What Are Our Clothes Really Covering?


Photo credit: photoxpress.com

Written By: Lisa Brent

Last weekend I attended my cousin’s wedding reception in ill-fitting, cropped jeans. This was not an act of rebellion on my part, nor was I attempting to start a new trend. Instead, it was yet another fashion faux pas in a series of misses that have marked my lifelong relationship with clothing.

This incident may sound superficial and irrelevant -- after all, the celebration did go on -- and I admit I have been reluctant to write about something as external as fashion. But the experience has cleaved open some very deep and painful memories; namely, the feeling that I have never quite fit in, especially when it comes to how I dress. I recently realized that I have been trying to use my clothing as an external distraction from the insecurities I feel inside.

The Faux Pas

So let me explain how I got this party so wrong. The invitation described the event as a “Lakeside BBQ” which was an adjunct to a smaller, more private wedding ceremony held the night before. When I read the word "BBQ," my literal brain immediately conjured up checkered blouses and cut-offs. Somehow, though, out of the nearly 100 women that received this invitation, I appeared to be the only one who did not further consider that this was a party to celebrate a wedding, that there was going to be a tent and dancing and that maybe the situation called for something a little more special than my everyday denim kickers. About ten seconds after my arrival, looking around at the sea of silky cocktail dresses, I realized my error.

Too late. I was mortified.

Obviously I was not the star of this party, and probably nobody really thought twice about what the gal from California was wearing, but I felt embarrassed and out of place. And it reinforced my core belief about dressing myself: I have no idea what I am doing.

I wish I could say that I do not care much about clothes. Admittedly, the truth is quite the opposite. I love the idea of clothes and over the years I have spent way too much time and money trying to fit into the fashion world. The problem is that I have never figured out how it all works. What is appropriate for each occasion? What goes together? Which styles are classic and which are trendy? And, more fundamentally, what is my own personal style?

Many are the mornings that I stare at my over-stuffed closet wondering who bought all of these clothes and shoes. Which version of me? What external image was I aiming to portray? Most days I struggle with the simple process of getting dressed and it often takes up much more time than I can afford.

(Honestly, aside from all of the restrictions on personal freedoms, I think I could have been happy in communist China. I love the idea of wearing the same standard-issue Mao pajamas everyday. It would be so easy to get dressed. Although that particular shade of green tends to wash me out.)

Looking Back

I grew up as an only child in the fashion-challenged suburbs of Sacramento -- not quite the capital of couture. My mom has a cute style of her own, but I do not relate to it at all. When I was little she dressed me how she wanted me to be seen. I don’t remember ever having the freedom to adorn my body in a way that felt natural to me. Early on, I got the idea that one’s external image was crucial. As an example, my cash-strapped, single mother bought me 15 dresses to start kindergarten, as she sincerely believed that a five year-old should not repeat an outfit within any three-week period. I know she meant well, but you can see how I became a bit confused.

As the insecurities of puberty hit — and hit hard — the emptiness I felt inside myself expanded. I started to look at clothing, hair and makeup as a means of protecting myself from being seen for the flawed being I believed myself to be. For inspiration, I looked outward, seeking people whom I admired and then trying to emulate their styles. I became a chameleon with credit card debt.

As a result, I have spent the last 25 years trying to look like other people: my friends, my aunts, store mannequins, catalog models, the girls who work at Anthropologie. Though the costumes have never quite fit correctly and I have never felt comfortable in these borrowed images, I still have few ideas about how to replace them.

Looking Forward

I find myself at age 43 weighed down by the consequences of wasted money and closet space. Tired of this uneasy relationship with clothing, I am faced with two choices: join a nudist colony or figure it out. The former concept is not so appealing due to the fact that I tend to get cold easily. That leaves the latter. It would seem the time has come to discover my own sense of style.

In the end, I am grateful for my little BBQ fashion blunder. The clothing that was meant to blend me into the party actually exposed me and my faulty fashion-identity; it is finally too uncomfortable to ignore an issue that has swallowed up way too much energy in my life. Apparently, the time has come to make some peace between my inner and outer selves (and with the requirements of covering my body). 

My first step: a closet purge.  My next step: I'm not sure yet. Maybe I won't shop at all for a while. Maybe I'll go to work in my bathrobe until I get it all figured out. Or, maybe I'll design my own line of clothing. I already have the perfect, if somewhat cheesy, name for my future fashion house: I’ve Got to Be Me.

What about you? Have you ever felt like you really missed the fashion mark at a social event? What is your relationship with the clothing that covers your body?  Does it come easily? Is it a challenge? Does this whole issue seem too superficial? What masks do you use to “protect” you from being seen?

Lisa Brent, ND, LAc

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