I just finished reading Tim Gunn’s Fashion Bible. While I already knew 85% of the fashion history tidbits he so eloquently assembled into the least boring history book I’ve read in quite a while, it’s the effect I had upon looking at myself in the mirror that struck me the most.
First, I relished his attitudes about shape and size, namely; there is no such thing as ‘normal’, and everyone looks good in clothes that fit. When I was young, I had a great figure. Bearing children and middle age put me in a place of struggle physically. When you permanently outgrow your favorite things, it can be daunting to find new favorites that make you feel just as good. He made me realize it is worth the effort to find my new ‘favorites’.
Second, his discussion on jeans made me understand part of why I’ve been so unhappy in the job I’ve had for the last three years that I’ll be leaving soon. While in title, my job is customer oriented, in reality it is very much physical labor. I ruined three pairs of khaki pants before they relaxed the dress code to allow jeans. While thankful that I could wear jeans which would hold up to my job better, I realized being so dressed down conveyed a distinct lack of professionalism. It’s hard to get customers to take me seriously selling expensive products when I’m wearing the same thing as the high school kid who is just a cashier. It’s hard to feel like a professional when there is no distinction. My first boss in my department wore button downs or dress shirts far more often than he wore polos, now I understand why.
I, too, was raised in a very traditional household when it came to presenting ones self publicly, I can honestly say I don’t live in my yoga pants. In high school (pre-yoga pants era) I was horrified by my friends who put on sweat pants the second they got home, and worse, would leave the house in them for activities outside of sports. If your clothes fit, then they should be comfortable enough to wear all day. I usually only change clothes mid-day if I’m doing a particularly messy task, like gardening or painting. It’s okay to go to the garden center covered in dirt and wearing a sun hat, but I wouldn’t stop at the grocery store on the way home dressed like that. Every time I see someone shopping in a store dressed in work out gear I think “are you counting this leisurely stroll as exercise?”. My inner voice is pretty snarky. I admit I’ve intentionally not brushed saw dust off of myself when heading to the big box home improvement store in order to dissuade the sales people from being condescending. As a matter of fact I do know what I need, I don’t need the third degree from you, dude. I’m the one who owned all the tools when we got married, not my husband. ( He’s handy, just wasn’t raised with the D.I.Y. Everything aesthetic I was). And when I’m there I mentally question the guys who wear shorts to work, unless they are outside in the gardening area. His book made me realize these judgement came from clothing choices.
I’d already decided to leave that job before I picked up the book, but I’m glad I read it when I did because now I’m working on my wardrobe for my new job. My new job is very casual in atmosphere too, but the labor is such that I can wear summer dresses or other comfortable clothes that are not jeans and tee shirts without fear of ruining them. I’m sure I’ll wear jeans to my new job when winter rolls around, but with boots and sweaters I’ve knit for myself, accessorized and dressed up. But now, while it’s hot? I’m sewing like a mad woman to look and feel like the pro I know I am. And I feel pretty, something I’ve never felt in my current job.
Last, he is fiercely in touch with the fact that the average American isn’t buying couture, we can’t afford that. While I’ve developed strong sewing skills over my lifetime I’m very aware that it is not cheaper to sew for oneself as opposed to buying off the rack. The difference is fit and having full control over color and fiber content. So for things like jeans and tee shirts, I absolutely buy them, at Walmart no less. But for dresses and other ‘serious’ clothes, I’m going to make for myself a whole lot more than I have in the last several years.
So, Dear Mr. Gunn: Thank you for renewing my love of clothing. Thank you for reminding me that I can look good in clothes at this size I’m just now getting used to. Thank you for having faith that we aren’t all living in yoga pants. And most of all, thank you for being a voice of reason and encouragement to every woman in America that they can be beautiful and comfortable at the same time.