Yesterday, as usual, I had nothing to wear. I stood, wrapped in a towel after my shower, looking forlornly at my closet. Oh sure, things were hanging there. Old things, uncomfortable things, impractical things. There was the denim dress I got at the thrift store that’s too big but I wear it anyway, along with a black dress that’s comfortable but makes me look pregnant. There was an itchy green sweater and stretched-out black pants, both of which I have been wearing since high school. There was array of cocktail dresses I never have opportunities to wear, and the tight purple sweater dress that I can only wear if I’m willing to suck in my stomach for the entire day.
I pulled on a trusty pair of leggings and noticed there was a hole in the butt. I put on my blue cotton mini dress and noticed it had armpit stains and was beginning to lose its shape. I was already feeling ugly and frustrated from a recent bad haircut, and now I was feeling frumpy and frustrated about my clothes.
“I think I’m going to go to the thrift store today,” I said to Paul. “I need some new clothes.”
“Maybe you should get actual new clothes,” he suggested.
It wasn’t a bad idea. Most of my clothes are pre-worn, and then I proceed to wear them for the next decade, until I am so raggedy-looking that I could be mistaken for a bag lady. (This might be why my Algebra students my first year teaching wanted to get me on the reality TV show “What Not to Wear.”)
So I did something I hate to do… I went to the mall.
Once at the mall, I continued to stare at racks of clothes, feeling baffled and frustrated. Why were all the clothes at the mall so ugly, so uncomfortable, so impractical? I used to be able to go into Forever 21 and find a cute, inexpensive dress, but now all I could find was ugly, cheap stuff like this:
I went into Macy’s and JC Penny’s, but their endless Ladies’ departments were full of grandma clothes and church attire, while the Juniors’ sections (which were blasting One Direction and had racks of fluffy prom dresses) were obviously aimed at girls ages eleven to fourteen. The other stores in the mall weren’t much better. The Gap and Banana Republic were too preppy (obviously). Ann Taylor and The Limited were too plain. Nordstrom’s was too expensive. The Express only had clothes for the office or clothes for the club – neither of which I frequent these days. Old Navy was a joke of a store with boring, cheaply-made clothes and ridiculous sizes. According to Old Navy sizing, I am a child’s Medium.
My last stop was Nordstrom’s Rack. Oh, here was a sort-of interesting sweater. Free People – is that a good brand? I pulled it off the rack. It was marked down, from $200 to $99. Hmm. I didn’t like it that much. Here was a cute sweater at a more reasonable price, but it was made of lightweight material and had three-quarters length sleeves. That wasn’t going to keep me warm in the damp cool of Seattle! Here was a cute pair of jeans – I’ll try them on. But oh yeah. I just remembered that I hate wearing jeans because the only ones that don’t look dumpy on me are tight, and then I find them too restricting, especially in the tummy area. Plus they gap in the back and show off my underwear. Honestly, jeans are the worst.
I ended up coming home from the mall with nothing but a new pair of leggings from Forever 21.
“You know problem is?” I said to Paul later, wagging my finger passionately.
“What’s the problem?” he asked, smiling. (I have to say, he’s an incredibly sweet boyfriend for letting me bitch about my hair and clothes and other girly frustrations, and then, when he asks if he can tell me about the video game he’s been playing, I say only if it takes one minute or less.)
“The problem… Well, there are several problems. The first is that I’m a unique person with a unique style, and I need unique clothes that are not found at the mall.”
“The second problem is that I’m not going to spend ridiculous amounts of money on clothes. I mean, I’m sure I could find cute things at Anthropologie, but I’m not going to spend 150 dollars on a cardigan that I’ll probably spill red wine on the first time I wear it.”
Paul agreed. He spills things on himself all the time.
“And the third problem is that I don’t have a normal life. I don’t need work clothes because I work at home, and I don’t need fancy clothes because I don’t go anywhere fancy. What I need are adult play clothes.”
Paul grinned, probably imagining me in some kind of a romper.
The problem, I went on to elaborate, is that most people consider jeans and tops to be adult play clothes, but I don’t like wearing jeans for a myriad of reasons. I need short, casual dresses I can wear with leggings, and cute, warm, reasonably-priced sweaters (none of this three-quarters sleeves crap) that I can wear at my computer while I’m writing or Skype tutoring. I need outfits that I can do my mid-day stretches in, but that are still cute and presentable enough to wear to my afternoon job at the elementary school and the occasional evening happy hour with a friend. I need easy-fitting clothes that don’t make me look like a bag woman. I need clothes that are fun and colorful without being too juvenile (I am thirty-two, you know, and should probably stop shopping at Forever 21 anyway). I need quality clothes that won’t totally break the bank.
I can imagine what these outfits might look like, but when I go to the store, I don’t see anything that matches what I had in mind. I’m always having to settle for not-quite-right, which is why I so often shop at the thrift store. If it’s not going to be exactly what I want, why pay full price?
“What you need to do,” Paul said, “is commission someone on Etsy to make you some clothes. Then you can tell them exactly what you want, and you’ll get unique outfits.”
I was doubtful this could work, but I searched Etsy for “short, casual dresses.” I ended up finding a Russian woman living in Boston who makes her own whimsical-style clothing. Most of her items were plus-sized, but I liked her general idea of clothing, and I decided to go out on a limb and buy the one dress she had in a small. I’m preparing myself for the very-likely possibility that it won’t fit, or I won’t like it, but on the off-chance that it does, and I do…. Maybe I really could commission her to make me some adult play clothes that are exactly what I’ve always wanted!
I don’t have a normal life anymore. I quit my regular teaching job and created a life for myself out of random part-time jobs and the dream of being a writer. I’ve never been satisfied with doing the same things (or wearing the same things) as other people.
In fact, when I think about it, the books I like to read (and want to write) have a lot in common with the wardrobe I wish I had. I like novels that are colorful, unique, high-quality, and a little edgy. Easy and fun without being too juvenile.
I guess, when the world doesn’t have what I want, I have to find a way to create it. And when I can’t create it on my own, I have to find someone who can help me. EuropeaninBoston — you make the clothes. I’ll write the books. Everybody wins.