Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Devil Wears Nada

Today, a friend of mine who shall remain nameless IMed me to complain that my politics had gotten too complicated. "I tried to read your post, and then my head hurt and I was like, god damn it, it's lunch time. So I read Go Fug Yourself instead."

And I laughed, because I have to admit, she's right. Because frankly, sometimes I make my head hurt, too. So today, I'm not going to talk about health care, or new economies, or individualism. I promise I'm not going to throw around the words "Jeffersonian pastiche."

Instead, today, I'm going to talk about fashion.

No, I'm serious. 


Don't roll your eyes at me! Sheesh!

Okay, fashion. Once upon a time (or about five years ago) I was a struggling actress (seriously) who taught SAT classes for a living. I was having a conversation with my Pilates teacher (shut up, I live in LA) about clothes. She was talking about how she had all these clothes that she never wore, and I smugly remarked that I wore all the clothes in my closet. 

Fast forward to myself a year later. I had quit acting and the SAT teaching, and was working an office job that required me to wear business casual wear. My closet started to pile up with business casual clothes (many of which I didn't like) and the army of jeans and tee-shirts I had needed when teaching SATs were left neglected.

Fast forward six months later. My father died, and I rapidly lost 20 pounds, thanks to the only diet that has ever worked for me. I call it the "too sick with grief to eat" diet. None of my clothes fit anymore, but I was too depressed to care much. Plus, I assumed I'd gain back the weight.

A year later, I still hadn't gained back the weight. So there I was, with a closet of ill-fitting clothes. I had a pile of work clothes I hated, and a bunch of tee-shirts I loved but never had the opportunity to wear. Where I had once bragged about wearing every piece of clothing in my closet, I now wore a tiny fraction of my clothes.

Now most people say stuff like, "Oh, if I ever lose 20 pounds, I'll treat myself to new clothes." Well, here's the problem with that. I had lost 20 pounds, but I hadn't gotten any richer. I simply could not afford a whole new wardrobe. 

So here's what I did. I started off by stealing clothes from my younger sister. Okay, okay, but this is not as bad as it sounds. First of all, it is the *right* of sisters to steal from each other. This is what we do. And secondly, I only stole the clothes that she left at my mom's house when she went to college. I mean really. If she didn't care enough to take them with her, she obviously didn't need them. Those clothes were sad and lonely and I was just giving them a home! On my ass. Plus she didn't even care! Fine, she cared. But then later she stole some stuff of mine, and now we're even. This is so not the point. Can we move on now?

Next, I went through my closet, and pulled every article of clothing that didn't fit me, but that I actually liked. Once I had together 15 pieces of clothing, I got a recommendation for a tailor from a friend. Then I went to the tailor, and had her alter everything. A mere $85 later, I had well-fitting clothes I actually liked. 

And then, and this was the hardest point, I worked to slowly hone my own personal sense of style. This isn't the easiest thing to do when you're a woman. There's a multi-million dollar industry out there whose sole job is to tell you that ponchos are in, and skinny jeans are out, and then that skinny jeans are in and ponchos are out. I am 5'2" with a propensity to fall down. I am hardly a fashion maven. Yet, I owned two ponchos. The pull of the fashionistas is strong.

But I didn't want to have to buy ponchos one year and vests the next. I wanted a nice wardrobe that would make me look decent year after year. So, I started to ignore Glamour and Cosmo, and instead started trusting my own eye. I don't particularly like button down shirts, but I tend to gravitate to shirts with Indian embroidery. So I bought those, and when anyone went to India, I got some from them too. I bought things in colors that attracted me (largely forest green and burgundy.) And I picked up several dresses with cute floral patterns. I bought tops that worked with the bottoms I already owned and vice versa.

And slowly, I had a wardrobe of clothes I liked. Clothes I was happy to wear.

So when it came time to the non-consumer challenge, I decided to forgo all clothes shopping for a year. Because, honestly, I had more clothes than I really needed, and I was pretty happy with my wardrobe. I didn't feel like anything was lacking, so why buy more?

So for almost 10 months I haven't bought a single article of clothing. Not new clothes nor used clothes. I admit, I did receive a few shirts as gifts, and I participated in a clothing swap, but I haven't spent one single dollar on clothing since August.

And truthfully? I don't miss it at all. Okay, that's a lie. I miss it a little.

But I miss it much less than one would think.

Because the thing is, I already did my homework. I already have a great wardrobe full of clothes that fit me well, clothes that fit my personal style. Clothes that if you saw them and you knew me, you would say, "That's a shirt Arduous would wear."

Eventually, the clothing I have now will wear out and I will have to buy new clothes. 

But for now, I'm happy with my clothes. Once again, I can smugly sit back and say, "I wear all the clothes in my closet."


Joyce said...

I need to show this post to my daughter. She gave up buying clothes for Lent. 40 days. Then back to the mall.

Mad Hatter said...

Okay, I read the title of your post and thought, "Holy shit! Arduous is going to give up clothing altogether to be green!" :-)

One of the things I like most about working in an academic research lab is that ratty jeans and T-shirts are still in! I still have a few items of clothing from high school that I wear...and high school was a really long time ago for me....

Green Bean said...

This is similar to the argument to buying for quality. Basically, buy something only if you really love it, not because people, the media, magazines tell you you should love it. All too often, we fall for what the magazines say and that's why many of us (including me) have clothes in our closet that we never wear that eventually migrate to a thrift store. Great point, Arduous, to know ourselves and act accordingly.

EcoBurban said...

Find your own style is very challenging. I also fell into the workplace clothing trend drama. No ponchos, but I had more than one pair of wide leg trousers. Why would I want pants with legs so large you couldn't see my shoes? :o)

I agree with you and with GB, buying one thing of quality that you adore is worth 10 sort-of-OK clothing pieces from a cheap, trendy store that will end up donated the following season. Now, I just need to be better about practicing what I preach. Thank goodness I have all boys, last years cargo shorts and tshirts are always in style with them!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Good stuff! I've seen my clothing habits gradually start to swing back towards the jeans that were forbidden in my industry job. I started out wearing jeans on Fridays only, and now I'm up to 2 or 3 times a week. I just feel better in clothes that suit my personality, which tends to be nice dark denim jeans with a dressy t-shirt.

Having said that I'm actually looking quite smart this morning, although I still haven't changed out of my beloved old purple Nikes and into my sensible black leather grown-up shoes.

Anonymous said...

You were an aspiring actress?! That's all I can focus on :) And you had a pilates teacher?!

I find fashion very exhausting. It really means that you have to shop all the time to "keep up" with the newest style. So I opt to keep a set of little black everything.

I used to be a management consultant, so professional wear still occupies most of my closet space. I can't part with the clothes, thinking one day I may need them again. On the other hand, I will try my best never to work in an environment that I need the "professional wear".

Perhaps, it is time for me to get rid of them. Sigh.

p.s., finding one's own style is very difficult.

ruchi said...

Joyce, what a great idea to give up shopping for Lent. Tell her to check out the thrift store before she heads to the mall!

Mad Hatter, no sorry. I'm green not crazy. ;) Many greenies actually recommend sleeping nekked to limit pajama use, but I actually sleep with clothes on because I feel like if I slept naked I would want to wash my sheets more often! I will say though, that it is a good strategy to take off work clothes and wear your crummy clothes when you get home from work. This will save some wear and tear on your nice work outfits.

GB, yes, exactly. When I used to go to the store, I would sometimes buy things in fashion, but only if it accorded with my own personal style. That way, even when said item goes out of fashion, it still works for me, and I'll still wear it.

EBM, it is hard to find your own personal style it's true. It's hard to ignore the magazines that tell you that this season's "must-have" is a cowboy hat. Because when you first see the cowboy hat, you're like, that's ridiculous. Then the next day, the hottest fashionista at work shows up in a cowboy hat. A month later, everyone is wearing cowboy hats, and you start thinking, "Oh my GOD. WANT COWBOY HAT!!!" So I get it. It's hard to resist. But I think it's worth it. Because then, you will feel confident in every piece you own, whether or not it's in fashion.

CAE, I spent an hour in my converse before I changed into my black leather grown up shoes. And now, I've currently got my feet tucked underneath me, and the shoes are off. I'm not very good at being a grown up.

ruchi said...

Cindy, yes, I was an aspiring actress. And yes, I had an agent, a pilates teacher, an acting coach, and an aesthetician. I belonged to a gym, I couldn't cut my hair or dye it because then I would have to get new headshots. I drove to auditions, and ate Balance Bars for "meals." Any other questions? ;)

Sam said...

You know as Demetri Martin says, if you have blanket and a pair of scissors, you're two minutes away from a poncho. (I find that statement ridiculously funny).

And goodness! Actress? Pilates?

Occasionally I get the urge to wear clothes that fit instead of these baggy things I hold up with belts and safety pins (and get away with in a business casual environment), but then I get lazy. Really, if you be a hard core environmentalist just be a procrastinator (despite Chile's notion that procrastination that is an addiction).

Chile said...

I'm sorry, I didn't read past "...propensity to fall down" because I was laughing too hard. Don't worry, I was laughing with you because I'm clumsy myself.

Heels? No way. I'd break my neck. Fashion? Uh, honestly, no. Luckily I don't give a rat's patootie so t-shirts and jeans are fine for me. However, I did get rid of the t-shirts I didn't like and now only wear ones I do like.

About the post title, are you saying the devil is nekkid? God gets a fancy flowing robe and the devil gets nada?

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I had to laugh because my grown-up shoes are off now too!

I get changed so many times in a day it's ridiculous. I get up and put on whatever I was wearing the night before. Then I change into my cycling gear after breakfast. Then I shower and change into my nice clothes at work. At the end of the day I change back into my cycling gear, ride home, shower, and change again - into sloppy jeans and t-shirt if we're staying in, and smart jeans and nice t-shirt if we're going out! I suppose it does save wear on any one outfit...

hmd said...

I definitely have my own style. It says "Bum." Usually its shorts and t-shirts - many of my clothes have small holes which I am incessantly patching up because I loathe shopping. Nothing ever fits right anyway. Of course my whole vagrant look doesn't go well at the office. Neither does the I-just-biked-45-minutes-in-90-degree-heat look. So I just keep a pair of khakis, some white ribbed t-shirts and sweaters at the office (in addition to stores of deodorant). I may look a little frayed, but people are used to me by now. I'm the office weirdo :)

Donna said...

Good for you! I think I'm going to go through my closet using your tips and see what happens!

ruchi said...

Beany, I think Demitri Martin is hysterical!! And Beany, go to the tailor and get your clothes altered for goodness sake. I don't want your pants falling down when you're cooking my local, organic meal!

Chile, I can't wear heels. At all. Because, um, I fall down. A LOT. I was mostly being silly with the title though really, doesn't the devil just have a pitchfork?

CAE, just hang up your clothes when you're done with them! That's what I'm bad at, and then my clothes can get damaged.

Heather, I have spurts of "trying" to like nice, but really I'm a bum at heart!

Donna, good luck!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

"Any other questions? ;)"

Were you in anything I might have seen?!

ruchi said...

That depends ... how much Dutch Public Television do you watch?

Anonymous said...

You know, I was just thinking about something similar this morning. I'm currently wearing a very of-the-moment pencil skirt. I love this skirt - it fits me perfectly, makes me feel feminine and sexy, and has an awesome side zipper up the leg that can convert it from school ma'arm matronly to school ma'arm in an erotic novel sexy. It's even BCBG, for heaven's sake. I get compliments every time I wear it.

And here's the thing: I bought it about seven years ago for $2.50 in a Goodwill store in Portland, OR.

Similarly with most of the other clothing that I have kept for the longest and get the most compliments on - had them for years and bought them used.

I actually end up feeling quite, well, smug, because I know that I have managed to build a good wardrobe that fits me with a minimum outlay. I have pretty much always followed the maxim that if I'm never entirely IN style, I'll never be entirely OUT of style.

Knowing what looks good on you and wearing such things gives you a confidence that goes a very, very long way towards overcoming any transitory, marketing-created perceived obsolescence.

(Sorry about the rambling comment; I seem to have lost track of my train of thought midway.)