Style and a Crisis of Identity

I went to my cousin’s wedding this past weekend. I thought I had a dress I could wear, but when I pulled the few I own out, I realized that none of them really worked. The one I was banking on was all the wrong colors for a May wedding outdoors. It was perfect for the winter wedding in NYC that I bought it for, but it would not do for this past weekend. The other dress didn’t seem fancy enough and I don’t love how it pulls across my stomach now after I’ve had two kids (that one went right in the donation pile). In the end I only had the dress I wore to my own wedding. It’s a large and now I’m a medium, but it is flowy enough that it still fits well. It’s a little fancy to wear to someone else’s wedding but it doesn’t look like a wedding dress in any way, so I think it worked well enough. (I actually had a more than a few people tell me that my dress was the most beautiful one there!)

The only problem was I needed a new strapless bra. I was very much aware that the one I wore on my wedding day would never fit again so I actually jimmied the tag back on afterward and returned it (it was $75!) and I gave away all my old strapless bras because they were pre-pregnancy/breastfeeding and none of them fit right anymore. So I dragged my ass to the mall on Tuesday to get a new strapless bra, or a new dress if I found one at a reasonable price.

Walking around the women’s section at Macy’s (they were having their Friends and Family Sale) I was struck by how thoroughly out of place I felt. There was not one area I identified with. I just didn’t think any of the clothes would be cute for me.

I began to wonder, where exactly is a 35 year old woman whose had two babies and is interested as much in quality and comfort as in style supposed to shop?

I haven’t bought one article of clothing for myself since The Great Purge of {Early} 2015. It’s not that I put myself on some kind of deliberate buying freeze, I just haven’t felt compelled. Actually, that is not entirely accurate. I have wanted to buy a couple of specific items, but they are all rather pricey and I can’t seem to pull the trigger on any of them. And any time I peruse the clothing sections of my old haunts (ahem Target, H&M) nothing really calls to me. (I haven’t let myself set foot in a Gap because I don’t trust myself there, as much in the kids’ section as in the women’s).

Four months ago I collected every article of clothing I own, laid hands on each piece, and determined if it brought me joy. While I didn’t know how to answer that question well enough at the time–I continue to throw items into the donation pile as I put them on and realize that I’m not happy in them–I’m getting better at it. It seems I’m getting quite good at determining what DOESN’T bring me joy, but I still struggle with identifying what does.

And in stores, outside the context of my own personal wardrobe (and shoe rack), I really struggle. There are things I like well enough, but nothing has really grabs me. Sometimes I see something I love, but I know it wouldn’t look on my body, which has settled into a place that I’m not entirely comfortable with but am attempting to feel good about. And sometimes I don’t think I’ll love something, but then I’ll put it on and feel really good about myself in it. (This happens more with clothes my friend gives me, as I don’t generally try on something I don’t love when it’s on the hanger.)

I guess this is all a long winded way of saying, I’m not quite sure how to shop anymore. I’m not quite sure what brands are the right combination of comfort, quality and style that also look good on this mid-thirties, post-kids body. Heck, I’m not quite sure what persona I want to present to the world or what I’m willing to spend to present that persona. I guess it’s a bit of a crisis of identity, one that I’m sure many women feel in their mid-thirties or after having kids.

All I know is that I have to stop shopping for clothes online. I almost NEVER really love what I buy online–I clearly need to see something in the store to know if it brings me joy. Even then, I think it’s going to be a real challenge moving forward, at least until I learn a little more about myself.

How do you know that a new article of clothing will bring you joy? Do you have any brands you like or a certain amount you feel comfortable spending? Basically, how you do you shop for clothes?!

30 Comments

  1. It gets worse each decade over 18. Much sympathy. I am hoping you get some good ideas and suggestions. And maybe someone knows where to find skirts/dresses that are not 3/4 of the way up your thigh (I am tall but…) or t-shirts that do not expose the belly if you raise your arms. …..Wish I had answers.

    1. Ugh. The short skirt thing is such a huge problem! You should see the shorts my 7th and 8th graders come to school in! They look like underwear (and then are shocked when I give them a dress cut and make them change into their PE trunks. PUH-LEASE!) Yeah, I have a feeling clothes are going to be a frustrating moving forward.

  2. You could try StitchFix – it’s been awesome for me (35yr old w/ 2kids, recently re-entered the workforce) – it’s pretty affordable (you set price parameters) and then you don’t have to shop 🙂

    1. I have definitely been considering Stitch Fix. I read the posts of many a blogger who have tried it out and most seem pretty satisfied. I just worry that once I have things at my house I won’t send them back. Although maybe that wouldn’t be the case if I hadn’t picked them out in the first place…

  3. I am having the exact same problem. I’ve outgrown my go to store and that store has declined in quality. I hate department stores because it’s overwhelming. I end up with lots of clothing that’s cheap but I’m not happy with.

    I guess that’s why I’m trying Stitch Fix for a while.

    1. Department stores are so overwhelming. They have SO MUCH STUFF and I don’t really like any of it. It’s crazy. I only go there when I’m looking for a specific kind of bra and want a few different options, other wise I don’t set foot in them.

      I’ll keep reading to see what you think of Stitch Fix. If you really like it maybe I’ll give it a try.

  4. I buy stuff online from places with a generous return policy and only if the idea of wearing whatever it is makes me almost giddy. My requirements are that it must be comfy, washable in the machine (or AMAZING to be hand-wash or dry clean only), and look decent. I’ve accepted that I’m going to look like I have no style and I don’t care. If I want to be stylish I’m jazzing things up with a necklace or scarf or bracelet. Otherwise I’m happy with jeans and t-shirt at home, a couple dresses, and work wear that’s mostly based on temperature rather than style. I totally trust my fashion consultant (aka spouse who costumes theater things) and only buy stuff I really need. Right now I am adding maybe a pair of pants for work and I need new bras since I only have exercise and nursing ones but that will be slowly over the next year. I’ll email you my favorite places. I bet you would find things in your size in person but I don’t waste my time looking anymore. I love the idea of StitchFix and I think it would be easier than online shopping because it isn’t stuff you chose.

    1. “…and only if the idea of wearing whatever it is makes me almost giddy.” This is what I’m looking for and I am having a REALLY hard time finding it. Which I guess is to be expected. I hope that some day I have a closet filled ONLY with those kinds of pieces. It might take a while, but I think I’ll get there.

  5. I’d stay away from Stitch Fix. Its exactly as you say—once its in your home, its hard to send it away, its easy to justify keeping at least one piece to get the $20 styling fee back (if you send everything back, you still pay $20). I have a couple of “no joy” pieces from my first & only stitch fix box—I felt compelled to keep it because 1) I didn’t want to waste the $20, 2) everyone else seemed to LOVE Stitch Fix so maybe I wasn’t being fair/open-minded. Nothing really fit and it was all cheaply made (but not cheap). A lot of bloggers get there stuff for free through affiliate links so I don’t know how much I trust the reviews (some don’t, and I’ve read positive reviews from those who don’t get freebies).
    I think trial and error and being prepared to return anything that isn’t perfect is the key to online shopping. I wasn’t very good about the returning things part, which is why I put a whole bunch of never/once wore perfectly nice clothing in my Goodwill pile last week.

    1. OK, I really am the lone stitch fix hater here! I just see all these bloggers wearing the EXACT SAME stitch fix outfits every month, regardless of their body types or styles, and I wonder how “personalized” it really is.
      I really like the clothes at Boden. Definitely pricier than H&M/Target/Old Navy, but the quality is better and stuff is more modest (not too modest, but no booty shorts or crop tops).

      1. “OK, I really am the lone stitch fix hater here! I just see all these bloggers wearing the EXACT SAME stitch fix outfits every month, regardless of their body types or styles, and I wonder how “personalized” it really is.” YES! THIS!

        I actually just got a Boden catalog at my house and while I normally just throw them away, I actually flipped through it because I’ve heard you mention them a few times. It was a summer catalog and I didn’t really like any of the stuff, but I’m not a shorts person and I like my t-shirts a specific kind of way, so there wasn’t much else in there except for dresses, and we just can’t do summer dresses most days in SF so I ended up tossing the catalog without getting anything. But I’ll definitely check them out again on your reco… 😉

      2. ME TOO!!! I’ve tried it 3 months so far, and only kept 2 things from my first box. I’ve been very disappointed with Stitch Fix!

    2. You are explaining exactly what I am assuming will happen to me. I am such a sucker for the, but I’ll save $20! trick. Such a sucker. It gets me EVERY SINGLE TIME. I just don’t think I’m strong enough in my convictions about what I love to send stuff back at this point. I’ve also seen a lot of bloggers show off the stuff from their boxes and haven’t loved any of it, especially not when I see the prices! The prices are insane for what they seem to be getting. I don’t know. Maybe I need to start shopping in more high end placed and only buying a few select pieces. That might be my next move clothing wise…

  6. If you haven’t had much luck with online shopping, Stitch Fix might not be the right choice for you.

    I am using Pinterest to define my “style” — European-inspired with a dash of color/bohemain? I really can’t describe it but a certain trend/theme shows up once I pinned enough clothing items. Choosing style “icons” also helps narrow down your style. I like Olivia Palermo, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a few fashion/style bloggers.

    I shop a lot online because it’s just easier for me. There are certain brands I trust more but brand name doesn’t always equal quality these days.

    1. Pinning some looks is an interesting way to go about it. I’ll definitely try that. Thanks for the recommendation.

      I used to love shopping online because it was so much easier and they usually had my size (it’s frequently sold out at stores because it’s very common) but I end up getting way more stuff I don’t really love when I buy things online and sending them back (even if I can take them back to a store) is so hard these days. I just don’t have the time, or I lose the packing slip or leave it out so long my cat sleeps on it, or something… and then I keep it forever and hardly wear it because I don’t really like it.

  7. I haven’t blogged about it, but since the start of this year I’ve been doing Stitch Fix. UGH.
    I want to love it so bad! I love the theory of it, and I love the idea of the clothes I’ve been sent. HOWEVER, I only kept 2 things from my very first box. Each box after that has had really weird items in it. I was really specific in all my feedback too, but each box seems to just be off somehow.
    Maybe it’s my body? My boobs are giant so nothing seems to fit right, and things just seem to hug in all the wrong places.
    Anyways, I totally understand about not feeling like shopping or really knowing what the styles are. fit, etc. Discouraging sometimes isn’t it?
    I rarely shop for clothes, it seems like every time I do, it takes a few trips before I get in the groove and start finding things that fit and I like anyway. I’m always jealous of the super skinny girls that look great in everything! 🙂

    1. “I want to love it so bad!” <-- I think a lot of people feel this way, more than actually say it out loud. In theory it's a great idea, but when two people don't ever get to meet and a stylist never gets to see how things actually fit on you, how can it? What we all need is personal shoppers who go out with us and help in an actual store. And we need them to be free. 😉

  8. I could have written this post myself. I feel the exact same way.

    Here’s a story of my style panic. I was at the mall last night, BY MYSELF, to pick up a duvet cover. I walked by the new stylish women’s store and saw a tank top that I really liked. I wanted to buy it. But I talked myself out of it because, you know, it’s probably too expensive (for a tank top?), it’s not my style, that store intimidates me, etc. etc. etc. I didn’t even STEP INTO the store to look at it – I just wrote it off. Then this fucking morning, a mom friend who I consider to have the best style in town, posted a picture of herself in that tank top! My comment, “I almost bought that last night!” And the truth is, I couldn’t pull it off like her.

    So yeah – add me to your list of fellow friends who have no style.

    1. It’s not that we don’t have style, we just haven’t figured out what it is yet. At least that is what I tell myself. 😉

      The reality is I don’t care enough about style and fashion to do the leg work. Like MCR recommended pinning things to see what trends present themselves. I just can’t imagine taking the time to do that. I’d so much rather read a book! And I’m okay with that at this point. I just wish it were easier. My body is settling into a place that I don’t love. I obviously have to work out hard to stay under 140, otherwise I’m more at 143+ and that is fine, but things fit differently even with such a small difference in poundage. I hold all my weight in my stomach and clothes are just not forgiving with that kind of body type. It’s frustrating. But I’ll figure it out. It’s only clothes. 😉

  9. I love The Loft. Seriously, very cute selection and very comfortable without breaking the bank. I also have a StitchFix but mostly I rely on that for my style risks because that’s all they really seem to send me.

    1. Ohhh, The Loft. I shall check it out. A few of the things my friend from work gave me a while ago were from there and I really liked them…

  10. I frequently go shopping and find nothing I like. I try to only buy things that make me look great! (OK … that make me look not terrible!). It’s not failure if you don’t find anything that sings to you.

    1. I was thinking after I wrote this that if I only want to own a few things that I really love, I couldn’t possibly find something every time I go shopping. And I guess that is part of the mental shift I’ll have to make, because it used to be about having MORE and now I want it to be about having BETTER, so I’ll have to expect only to find something I love on rare occasions.

  11. I’m so glad to read this about stitchbox, as you all are voicing everything that has held me back! Thank you!

    If you like Loft you might also like my favorite store (but you have to hit the sales- they are pricey at regular price but the sales are killer!)White House Black Market. When I finally started going for good quality or quantity I started shopping there and I have clothes from them from like 6 or 7 years ago….and I always get compliments. Also, if you go into the store they are really helpful and will give you ideas of what to try. Usually this annoys me but wow have they gotten me to try things I wouldn’t normally. For example I was never a fan of bootcut jeans and she brought me a pair to try- they fit so perfectly that I came home with them and have never regretted it! Oh yes, I have to mention their jeans fit.

  12. I have never heard of Stitch Fix — must be a U.S. thing? The older I get, the tougher it is to find stuff that is (a) stylish, (b) fits & (c) reasonably priced. I get most of my pants at Reitmans & Northern Reflections, which are Canadian brands, & I also like Cleo (ditto). I like Laura, but it is a bit pricey unless I can hit a sale. 😉 For U.S. brands that are here, I love Old Navy & Gap for T-shirts & sweaters, & I get the occasional T-shirt at American Eagle, although most of their stuff is made for far younger & skinnier figures than mine (I usually buy the extra-large T-shirts & even then they are sometimes tight — and I am by no means large busted!!). Some of my Stateside friends swear by Chico’s, which is just starting to appear here in Canada.

    1. Stitch Fix is relatively new. Maybe it will be coming your way soon. 😉 I can’t believe you brave American Eagle. I haven’t been in there in years. 😉

  13. I’ve loved Stitch Fix, but you and I are a lot alike when it comes to shopping I think – and both times I’ve talked myself into keeping everything. So be warned.

    Will check out The Loft.

    Have you looked at Project 333? I know you are working on minimalism in all aspects of your life – might be good to add this to the list – thus far I have found it helpful.

    1. I will totally talk myself into keeping everything. Ugh, that is why I can’t even go there.

      I have heard of Project 333 and I know I need to do it, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. I think I’m still figuring out who I am and what I like to wear. I think in another year, when I have a better idea of that, I’ll be able to par down my wardrobe to just 33 items. But right now I’m still experimenting with the stuff my friend gave me and some new pieces I’ve purchased in the last year, figuring out what brings me joy. I’ll get there soon, but I’m not there yet.

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