What Not to Wear 1

Lately, my daughters and I have gotten hooked on TLC’s What Not to Wear. In my family, when we play, we tend to immerse ourselves in whatever the entertainment passion of the moment is, which recently has been fashion. This has taken no small amount of courage, for fashion has seemed shallow, ego-based, self-centered, vain, and popular from our perspectives. It’s a decidedly unspiritual, low-brow realm favored by the masses, and for these reasons we’ve had conflicted thoughts and feelings about it. To talk or write about it at all is, from an intellectual and spiritual perspective, challenging to one’s self-image.

And, yet, we found ourselves slipping into the fashion world, which is all about image. Remember a few years ago when The Devil Wears Prada was released? I think the girls and I must have watched that movie a dozen times in the past two years. I love New York City, and looking at the clothes and shoes these women wore was fascinating. And, then, there was Meryl Streep, playing the boss from hell. She was great! Still, two years ago, fashion was little more than an interesting look at a necessary evil. Watching the movie or looking at fashion magazines or television shows was to look into a different world–like watching a travel show.

A few weeks ago, though, I learned some information about hormones that interested me.  That rabbit trail eventually had me reading John Gray’s list of 100 things a woman can do to restore her oxytocin levels, among them hanging out with other women and shopping. I’m laughing as I type this, because the lessons I’m learning as a Christian, a woman, and a person are some I’d have never predicted, given the lifelong judgments I’ve carried about the fashion industry and the shallow, vain obsession some people seem to have with appearance. Come on, shopping as therapy? Excuse me while I laugh out loud!

Still, in our part of the world, we’ve had months of dreary, overcast skies, torrents of rain, snow and ice storms, and no break in the monotony of gray, gray, gray. I’m amused to admit that Gray delivered us from gray, because it was he who urged us to lift our spirits by going shopping.

And so we did.

We proclaimed a Mental Health Day, cancelled school, and went shopping. We took the little girls with us, had lunch out, went to Barnes and Noble, drank coffee, looked at magazines and books. In the fashion section I found The Lucky Fashion Manual, which was so helpful that I bought it. What woman doesn’t need to know how to make her butt look smaller, how to dress according to her body type, or simply how to invest her hard-earned money in a good skirt?

I hadn’t thought much recently about what I wore, because after my daughter Olivia died, I left my career. I had nowhere to wear my power suits, and eventually I boxed them up and donated them to Goodwill.  A few years later, I found myself wearing comfy pants with elastic waists, too-large t-shirts, and slip-on shoes, like someone 30 years older. I stopped wearing makeup except for special occasions, and I let myself go. I became lost to myself, unaware at the time of just how much my career and the predictable universe I believed in had defined me. I was unraveled, and my appearance showed it.

As our winter distractions led us down the fashion path, we started recording What Not to Wear and watching it every afternoon. It’s a funny show, because the hosts are clever and have their own particular brand of saucy, snide humor that makes you cringe and laugh out loud. For several weeks now we’ve witnessed women changing through fashion transformation after transformation.

After all this time, a pattern has emerged, and out of that pattern, a truth:

We dress the way we want other people to treat us.

Like it or not, I think this is true. It is true not only of the clothing we put on our bodies, but also true of the way we wear our hair, the houses in which we live, the cars we drive, the words that come out of our mouths, what we write (yes, our blogs), and, of course, our actions. All that the human being can see, this is the image we project onto the world.

This causes me to ask, “Is this an accurate representation of who I am?”

And, “How do I want people to treat me as the result of what I am presenting?”

14 responses

  1. Hello, Joy, and thanks for dropping in. I recently saw an episode featuring a girl named Joy–was that you?

    New York City is one of my favorite places in the world. I’d love to have $5,000 for clothes shopping! Lucky you, getting to go and receiving all that help!

  2. Hi, my name is Joy and I was on What Not to Wear. Stacey and CLinton are awesome especially off camera. Clinton made sure everything fit perfectly. It was the experience of a life time! I’ll porbably never be able to afford to go back to New York but atleast I have the show to remember how exciting it was. I totally fell for this lil deli next to my hotel…

  3. I love London’s fashion–though mostly these days it’s all about the overcoat. I like the fashion here because there is a dose of color, sportiness, and fun…unlike let’s say, New York City, where everything is BLACK. Sheesh. I don’t mind black, but not EVERYDAY and EVERYTHING.

  4. Ah, Hen, what great points. It is absolutely true that many clothes don’t seem made for an actual woman’s body! We watch these shows, and even women who never had children still have curves and get fluffy and so on once they approach middle age. That’s a woman; we’re not boys with boys’ bodies.

    I really liked the distinction you made between fashion and clothing. I wish I’d done that! ;o)

    I’m writing for the next few days about this because it’s been fun and interesting, and after some time of this immersion some truth on a deeper level came out and so, yeah… I’m writing about it. Thanks for chiming in, you always enlighten us.

  5. It sounds to me like you took an otherwise materialistic and generally unnecessary activity and made it a social occasion.

    I would say “We dress the way we want people to see us”. I think clothing, jewelry, hair, etc. are symbolic of our inner selves, to some degree, or of a projected aspect of ourselves.
    I think fashion can be very shallow and materialistic in that it is impersonal and oriented toward a particular time, but clothing can be part of how we express ourselves.

    For me, quitting my career and the subsequent changeover to sweatpants and tshirts was not letting myself go, per se, but rather letting myself be comfortable again. I do believe there is something to be said for dressing “up” a bit while at work, but there is so much about modern Western work clothing that is just uncomfortable. How well do I work when I am irritated by binding hosiery or nonbreathing materials?

    I also cut my hair drastically when we moved from CA to NY. It immediately felt “wrong” and “not me”. I’ve been growing it back ever since. Somehow, it is related to my self-image.

    I don’t have the ability to watch TV, but those shows do sound kind of fun! And as for American women being so poorly dressed…could it be that the clothes are designed and cut for an “average” woman that hardly exists any more? My size is fairly far outside the average range, and clothing to fit me has to be proportioned completely differently than that of someone in the average range. So, it can be very easy to look bad in the clothes you find at the mall! And don’t get me started on why people feel compelled to walk around with logos and words all over their clothing. That, I just don’t get.

  6. Wow, Alida. What a great example of dressing the way you want to be treated.

    I cracked up over your comment about hammering nails with a heel. They come in so handy!

  7. Lady, you are on a roll! I love the show and watch it religiously every Friday night. This show and anything on HGTV. I straddle a fine line between fashion maven and tomboy construction worker.

    Often I mix both by using an inexpensive high heeled shoe to hammer a nail!

    A few years ago my husband was in a bit if a bind. It was very close to Christmas and he had not done any shopping. He had come home from the mall (wearing his jeans and a t-shirt) frustrated by the lack of help salespeople were offering. The next day he wore a suit on his shopping trip. He came home with all his shopping done. He said people were falling over themselves trying to help him. Funny how that works!

  8. Jade, wow, we must be twins separated at birth… in different decades. ;o) Your former mode of dressing and mine are eerily similar. And isn’t it sad, when we’re not old ladies yet?

    (Well, OK, I’m way closer to being an old lady, but still…).

    How is London for the fashion? I’m still incredibly jealous that you’re there, even though you’re working. I’m going to go drool on your blog.

  9. After years of letting myself go–wearing men’s tshirts over baggy jeans and wearing a pair of brown rockports (with EVERYTHING, mind you–skirts and slacks and jeans alike) and never wearing makeup, I did an about face and started to concern myself with my appearance.

    I am not defined by how I look, and I disdain those who judge me solely on my appearance…but taking care of myself, and taking joy in my grooming and finding joy in fashion has really lifted my spirits and yes, has improved how other people treat me. And I do have fun with purses and shoes and such. It’s just part of the general aura I want about me.

  10. Gloria, ha ha ha! Every now and then, when I see what either has on, I have to agree.

    But rarely. I just love the show; it’s mindless entertainment at its best–and yet, there’s something deeply emotional and psychological about the process as they change women’s actual images.

    I’m going to be writing about the idea of image for the next few days. Doesn’t it put you in the mood to go buy some new shoes?

  11. Charlotte, I recently bought a Trinny and Susannah book, complete with photos of what certain blouses will do for women with too large, or too small, busts (among other fashion do and don’ts). Highly amusing!

    Learning such things also makes a trip to the local mall entertaining, as in America we have some of the most poorly dressed women in the world.

  12. I am a dyed in the wool Trinny and Susannah fan. Though I live in Germany, and have only occasionally seen a What Not to Wear programme, they have changed the way I dress. I take their advice SERIOUSLY. But what I also love about them is how playful they are. Also they change how people look without advising them to go on diet or cut off pieces of their body.

    Yay for the family mental health day. It sounds fabulous. Nothing does my spirit more good than a day like that with my mother, or my girlfriends, and I dearly look forward to doing the same with my darling daughters.

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