See that small, geeky, shy girl with the cat-eye glasses and deer in the headlights look on her face? That was me growing up and how I presented myself going into the fifth and sixth grades, a time when I began to notice how the popular girls were dressed. The Age of Aquarius wasn’t far behind and the three M’s dominated women’s fashion: the Mini, the Midi and the Maxi. I wasn’t brave enough to give the Mini a try and it’s highly unlikely Mom would have let me board the school bus ‘dressed like that’. I really wanted a Midi skirt and may have had one. I just don’t remember but I’m fairly certain I had a Maxi skirt or maybe it was a dress. Something peasant-like in its detailing as I recall.
Sadly the desired effect – looks of admiration from both the boys and the girls – was not to be. Instead I was a laughingstock and, I’m fairly certain, the butt of many jokes. My parents had neither the money nor the inclination to allow the six of us girls to dress as fashionistas and besides I was pretty much clueless about the process. I had no idea about how to pull a look together or about how to style my hair or to apply make-up. Jewelry? Wasn’t even on my radar. Being the oldest I had no one to guide me in these important matters. Nor was Mom someone to show me the way as this was definitely not one of her strong suits either.
In my 20’s the walk of shame continued but this time I was unaware. I didn’t know what I didn’t know but – key to the embarrassment I didn’t realize I probably should have felt – I now thought I knew what was what. I read Glamour and Cosmopolitan and Self and even (gasp!) Playgirl after all so I assumed reading these publications bestowed upon me a certain sense of sophistication.
After having been starved for sartorial splendor in my earlier years I now had a new tool to obtain the clothes I read about and craved and drooled over in all those women’s magazines: credit. Credit cards and in-store credit – and oh, how I made use of these fun little gadgets! My closet overflowed. Shirts and pants and dresses and shorts and blouses and jackets and shoes and sandals! If the red espadrilles were cute then I just had to have them in blue and green as well. Well, you know where this is headed. It wasn’t long before I was in debt up to my eyeballs. It took many years but I ultimately I was able to get this monkey off my back. Word of advice: Don’t do it. I know all too well the temptation to keep up with what your friends are doing (and wearing) but being a single mom in a dead-end job I had no business racking up so much debt. But I digress.
With regard to the clothes I wore in my 20s, those years could be summed up in three words: trying too hard. Laughable now but I cringe to recall some of the things I wore (and did!) during those tumultuous times and so that’s pretty much all the ink I need to devote to THAT particular decade.
The year I turned 30 things started to turn around for me a bit. In my early 30’s I had a fun group of friends and we enjoyed going out for drinks after work, crazy parties (usually with a theme of some sort!), camping trips and other grand adventures. When I was 34 I decided to quit my job and go to college. Without a doubt this was the best decision of my entire life. And this is when I started to figure out who Julie was and more importantly who Julie wanted to be. Because I was no longer gainfully employed I didn’t have the money, during college as a non-traditional student with a 15-year-old-son, for discretionary spending that I’d had before and while I continued to use credit to buy clothes now and then it was definitely not the problem it had been for me before.
As I continued along the academic path I’d decided on for myself my confidence grew. I started to pay more attention to color and fabric and I had a better idea of what looked good on me and what didn’t. Oh, I still managed the occasional fashion faux paus (and I am positively chagrined when I see some of my hairstyles back in the day!) but I was definitely better able to pull a look together. I graduated from college and got married and started my new career. One of the reasons my decision to quit my job to go to school was such a fabulous idea is that I now had money – actual MONEY! – with which to buy clothes. I no longer needed to rely on a credit card. I could now pay with good, old-fashioned, cold, hard CASH.
Once again my closet and dresser drawers were filled with clothes. LOTS of clothes. During my late 30’s and throughout my forties I became, once again, a clothes horse – I love clothes. I’ll admit it! Christopher & Banks was a particular favorite. At one point probably 95% of my wardrobe came from that store. I loved the style, the colors, and the fabrics. And yes I think my love affair with clothes is very much because we had nothing really as kids, almost always wore hand-me-downs and rarely ever had any new clothes.
Then something strange happened.
While I still love clothes at some point I just – stopped. I rarely buy anything new anymore. You could argue – successfully perhaps! – that the reason for this is because I truly don’t NEED anything new. And if I’m honest my attitude now is ‘Meh – this will do’. I still like to dress well and when I feel that I look good in what I’m wearing it helps me feel more self-confident. Some will argue there should be no correlation. Our self-esteem and sense of pride shouldn’t be based on something as shallow as what one is wearing. And yet I’ll argue that if a person doesn’t feel good about how she (or he) looks it’s difficult to feel self-confident, to walk with your head held high or to have a spring in your step, a bounce in your pounce.
So. I guess I’ve evolved over time from someone clueless about clothes (the care and feeding of clothes, the how to, the what and when and where) to someone who obsessed over them to someone who became comfortable in her own skin to someone, now, who is at peace. I’ll still shop for clothes, I’ll still add to my wardrobe but here’s the thing. If I never did again, that would be okay too. Now there’s something 20-year-old Julie could not ever imagine herself saying!