This is the last installment in a series I wrote defining how I had slipped into frumpiness. I started the series here: My Slippery Slope to Frumpiness
10) Find solutions and camaraderie in the stores that cater to the slippery slope crowd. At a certain point in life (which remarkably coincides with my increased earning power), I surrendered to the marketing gurus of the American fashion culture for mature women. I was overwhelmed and confused and swiped my credit card month after month at stores such as Kohls, Gordmans and J C Penney. 70% off sale was my cue. At least I would retain some control over my wardrobe by not purchasing at full price. The rest was WAY out of control.
You know every problem has its tipping point. My closet problem hit its all time low when I had access to the most disposable income I had ever had in my life. I was working a job that paid well. I was expected to travel and meet people in professional circles constantly. So I bought and bought. I understand that for many people $200 purchases are nothing. But to someone who rarely was able to spend $50 on clothing to slide into the habit of dropping $200 or more at the departments stores several times a month.......it was a big change. Kohls, J.C. Penney's, T.J. Maxx, Gordmans - these were my regular stops. And whatever they had on sale, I bought more of. I began to find things in my closet with the tags still attached. Or worse, bags in my car that had never even been carried into the house. But I was sure that I just needed to keep buying because there would be a point in the future when my closet would be full and I would be happy.
The interesting thing was that I VERY quickly became VERY unhappy with myself and my closet. It was like turning up the volume on a bad song.
Looking back, I feel like many of the big box stores specifically market to women just like me. Confused, exhausted, and focused on our jobs - we know we don't have a good relationship with our clothes so we look outside of ourselves for help. And these stores stand ready with late evening hours, relaxing atmospheres and plenty of low-priced alternatives arranged neatly on coordinating racks.
Most of the women around me were reflecting this slippery slope too. It became a contest - not in how confident we felt in ourselves and our clothing choices - but rather in who had the newest stuff and how they mixed it.
In the Dallas meetings, I saw several leather laptop bags sitting neatly beside womens chairs in the conference rooms. The next week I scoured each store looking until I found a similar one. Another woman was wearing the new blouse I just bought at Cato but I had neglected to pack in my suitcase. I made a mental note to include that in my suitcase next time. Black capris with strappy sandals were everywhere in the plush conference rooms. I carried two pair (short length and longer length) in my suitcase all summer with me. I received many compliments. I bought a brown pair....... and added brown sandals..... then realized I would need to search for some new coordinating polyester print blouses.
I remember no one standing out as being dressed uniquely, but rather, I remember everyone mentally lining ourselves up into the obvious pecking order. It becomes easy to judge those who do and those who don't have the latest laptop/shoes/phone/capris/bags when we are all buying the same mass produced stuff from the same handful of big box retailers. And how I fell into feeling I needed to compete in this environment still puzzles me.
When my grant was complete, I was quickly to become unemployed, I worried myself into panic attacks. But a couple of months went by and I realized how grateful I was to have closed out the project and not received the wished for funding.
With time, I began tackling my closet. The first things to go were the black capris in two lengths and all of the coordinating jackets, skirts, pants, shoes, bags....... Luckily, there is still a demographic that feels the need for this stuff so I was able to sell it on ebay. At least I was able to get a few dollars back! And sometimes when I am out and about, I see "her", another women just like I was, struggling with her choices all the while completely attired in the full gear of the stores that are catering to her struggle. The black polyester pants with just the right black shoes, accented by just a touch of leopard print in her bag or blouse. And I know how hard she's trying and I know how much effort she put into it. I also now know that it was misguided effort. And I feel happy in my mix and match, funky, vintage look that is uniquely me!