When I worked as a professional woman, I easily indulged my passion for fashion on a daily basis. Career wear was my number one, and most favorite, fashion investment. I had two closets teeming with dresses, suits, shoes and bags of the finest quality I could afford. I thrived on changing up jewelry and scarves, and mixing and matching, and my style spoke to my career almost as much as my actual work did. I loved career fashion as much as business administration. I was in my element.
Then came ‘The Change’. After a long and devastating illness, and years in an environment riddled with harassment, Mr. LucyLoves and I made the decision that I would walk away. I would have to put myself first if I was going to live life to the fullest. That meant not only the loss of identity associated with years of a stellar career serving others, but also the loss of my fashion identity. I didn’t realize at the time that I’d be losing more of myself than expected on my journey to a better life. Obviously the first and most important obstacles were to heal and recover, in body, mind and spirit. Then I had to figure out a new budget and how to live with a lot less money while conserving my resources. Fashion was the least of my worries. Or so I thought.
It is my earnest belief that a true fashionista is born, not made. Yes, you can develop your own personal style and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I wish more people today would do it. But to truly be in love with types and plies of fabric, with the drape of various cuts, with the flow that different patterns give to the figure is an art form that we are born with. Like the painter or potter who finds love in texture and shape, the fashionista is a born artist. And losing the ability to engage in making our art on a daily basis leaves us at a loss. What to do?
I was not used to this ‘casual’ life that I now lead. I didn’t know how to be happy in jeans and a tee shirt, roaming around the house and barn. I missed deciding which shoes to wear on any given day. My blood supply was being strangled and I didn’t know where to go for a transfusion.
After a long year of health recovery, I finally decided to face the studio that were my closets. I opened the doors to the A-lines and silks that had been hanging on racks without a wear for months. And I started to purge. I went through every piece, enjoyed the colors, the textures and the memories. And then I started the piles. I organized by type of clothing and by size, and set aside specific piles for special people, whom I knew would at least appreciate them. When I got to my shoe racks, I hesitated and I left several more pairs behind than I should have, but a girl has to draw the line somewhere. Once I had finished, I put out a call to family, friends and associates looking for women in my size range who might be in need or want of professional attire. And then I said ‘goodbye’. Those few things I couldn’t rehome on my own went to a local charity where I’m sure they eventually found a new body. I closed the doors on two closets and had maintained what I would wear for months to come in less than one. It left me with mixed emotions but I let the joy overcome the loss, knowing that there was new life for my old art. I just had to find it.
After nearly three years of figuring out what a casual lifestyle would mean for me, I am finally enjoying shopping and wearing clothing again. Not the clothing I spent a career indulging in, but in new clothing that suits me, in the here and now. It was hard at first to find joy, let alone elation, in putting together a style that included more jeans and button downs than skirts and gabardine jackets. I was like an oil painter finding herself in watercolor class. The form was still beautiful but I had to figure out the medium.
The first challenge was getting used to casual styles for the activities that I now engage in. For the most part, I still spend most of my days at home, unless I’m temping or volunteering for someone. My ‘dress up’ activities usually include museum or concert events with hubby, or lunch dates with friends and the occasional girl’s weekend. I want to look polished, include the things I love in my appearance, like favorite pieces of jewelry, but still blend in with the vibe of the event. Getting used to dressing in a ‘casual’ fashion as a new art form was indeed a new medium for me.
Once I found clothing ideas I liked, the next challenge was finding new stores and departments to shop in. Some of the old standby’s still offered options, like J Crew and Nordstrom’s of course. Madewell still puts up the occasional silk blouse and lovely soft sweaters that work as well with jeans as with dress pants and heels. I can still indulge in boots but now prefer low heals over high and my favorite riding boot company makes just the perfect pair.
After I found locations to shop, I started going more regularly again and just looking at what they had to offer without necessarily buying anything. I started putting together pictures in my mind of how certain items I already had would mesh with new things that I was beginning to like. Staples remain the same, such as layering tees and socks but I now find myself naturally gravitating to more prints and less structured knits than when I was suiting up for professional career demands.
At last, after nearly three years sans work life, I am enjoying shopping, and dressing, once again. In fact, I now have a hard time walking away from something I like, which I frequently have to do because I just don’t need that many items of clothing anymore. I can’t possibly wear all of the things I have bought this past year on a regular basis to get my money’s worth and I don’t want to spend too much on clothing that will end up spending most of its life on a hanger. Scaling back on the number of items I purchase is my current bane. If I like it, I like it. What can I say? But quality over quantity is still my motto and buying something only to leave it to hang in a closet is of no use to me. Or to my checkbook.
Finally, I am enjoying indulging in fashion again. I look forward to my lunch dates and my museum trips, my holiday events and weekends away. And yes, vacations! Traveling is one of the best parts of this retirement life. And with the new stash in my closet, I can pack for any get-away and love every minute of it.
Whatever you wear, wherever you go, live a beautiful life.