When my stylist, Laurel Kinney, and I met up for our shopping session, she was just as fun and peppy as she seemed in her instructional videos, but somehow, my stomach dropped before we even got in the dressing room.
"Oh yeah," she said, when I confided that I was feeling a little bit nervous about what was to come. "Lots of people cry."
This sounds like me: a crier. But hell if I was going to do that in front of my newfound friend, this stylish woman who just happened to make a career out of what I do worst. Namely, getting over one's limiting beliefs and just having some fun with clothes already. Besides, one needs to own more than two pairs of jeans, a tank top and a T-shirt won at a book party.
The easiest part of the whole process was filling out a survey about my style needs online, before we met -- because I could do this in my underwear. And also the Skype session we had to discuss the survey, because we got to talk about Lake Bell as my style icon. But the shopping part, was, in fact, excruciating. Because, it turns out, clothes are less about clothes and more about body image, identity, finances, sexuality and even gender.
Limiting Belief #1: Everything is made in China and/or is polyester.
Laurel had already filled the dressing rooms with options earlier that morning, so if I had done what I normally do, which is inspect every tag and then leave immediately, it would have been, well, rude.
I began to pull shirts on over skirts and pants and discovered I actually just don’t like dressing rooms. Or, come to think of it, my breasts -- those things that leave me without options when it comes to backless dresses, even if the one that I tried on was sexy in that I-just-came-from-the-beach kind of way. Laurel suggested I consider those sticky cups you put on instead of a bra, which I nixed right away.
So we left with a dressy tank that captured a little romance plus some blossomy pants instead. And I learned that the fun in this was not selecting the perfect fabric but in finding a good fit.
Limiting Belief #2: Only bossy people wear blazers.
It turns out creative people with their shit together wear blazers. Women who know what they want and are on time to meetings wears blazers. People who want to make a good first impression wear blazers.
But do they wear WHITE blazers, I asked Laurel? And could I be one of these people even better if I had a pair of dangly earrings? The answer, it turns out is: No. I do not wear white blazers. I also do not wear dangly earrings, so those are up for grabs. (Seriously, because Topshop won’t take them back.)
But when Laurel looked at me looking at myself in the mirror, wearing one of these snazzy blazer things, a whole new me looked back. And I started to believe in her.
Limiting Belief #3: Colorful things are silly and camo is totally ’90s.
If you think this, as I sometimes do, then you don’t have many options besides black, white and denim (see below). But I loved the maroon shirt with small hearts that Laurel picked out at Anthropologie. I also loved the blue pants with leather trim and a low-neck red jersey dress, but we decided those had nothing to do with the wardrobe themes I was trying to craft, namely: together, personable and a little bit hot mamma.
If I had been there alone, I would have put those puppies on a card and passed over an army green vest with a cinch waist and a floppy collar that you can wear over EVERYTHING. At first I even did pass it up, until Laurel said, “You’re going to be thinking about that vest later,” and I knew she was right.
Limiting Belief #4: Blue jeans and black and white everything else are all you need.
Unfortunately, I overcame this problem at Madewell. What Laurel and I did here is talk a lot about shoes. And how these tan leather ones with a peep toe were anything less than perfect. Which they weren't. Not even a little bit less. But you know what’s more than 100% perfect? Black jeans.
They are the absolute bomb item that I didn't know I was missing, which I probably would have discovered if I had asked anyone else what they loved most in their closet. Or even looked around my neighborhood where black jeans are one half of a uniform. But apparently I've been walking around with something pasted over my eyes.
Well, thanks to Laurel my eyes are open, and while I still can’t commit to color, I can go to work looking both professional and svelte. Especially if I buy those tan peep-toe shoes, too.
Limiting Belief #5: Comfort uber alles.
Have cotton long-sleeve shirts in pastels ever called to you with a soft whisper? Have you ever snuggled one up to your face? If so, you, too, struggle from only-buy-things-from-the-Gap syndrome and you should stay away. Unless, of course, you have a stylist who tells you that they make good button-downs and the day you are shopping there there's a two-for-one special.
You will still have to go by the table of cozies, but you will be strong. And also you will have already spent all your money on blouses and blazers and other things that actually have to be hung up on hangers. Things that do not push your body in ways you don’t like, like pull at the chest or push at the hips. Clothes that achieve a balance between feminine and masculine and embrace your personal subtle cool.
So there you have it: My first and only shopping spree made sane and productive with the help of a hired hand. I still have wardrobe problems, sure. But I also have some clothes. And for that, I am grateful.