that includes torturing poor sales girls with my need to find *the perfect outfit*. Ultimately it results in me wearing the shopping-under-pressure outfit (usually not perfect, but instead *good enough*) and looking very awkward as I am reminded how uncomfortable hosiery is, and how restrictive a suit can be. But then I get to go home and put on one of my 25 pairs of Gap jeans and my plain jane Dansko clogs and imagine the authority I am oozing and respect I am commanding as I rock a pair of sunglasses.


  1. My inner MOV is wearing a taffeta dress and a tiara as I type this (oh, wait, I am truly *actually* wearing that because I haven't done laundry in about 6 days and there is no choice --either that or the bikini, and the husband begged me to put the bikini away).

    My normal everday wardrobe is about two steps down from "shlubby chic", I call it "blah with a blah chaser". Seriously, if my college boyfriend saw me today, I would have a heart attack and then cry (it's ok, he wouldn't recongize me, so no harm done). I typically wear some version of a momiform-- baseball hat (to cover dirty hair), t-shirt (stained is even better), and jeans. Problem is, I am tall and most clothes are not. I have been reduced to buying the majority of my wardrobe in the Target MEN's department just to get t-shirts that are long enough to cover my mid-section. I'm sure the employees at Target all believe I am a lesbian (heck, if I looked in the mirror and saw some of these outfits, I might think that myself).

    Brilliant post, as per usual, Shawna. Thanks a lot for bringing my clothing angst right back to the surface. You owe me a Starbucks for that.


  2. I am all to familiar with the "cost per use" value of an item.

    This year, I wanted a new dress for the Christmas holiday. My fiance did not feel a dress I would wear one time was worth 50-80 dollars. So I promised to stick to the $50 budget and to wear it FIVE TIMES over the holidays. I wore it to my Christmas dinner for work, to midnight Mass, and to a friend's holiday party. I wore it on New Year's eve. When I realized that was only four wears, I had a dinner party (spending well over $50 on groceries and wine) to get that fifth wear in.