One of my first purchases when I moved to the Pacific Northwest was a bright blue button-up shirt which I would wear with khaki slacks. For many years my work badge had a picture of me in that shirt. I bought it at Eddy Bauer, the summer of 1998, and it set the tone for “my style” for the next decade. Which is to say it was a decade of no style. With that uniform I completely looked ready to attend a trade show at any moment, all I was missing was the company logo. And to come clean, I owned quite a number of free shirts with the company logo which I might resort to when the laundry hamper went out of control.
Casualness became way of life on the West Coast during the dot -om era. To be dressed in a t-shirt and jeans meant you were serious about work and possibly making enough in stock options to say, “Screw you. I’m comfortable.” This was also the decade for me that my metabolism completely went whacko. I went from a size 4 in 1994 up to a high mark of 14 somewhere around 2004. For that I blame a daily diet of Starbuck mochas, all the free dot-com soda I could drink and baby weight.
But a few years ago I did a shift. It hit me that I was in mid-life, not late life. I made an effort to get back in shape and lose weight so I’d be alive to see my grandkids. I also started to get promotions at work, and since they say dress for your next promotion, I set out to find my style again. Oh, and I also started dating again.
But where to begin? I had no clue how to dress any more. I had no idea what was in fashion. What to do as a forty-something Mom? Take a lesson from her junior high self.
When I was in junior high I spent hours pouring over teen magazines especially Seventeen Magazine. In 1979 a pre-Fast Times Phoebe Cates was my favorite model. I remember the June 1979 issue where she had her hands hennaed. Boy did I want my hands temporarily tattooed. I absorbed that issue re-reading and re-reading it. Prairie skirts, side braids…I lived fashion. I would read the magazine and then hit the malls. That was the year I begged for cowboy boots…my white puffy marshmallow jacket…my simple peach satin Asian blouse…and then I started to experiment with New Wave by wearing long white opera gloves and bells as earrings. I didn’t say I looked great, but man did I have a certain style!
At my new effort to find my style again, I felt clueless. Walking in to a large store seemed overwhelming. The thing about fashion is you really do have to absorb it. So in order to get “with it” I filled out a subscription card for Lucky Magazine. I learned a lot of things–like dark wash jeans are in. Who knew? You can actually mismatch stuff now–like it is okay to put brown and black together as long as it is done purposefully. In fact, matchy-matchy looks lamey-lamey. The more time I spent with Lucky, I started to feel more confident. I started to figure out my style was eclectic. And just like in junior high, I decided I liked to have at least one conversation piece in my outfit.
I increased my knowledge by buying a copy of Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style. I started to collect items on Tim’s list of Wardrobe Essentials, a white blouse here, a little black dress there….Next thing I had a closet full of basics.
Now it was time to find the conversation pieces. I started with shoes. It started with a pair of Cole Haan bright red patton leather loafers. I saw them in an ad and I had to have them. They were red! Red makes me feel powerful. Red reminds me of a hot one piece bathing suit I owned when I was in my mid-twenties. Red makes me think of a Chanel style blazer I owned in the eighties that made me feel like a CEO. These shoes made me invincible! I went across town to locate these shoes. Next I ordered a jeweled pair of gladiator sandals from Endless.com. Those were the strappiest shoes I owned in years and I recieved a compliment the first time I wore them. No one ever complimented me on a shirt with a logo on it.
Then I started branching out to accessories like jewelry. I discovered that I loved Betsey Johnson. That pink rhinestone snake ring? It screamed “talk-to-the hand” and “don’t tread on me” right after my divorce. Asymetrical dangly earrings? They make me feel sexy and edgy without an extra piercing. Betsey you are one whacky gal after my own heart.
I started shopping more. I haven’t set foot in an Eddie Bauer but I did re-up an account at Macy’s and supplement that with an occasional drive by H&M.
I didn’t give up completely on being casual. Out of all of this I did discover a few things about myself. I like dresses–especially wrap ones. And I like blazers. But I really hate slacks and I just love jeans. So I save the most faded pairs for the weekends when I’m cleaning and I own just enough slacks to get by, but there is nothing truly as great as a fancy white blouse and a pair of dark jeans with boots.
Now with each season change I sit down with a copy of Lucky or Marie-Claire and make a small list of items I plan to keep an eye out for. I plan one trip to H&M a quarter and make a habit of stopping in at Macy’s. I feel much more confident about my appearance. I feel snappy, snazzy and sassy when I go out (even if it took three wardrobe changes to get there).
So don’t go gently into that good night wearing a pair of Mom jeans or sweat pants. Fashion can be fun! Rediscover it!