Clothing Dummy

Dress to make yourself feel good.

I read the words in what was meant to be a sassy rebuttal to how society expects women to dress. I love the concept – wear whatever you want! Be confident! Fuck ‘em!

Hard as I try, though, I haven’t figured out how to do that: dress to make myself feel good. More often than not, what I’m wearing doesn’t feel good because when I look in the mirror, it doesn’t look good. Most of my clothes are ill-fitting and awkward, which for me has always been the norm, though I hadn’t noticed until I read that simple, meant-to-be-empowering, six-word sentence.

Needless to say, this goes way back. And yes, of course, I have to now dig it all out like a bunch of sweaters at the first sign of fall, and write about what I find.

When I was a child I went through my school years wearing scores from Goodwill, cheap polyester outfits from Max 10 and my step-sister’s highly-anticipated hand-me-downs. Every once in a while, she would haul a black plastic garbage bag – or if I was lucky, two – out of her closet and hold each item up for me to decide on. Being given the choice of yay or nay was almost more than I could handle. I would luxuriate in the softness of the rollneck sweater or the quality of the geometrically-patterned shirt – neither of which I would have chosen on my own, given the fact that the colors and shapes that flattered each of us were very different, but, meh. More often than not I just took whatever she was willing to give me. I knew that clothes weren’t something I had any sort of authority on, and so I was in no position to be picky.

Because of this mish-mash way of acquiring clothes, I never really developed a style of my own. My family was not moneyed and my town was small; trying to ‘fake it’ took a certain level of creative mastery which I did not possess. Instead I pretended that my minimal look was intentional. I learned to respond to comments like “hey dummy nice shirt” with “oh thanks, I like yours too!” This always left those mocking me confused as to whether their dig had been successful or not, and allowed me time to escape.

Eventually I learned that I could beat them to the punch by using self-deprecation.  Even if I thought I looked halfway-decent, if I felt I was getting the side-eye from a classmate I would loudly say to a friend “I have no idea what I was thinking when I got dressed this morning, look at me – I’m a mess” and then I would laugh, and shake my head. This became a knee-jerk reaction that I have only recently begun to recognize and attempt to correct because, I’ll admit it – I continue to do it, all the time.

Me, one week ago.
Me, one week ago.

I’m still dressing in hand-me-downs, clothing swap scores, and whatever filler I can afford. See that weird half-sweater thing I’m wearing in the photo? I have no idea what that even is. I would never pick that out for myself. And yet, I wore it. Because shopping is a befuddling, frustrating experience for me which I am almost more averse to than trips to the DMV without an appointment on a Monday morning; sometimes this means wearing a weird half-sweater.

Of course there have been times I’ve wished for something more grand to appear when I open my closet – I am both human and female, and not in any way immune to envy and/or longing. But over the years, I’ve learned to embrace and love my jeans and T-shirt uniform. And honestly, it isn’t a bad way to dress myself. I can get ready for almost anything quicker than most women, given the lack of options in my closet (combined with the fact that I also never mastered hair and makeup).

On the rare occasions I do find myself shopping, I won’t lie – I sometimes do get a small rush when I find a used pair of jeans that ohmygod actually fit, or a timeless, barely worn, high-quality brand cardigan and, if by some rare fateful blessing it looks good, it also feels good. A little tingling around my mouth happens and I find myself smiling at my reflection, which is a rare and beautiful thing to see.

I think about that sentence again: Dress to make yourself feel good. And this time, I think I get it.

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