Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I feel... pretty?

In the past couple years, I've worked hard to improve my closet. I threw out my old skanky college clothes in an effort to dress modestly. I've pared down the excess so that everything fits easily in the closet - no having to switch out for fall, spring, or maternity.

And yet, I'm still not there. I thought that only having clothes in my closet that I actually wear was supposed to be freeing. No shuffling through a lot of junk just to find the same top that I always wear. And while that's true to an extent, I still usually end up standing there moaning "I don't have anything to wear."

Or lately, "I hate my clothes."

Recently my husband was lucky enough to watch me try on outfit after outfit and bemoan the state of my wardrobe. Finally he shook his head and said, "We need to spend some money and have you buy some nice clothes. A few go-to outfits."

Naturally I jumped on that opportunity! But I know myself - I needed some guidance. So I turned to the one person whose opinion matters most to me, especially when it comes to what I look like.

I turned back to my husband.

After all, he's the one I care most about looking good for. And he is a good dresser himself. When we first started dating, I confessed to my friend, "He dresses better than I do!" It wasn't that he was really snazzy or hip or anything. It's that he always wears a button-up shirt, nice khakis, and good shoes. It always looks good. On the days where he dresses down, it's a polo. Now I know that part of the reason this works is because he's a guy, but surely there's something I can learn from this. Something about sticking to the classics and sticking with what works? I'm still figuring it out.

Anyway, I turned to him and asked what I should do to improve my wardrobe. We discussed it a bit and finally my husband said, "Just wear clothes that you feel pretty in."

I was actually speechless at the thought. Clothes that I feel pretty in?

It's been two weeks and I'm still digesting this. Clothes that I feel pretty in? He said this like it was a no-brainer. But it was a revelation to me. I racked my brain trying to remember the last time I got dressed with the goal of looking pretty. I went back YEARS and couldn't remember a single instance. There were plenty of times I tried to look "nice" and on my wedding the goal was "beautiful." But pretty? Hm, maybe at some point in high school?

Seriously, I think that over the years I've tried to look everything but pretty. I've tried to look sexy and I've tried to look sweet. I've tried to look skinny and I've tried to look curvy. I've tried to look professional and I've tried to look sporty. I've tried to look stylish and I've tried to look modest. But I've never tried to look pretty.

What a pity.
Why is it that I don't get dressed with the intention of looking (or at least feeling) pretty? Is that just not my "style" or that it's not necessarily what clothing stores push? Is it even realistic to try to look pretty as a mom, when you don't know what stain is going to land on you next?

As I reflect on all this, I'm also musing over just what it is that makes me feel pretty. This question was actually asked over at Betty Beguiles recently and at the time it didn't even register with me. The only thing I could think of was "I feel pretty when my hair is down." No clothing choices sprang to mind. Should it maybe have sent a little alarm off in my head that I simply dismissed the question? That the idea of looking pretty was so easily shrugged off?

It is time to Bring Pretty Back. (Is Justin Timberlake replacing West Side Story in your head now?) Before I hit the stores, though, I'm trying to carefully evaluate what I'm looking for in clothes that I feel pretty in. Below are some things I'm keeping in mind. Obviously each woman is different and would have different preferences.

Colors. I feel pretty in pinks, purples, blues, and white. I also feel happy in yellow and reds (with a purple undertone, never an orange one). I do not feel pretty in oranges or olive green.
  • Noticeably absent here are black, brown, and navy. If I need a plain color to balance my look, I prefer a white or cream. I'm not sure how that will work in the winter - maybe by incorporating tan instead of the really dark colors? Or just somehow adding my pretty colors to the dark?
  • I should look into that whole seasonal color thing. I've realized that I don't feel pretty in autumn colors. I think I might be a spring color person, but I should check with my grandma - I think she has a book about this somewhere. In the meantime, I am only going to consider clothes in my pretty colors.

What would my husband think? My husband can be an opinionated guy, and I've been a bit surprised by some of his thoughts on my clothes. It has definitely been worth it to pick his brain on this topic. (Note: Be sure that your husband is in a good mood when you try to discuss this.)
  • Pencil skirts leave him unimpressed. I like them because I think I look good in them (now that I dropped the baby weight), but he just thinks they make me look like a schoolteacher. Since they aren't really the most practical choice for chasing after a baby, I will not buy them anymore. Since I do like them for church once in a while, I will not get rid of the ones I have.
  • He wants me to dress my age. I am 29. I still have a few pieces that look like a 19 year old should wear them. They're out. I am a mother. That doesn't mean I need to dress frumpy, but it does mean that, for me, anything super stylish needs to be avoided. I can't pull it off and it's not pretty when I try.
  • He thinks below the knee is a good length for skirts. And when it comes to the flowing skirts that I feel pretty in, he is right. I probably won't limit myself to this length for all my skirts and dresses, but I am going to consider the length carefully in the future. That said, my casual everyday skirts will probably always be simple knee-length A-lines.

Specific features. As I was browsing through my closet, there were a few other details that stood out to me.
  • Puffy sleeves. I don't know how often I will pull a shirt off the rack, especially a pretty one, and realize that the puffy sleeves make my shoulders look way too broad. A little gathering at the top of the shoulder is good, but if there's gathering at the sleeve edge too, it doesn't work for me. I feel like an evil stepsister - decidedly not pretty.
  • Lace and ruffles make me feel pretty. I love lace and have far too little of it in my wardrobe. I also like a little ruffle. The ruffles that are popular now are a bit too much for me, though - I like them a bit more subtle. Plus I'm afraid if I buy all these ruffly shirts now that I'll be wearing them five years from now and look so 2011. So I guess I'm looking for understated ruffles in pieces that will last.
  • Accessories? What accessories? Actually I do know the exact style of earrings I like, and do enjoy wearing those. Instead of running out and trying to buy a necklace that I think will work with multiple outfits, I'm just accepting the fact that (a) I don't usually wear them and (b) there would be little hands pulling on them if I did. I might try to incorporate some scarfs, though.
  • Know where to go for help. I stumbled upon this series on developing your own "comfortably dressy" style and think it's really helpful, even if I ultimately decide to make some different choices as my personal style evolves. I did actually print out the "Should I Buy This Shirt?" guide and it is now in my wallet. I also pulled out some books at the library and will let you know if I actually find any of those helpful.

What clothes make you feel pretty? Or are you like me and have never even contemplated such a thought?


    1. So much to analyze! I love things that fit me right, but do not make me worry about them being too tight, low or anyway immodest. I went through trying to figure this out a few years ago and realized that even though I rejected it for awhile - I LOVE pink and purple. They make me feel feminine, even when chasing after little boys all day. Also this time of year, I love a good, comfortable sweater! A flowing skirt or dress and fun shoes and nice earrings (both which make me feel like I actually put together an outfit, not just threw on whatever was lying nearby). Of course, I can't resist my jeans and sweatshirts either - but that's just me:)

    2. So simple, why don't we think that way more often? I think that for me, what makes me feel pretty is simply what's flattering to my body type. Flow-y stuff is certainly not a bad thing.

    3. Hey, I'm going through the same thing! Like you, I've been wearing clothes that I've had for years and years, and I recently realized that I've been wearing most of this stuff just because it still has wear left, not because I actually like the clothing. So I got rid of a bunch of stuff and only have like three shirts now! Eep! So I think a shopping trip will be in order soon. ;-)

      I love the style analysis you've done so far! You are definitely thinking this through! I definitely recommend dressing to work with the parts of you that you feel are the most beautiful. Argh, I'm phrasing that horribly. But for instance: I have an hourglass figure, so I try to avoid really baggy tops with shapeless waists and instead find clothes that define the waist. Makes me feel bee-yoo-tiful! ;-) You mentioned that you feel pretty when your hair is down. So maybe you could experiment with hair accessories (not really a clothing thing, but oh well :-P).

      All that to say, I'm definitely of the opinion that you shouldn't buy a piece of clothing unless it makes you feel like a million bucks. Good luck with the wardrobe overhaul!

    4. This is something I struggle with as well. Not only because I have no fashion sense to speak of (I took a friend along as a personal shopper when I needed a professional work wardrobe for the first time), but because my number one priority is staying warm in my freezing cold office, which is where I spend most of my waking hours. Trying to look pretty while not freezing is something I have yet to master (e.g., I have yet to find a pair of tights thick enough to conquer the Chicago cold, so skirts are out). My latest goal is to try to understand how to layer well and buy a few new pieces that I can use to layer. I will try to keep this in mind while I'm shopping :)

    5. I love constantly reevaluating my clothing - it's the ex-costume designer in me I think.

      This year, as my first year as a Mom, I've tried to focus on clothes that don't admit to the large pile of laundry or my lack of sleep, even if it's just a t-shirt and jeans. I try to make sure my pajama clothing are nice, but not the type of thing that should be seen past the mail box so that I try to make sure I at least look "nice" when leaving the house.

      I highly recommend not buying a stitch of clothing unless you love it - it helps make sure you use your investment as much as possible!

      My general rule is that I should be able to wear an item on any day of the month and not have it be too tight or too bulky and for multiseason items I should be able to wear them after a post-Christmas feast and a summer in the heat and still have it fit well.

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