Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Not to Wear

Warning: Chick Blog

I confess. I adore the Learning Channel's show What Not to Wear. I adore Clinton and Stacy and all their New York-ishness. I love the way they move on in and throw out an unsuspecting person's lifetime of wardrobe clutter and transform them in one week. I love that they do this without surgery, without cosmetic dentistry, without ever ever ever telling anyone they need to lose weight or gain weight or get rid of their glasses. I love how they work with the person in front of them and help that person to see how beautiful they are. They may trash someone's choice of 1981's parachute pants, but they will never trash someone's height or weight or hair.

I know clothing is superficial. I also know that I've spent more on clothing in my lifetime than some countries' GNP. I not only adore What Not to Wear; I adore clothes. I could go a year and never wear the same thing twice. I know this isn't the most enlightened of blogs I've written, but we do all have to wear something, so we might as well feel fabulous. All clothes are not made for all body types. How do you know what works for you and what doesn't? How do you become aware of how your persona is affecting those around you? Do you want to attract people or keep people at a distance? Do you want to advance in your career, or are you still holding on to dorm life? Sometimes your desires are at odds with your outward expression.

It's easy to relegate clothing and appearance to the lightweight and superficial realms. Fashion magazines don't help dispel that idea, and since it's generally women who spend energy and money on fashion, we've got the gender factor at work as well. It's a "girl thing"; therefore it doesn't matter.

I've reinvented myself at least once a year through clothing for close to a decade. I can put forth any persona I choose to from my closet. I think of dressing as visual art and I am a canvas for that expression. Some days I feel like jeans and a T-shirt (but not many). Colors change my moods. Fabrics create or release tension. Combinations of colors, fabrics or accessories present a picture. Nothing I wear is by accident. Maybe it doesn't always work, but it's always planned, down to the hair clip.

I understand that beauty is far more than outward appearance. I also know how much outward appearances can help bring out or hide that beauty. It doesn't take a lot of money. It doesn't take a lot of time. It takes honest assessment of your body and your spirit and then finding outfits to match those things. Many people dress in conflict with one or both of those things. Many of us never learned how to dress properly -- how to do our hair or put on make up. Lots of the show's participants are women in transition -- going from college to their first real job; from a long marriage to newly single; from a mom to an empty-nest space; from a job in the mail room to a job in the boardroom -- and the women aren't sure how to navigate these transitions. Sometimes the people have used clothes as a buffer to keep people away from them. These are my favorite episodes because I have done this a lot.

When I moved back from Tucson some twenty years ago, I didn't want anyone coming near me. I'd shaved my head and gained weight. I used clothes (big men's shirts and baggy pants) to ensure that no one saw that I was female - that no man would ever get close enough to me again to hurt. I didn't know what to do with my chest, which never completely went away no matter how much weight I gained or lost, and I didn't really know how to walk.

When I was around thirty, my best friend took me bra shopping. It was revolutionary. My dear mother is not blessed with breasts and has no need for a bra. Suffice to say, I did not inherit her chest. My friend and I went to Robinsons-May at the Scottsdale Fashion Square and I got my first bra fit. The delightful saleswoman asked me what size I was wearing. I told her, and she got such a sad look on her face. "Oh, no, dear. Oh, no. Come with me." And I did. And I was shocked at first by the size, and then shocked again by how different clothes fit on me if I wore the right bra.

It was a mini-revolution for me. Suddenly, everything changed. I stood differently. I looked at people differently. People looked at me. It seems small and trivial, but it is anything but. We are creatures of the body. How we choose to adorn it speaks volumes. It's like anything -- the more you learn about it, the more options you have. If you've only known polyester and knee socks, then that's all you can see. But if you play around -- try putting colors you'd NEVER put together and see what comes up -- wear a piece of jewelry a bit bigger than you're comfortable with, or a bit smaller -- see how you feel. See how you move. See what changes in your perception of the world.

It is not an untrue statement to say that being properly bra fitted changed my life. It did. So, rock on Clinton and Stacy. It's not about making people look like the cover of Vogue. It's about helping people be comfortable in their own skin. Sacred work -- even in that big illusion of New York. :-)

End Chick Blog.

No comments: