While cleaning my apartment before my September subletters arrive, I found the journal I kept my junior year in college. That was the year I went to Paris, and on one of the early pages, I came across illustrations of my intended Parisian wardrobe (and, OMG, a bodysuit – remember those? – and a denim vest were on the list).
It was the very beginning of what would become a habit (and, for a brief stint, a career) of drawing fashion illustrations.
But that page in my journal reminded me of something else: my early-college clothes obsession. It wasn’t a healthy obsession; I had a problem. After twelve years of wearing a uniform to a small school every day, I suddenly found myself in a large, impersonal university. I didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.
Other insecure girls in this situation would probably binge eat, or drink heavily, or do lots of recreational drugs. My special disordered behavior was outfit changing. Five times a day. I’d get dressed in the morning, go to class, feel like crap, get back to my dorm, then change into another outfit. I missed classes because I had wardrobe crises. It was painful. I worried about how I’d ever function as an adult with a job that I couldn’t leave in the middle of the day to change into something that made me feel better. My disordered inner state was reflected in my inability to just pick one damned thing to wear each day and live with it.
I don’t remember exactly how I broke that habit. I suspect I gradually grew more confident, more at ease with being myself. I probably stopped trying to fit in so much (I mean, I went to Berkeley). When I asked a roommate why she didn’t miss classes because she couldn’t figure out what to wear, she answered, “I just buy things I really like and wear them all the time.” And so that became my mantra, too. I stopped binge shopping, buying way fewer clothes and wearing them to death instead. After being forced to wear a uniform for twelve years, I was willingly – and happily – creating another one. I felt and looked good.
This year, as I started preparing for my September trip, I realized that I didn’t have a wardrobe I felt comfortable traveling in. That’s partly due to the dismal weather in San Francisco, which means I had few warm-weather clothes, partly because I hadn’t bought new (and not just new-to-me) clothes in over a year, and partly due to the ten-ish pounds I’ve put on from working with my chocolate client. So I went to the mall to shop, an activity I hate because, while I love clothes, I don’t like parting with my money. I bought a couple of blouses. I bought new shoes. I bought a dress. I bought a skirt. I even bought two new pairs of jeans, taking the time to try on over a dozen pairs until I found two that fit just right.
I felt really guilty afterward. I’d spent a lot of money on new clothes, instead of the secondhand items I usually buy. Did I need them? Could I justify the expense? Here I was, buying clothes that I really liked and that flattered me and I felt guilty! But my new wardrobe reflected my new career as a consultant, my ten pounds of “mirth girth,” and my dream of taking off a month to travel every year. I had just purchased a wardrobe that reflected my growth, and how I felt about myself. These weren’t aspirational purchases, but clothes that fit who I am right now.
The more I thought about – and wore – my new clothes, the more I realized that the guilt was just another form of my earlier dysfunction. I’ve become a confident, creative, resourceful adult. I’m not all that disordered on the inside. Building a wardrobe that reflects this, and doing it in a thoughtful (albeit guilt-ridden) manner is a way of honoring who I am and where I am in my life right now. Really – finally – my outside matches my inside. I’m letting go of the guilt that I’d been carrying, and instead embracing the joy of feeling worthy.
(And I’m also rocking a few pairs of really pretty, new shoes)