ere’s what I’m wearing right now: sweatpants I’ve had since college and a stained Rose Bowl sweatshirt I’ve had since long before that. I’m home and it’s a Saturday morning, which ostensibly justifies my look, but if I were living out my wardrobe fantasies and dressing like the woman I long to be, a floor-skimming robe would be involved, matching pajamas under that. I own those things — they’re in the other room right now and I could very easily go and put them on, but I won’t. I never do. It’s a brain-game I’ve played many times over, which explains why these sweats are threadbare and all the items I wish I wore are perfectly preserved and folded away.
Here are just a few of said items: light blue suede Miu Miu slides with gold heels (can’t wear, will get scuffed), a beautiful black vintage shell with subtle beading (can’t wear, too delicate), perfect bell bottom jeans (can’t wear, won’t look right without ideal shoe — which I’ll never find). I love these items, I love them too much. I love them so much that forcing them to live through an ordinary day on my body feels unfair to them; they deserve a momentous occasion, a dream day or night.
I feel about my favorite clothes the same way that I feel about my favorite songs: they cannot be enjoyed casually at a restaurant or at a party or in a car — they need to be eyes-closed savored.
I’ve often wondered what this says about me, that I hardly ever touch my nicest things. The result is daily outfits built on function not style. I wear the same two pairs of jeans nearly every day. They are dark blue and fit properly and are starting to wear in the inner thighs where my legs chafe. In the winters, like now, I have a few non-descript sweaters that I rotate between. I have other sweaters too — fun sweaters, sweaters with patterns, sweaters with flattering necklines and deliberate style. These sit unworn.
I push aside designer workout clothes for old T-shirts. I wear the same dress over and over to cocktail parties. I neglect my fancy coat for a down sleeping bag covered with dust from my daily visits with my puppy to the dog park. I see girls out in the world whose style I envy — look at her with her handkerchief, her cool hair clips, her bright red boots — and I wish I could do that too; dress that intentionally, wear what I long to.
For a long time I convinced myself this was a good thing, this reluctance to wear not even just my special things, but the things I love. I am preserving them, I told myself. I am keeping them pristine, making sure they didn’t lose their lustre. But for what?
The answer isn’t pretty, it centers on self-doubt, and self-esteem, and self-worth. On the deep-rooted worry that somehow I don’t deserve to look the way I want to or, worse yet, will make a fool of myself even trying. It revolves around the idea that I’m not yet complete enough to dress like the woman I want to be. Like the opposite of the dress for the job you want mentality, I’ve somehow convinced myself that I can’t dress that way until I have the job or life or version of me I want.
But recently, I bought a dress I love. I bought it out of necessity; I was officiating one of my best friend’s weddings and was asked to wear blue. For months I put off buying anything, certain I wouldn’t find something beautiful or right or that made me feel good. Three days before the ceremony I finally went shopping, I tried on things that made me feel nothing but were appropriate for the occasion. And then the salesman brought over a navy blue midi-dress that made me suck in my breath the way I do when I know I need something. It was form-fitting with applique flowers and a slit up the side, it had spaghetti straps and a delicate sweetheart neckline. It had an elegant seam that seperated the bodice and the waistline. It was the perfect amount of sophisticated and sexy and just plain pretty. It was special. I tried it on and it fit like I’d had it tailored, it made my hair look shiny, and my skin somehow glow.
Standing in front of the wedding ceremony three days later in my special dress, I felt like me, pretty me, capable me, dressed like a version of myself that I wanted to be. In the blue dress that I loved I felt one piece of my armor melt away, and peaking through that new gap, a shift — a glimmer of the person I wanted to be. A comfort in my skin, a pride in my outfit.
The change won’t happen all at once, but slowly, steadily, I am committed to dressing like the woman I fantasize that I will become. She will wear those Miu Miu slides, that vintage shell, she will wear the handkerchief, and the bell bottoms, and the hairclips, the blouse. Perhaps not all at once, but who’s to say? I’m trying to convince myself that every day is for special things, and that I might not ever be the exact woman I dreamed I’d be. But, at the very least, I can dress the part.
Photo by Edith Young.