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What to Wear

There has been a question circulating on Facebook that has me reminiscing…name a store that you shopped at that no longer exists. For me that would have been Dunham’s Department store. It was a staple of growing up in Trenton…and my grandmother had a charge card. So that meant all my back to school shopping was done there. When Dunham’s closed, it was Sears or JC Penny’s. Again, clothes were bought on credit. I started to develop a habit of buying cheap so I could stretch my budget. This did not always mean I made the best fashion choices.

Even though I was the oldest, I grew up with hand-me-downs from my mom’s friends. This included school uniforms. As a teen, when I started to develop my own style, I would shop Goodwill. For the most part, my style consisted of a t-shirt, jeans, and either a men’s suit vest or tweed jacket. seriously, it was so recognizably me, that as a senior, the freshmen had a student dress like that to represent me in a skit they did.

I continued to buy thrift clothes after college. Living in Florida, I had a car with no air condition which required me to dress lightly. So my style evolved into layers. I would wear a tank top in the car and then add the requisite cardigan when I entered the air conditioned library I worked in. I wore flowy skirts and wedged shoes. I was a pro at holding Storytime in what I referred to as my ankle breaker boots. It wasn’t until I moved to Maryland, that I started paying attention to what I wore.

I was no longer working with the public (or in most cases, children) and had an actual office. Of course there was a professional vibe and I took my cues from my supervisor and the CEO. My Pinterest was full of stylish outfit boards, but my closet didn’t necessarily match. Once again, my clothes consisted of hand-me-downs, this time from my mother-in-law. They were nice, but not really me.

I first started becoming aware of what was in my closet after reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I would look at the items in my closet and ask myself if they gave me joy or if I would buy the item if I was in the store today. That last question was very helpful for purging items from my closet. My MIL has expensive taste, but it doesn’t always align with mine, so it was hard to justify purging those hand-me-downs. What was the point of keeping them if they didn’t bring me joy?

It had been rooted into my head that professionalism meant wearing a suit or sheath dress. I am barely taller than 5’2”. This means that most dressy pants look ridiculous on me. At some point in my life, I realized that I felt more confident when I was comfortable. I am my most comfortable in a pair of jeans. But that went against everything I thought I had been taught about how professional women dressed. As I was approaching forty and closer to having that terminal degree of a doctorate, I realized that I didn’t care what others thought. So I started being more vocal about dress codes. Many of the “rules” when it comes to dress codes are actually a form of societal control and in many cases they are either sexist or classist.

From the webcomic Spirit Fingers by han kyoung chal

Wear what makes you happy has become my new motto. I like dressing up, but I am dressing up for me and no one else. When the pandemic hit and we all started working limited in-office hours, I advocated to allow jeans in the office. Guess what? The world didn’t end because someone was wearing denim instead of khaki. In reality, many staff members still chose not to wear jeans, but that was their choice. Just having the option to wear jeans gave one tiny route of control back within all the craziness in the world.

What we wear has a big connection to our psyche. Our clothing choices can inspire our moods and make us feel more confident and productive. Have to give a big presentation? Wear your power color! For me that is red and black. Feeling kinda of ick? Wear the t-shirt with that funny saying that makes you smile every time you wear it or that fuzzy sweater that makes you feel warm and cozy. Do you feel put together in jeans, a blazer, and heels? Then bring it! You do you!

Want to check out the outfits I find inspiring? Check out my re-pins on Pinterest. I am slowly working my way towards dressing my best life. Pinning to Pinterest is one way for me to discover what that is.

If you want to know more about the psychology of what you wear, I highly recommend reading Dress Your Best Life: How to Use Fashion Psychology to Take Your Look—and Your Life— to the Next Level by Dawnn Karen. Then follow it up with You are the Style: An Every Girl’s Guide to Getting Dressed, Building Confidence, and Shining from the Inside Out by Laurie Brucker Amerikaner. Both books are a fascinating look at what we wear and how to achieve our best selves. They both align with positive psychology as well as mindfulness. I never thought of my closet as being part of my self-care until I read Amerikaner’s book, but it makes total sense. When we are comfortable, we are happy. When we are happy, we are productive.

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