I’m standing in front of my wardrobe and I ask myself if my blue-striped blouse sparks joy. It’s 2016 and I’m doing the Marie Kondo thing, where I spend hours throwing away my possessions.
I don’t have trouble throwing away clothes. In fact, the challenge for me is to find the clothes that do spark joy.
I am 32 years old and I still have no idea how to dress. Wherever I go, I feel badly dressed: Not just overdressed or underdressed, but like I am somehow doing this whole thing wrong.
I admire everyone who has their style figured out: the punk, who is wearing a washed-out jeans jacket, and the old lady, who is wearing a skirt and still looks kind of hot, pushing 80 and a walking frame.
I, on the other hand, am already stressed out thinking about clothes, let alone buying them.
While women’s clothes and particularly finding clothes for myself feels like a massive task, I’m surprisingly an expert in men’s attire. In my former job as a marketing consultant I successfully advised two fashion lines specializing in mode de L Homme on how to market their products to a broader audience. I guess I am very good at speaking to people generally unimpressed by fashion because I’m one of them.
But while I could have a casual chitchat with Karl Lagerfeld about combining different layers and materials in a man’s outfit, I am lost when it comes to dressing myself.
For a while, I just resorted to dressing like a man (jeans with shirt-blouses), which is extremely easy to do these days.
While “casual dressing” for men is very clear, when it comes to women, “casual” can mean anything from a Kimono sleeve belted midi dress, to a tweed edge to edge jacket or a black graffiti mini shorts. (Full disclosure: I had no idea what any of those words meant until I opened a women’s clothes shopping site and found images illustrating those descriptions.)
When I was still in academia, dressing was comparatively easy: Not knowing how to dress was part of the game and I played it with confidence. Furthermore, I am pretty certain I got all of my academic scholarships thanks to my badly fitting clothes. When I showed up to the interviews in my worn-out jackets and $15 H&M dress pants, my wardrobe was basically screaming: “THIS GIRL REALLY NEEDS IT!”
Since leaving academia, my dressing has only minimally (you might even say “unnoticeably”) improved. I still don’t have a style. I have a multiple styles disorder.
My clothes consist of worn-out jeans, dress pants across the color wheel, blouses that make me look like a guy (kind of), sneakers and ballerina flats, linen dresses, and a-line skirts. I would feel like a cheater if I didn’t also tell you about my two favorite pieces: my stained Harvard sweater and my black yoga pants, which I wear almost every day. However, if I am not married or related to you there is a good chance you will never see me in any of these.
One thing that has improved since leaving academia is that my clothes are cleaned and ironed now and in an OK-ish shape. I figured this would be the minimum requirement for showing up at the office every day. While I once felt totally fine wearing sweaters with holes in their sleeves, I now bring my ripped clothes to the tailor and get to feel somewhat like a grown-up.
The most challenging thing for me is when big events come up: Nothing gives shopping for new stuff the same urgency as a conference, a big client meeting, a friend’s wedding, or my mom’s 60th birthday party. The result is that I’m very likely to wear stuff at these gatherings that has been in my possession for 24 hours or less.
When meetings or events come up unexpectedly, I stand in front of my wardrobe and frantically pull shirts and pants out of my dresser. My bedroom looks like some pervert has broken into our apartment and gone through all my garb in search of something nasty.
I look at my wardrobe and I am puzzled who bought all these shitty clothes. Caitlin Moran put it aptly when she wrote about her closet, “There’s nothing in here for the person I’m supposed to be today.”
I feel worn out and I’m not even dressed.
Wearing clothes is such a powerful communication, but on many occasions, I have no idea what to say. I’m listening to other peoples’ clothes, while my own ones are on Rumspringa without me.
It’s not that I don’t care about clothes; I can be the happiest person alive when I have found a piece I truly like.
“LOOK AT THIS DRESS!” I shout to my husband who is working at his computer, from the door. “DO YOU LIKE IT?”
“It looks nice.”
“NICE? IT’S THE BEST DRESS I’VE EVER SEEN!”
“YOU DON’T THINK SO?”
“No, no, I like it!”
“ARE YOU SURE?”
Usually, the conversation ends with me putting on the new piece of clothing and making my husband say a thousand times that he REALLY, REALLY, REALLY likes it.
Of course, I have tried to fix my dressing problem with various remedies, none of which have quite worked. I have tried, for example, the thing where online stylists pick out the outfit for you. But while I had great fun trying on sweaters with differently sized sleeves on, after the custome party was over, I sent most of it back.
Another thing I tried was buying a whole outfit at once. I would look at these plastic dolls at the showcase and would get the exact things: top, pants, belt, shoes. That way I had no trouble putting an OK-ish outfit together.
My dream is something else, though: dressing like Mathilde Kahl. Mathilde Kahl is the Art Director at Saatchi & Saatchi, and she wears the same things single every day: a white blouse and a black bow, and black dress pants. I love her outfit and the clear and stylish message it offers.
However, while I like the idea of wearing the same thing every day, I’m hesitant to go on a shopping spree and to buy 15 white blouses.
Copying Mathilde Kahl might work for a while, but in the end, I need to figure out, how I can dress to be myself.
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