Greetings Dear Ones!
“I’m having second thoughts about this outfit,” says a middle-aged, frumpy woman who has squeezed herself into a skin-tight neon pink and orange neoprene dress adorned with gigantic zippers that look like barracuda teeth. “It’s for my son’s wedding in two weeks’ time and I just don’t know…” Her shoulders slump as she turns to consider herself in the mirror. “I just don’t know why I bought this… What do you think? Does this even look Ok?”
“Is your son getting married in a tank?” I want to know. Prudence Thimbleton shuffles up to the nearest eyeball to look out, aghast. From the neck down, this woman looks like she should be feeding dolphins at Sea World. On her feet, we expect to see flippers, instead of bargain pumps from Payless Shoes. From the neck up, she looks like any other dowdy citizen of Frazzletown, with mouse grey hair parted in the middle and hanging lankly to her damp neck. Her lips purse, her forehead wrinkles delicately. She is confused but I know exactly what happened: She fell asleep at the wheel and let her inner Party Goblin go shopping without her. Some voice in her head told her she needed to make a Big Splash at her son’s wedding—or at least masquerade as if one was imminent. Hence the dress tighter than scuba gear and made of the same material. We have been seeing a lot of neoprene dresses lately. They are oddly popular, out here in the wretched provinces, so many miles from the coast. Perhaps people are taking the rise in sea levels a bit too seriously… perhaps fashion designers just decided to make the whole outfit into a version of Spanx. In any case, I have yet to see a woman look like she is actually enjoying the physical sensation of wearing a wetsuit in high heels. Many women, in dressing for their offspring’s wedding, panic and try their hand at wearing some sort of “power” outfit that is outside their normal scope. (Ladies, is this really the time for that?) Perhaps this woman feels that the other females attending the wedding—her ex-husband’s new wife, the mother of the Bride, and crabby Aunt Sue are gnarly mermaids she must subdue? Maybe, subconsciously she wants this vaguely dominatrix outfit to convey a message that she raised a son, so nothing scares her, not even cake…
“Is there anything you can do to this dress to make it look more feminine?” she wants to know. “All these nickel zippers… in the light of day, it looks…well, a little aggressive…” Yes. Yes, it does. It looks like a shark has gnawed on her, lost most of its teeth, then burped her forcibly back onto shore, hitting a sherbet truck. Her inner dolphin trainer, who chose this outfit, is probably off water-skiing, or sleeping off an overindulgence of pineapple-infused rum and left her inner Little Old Lady to pick up the pieces. The bewildered person standing in the dressing room is not familiar with briny buckets of smelt; she is a baker of bread, a church-goer, a respectable citizen who wears sensible shoes and never gets library book fines. She does not understand why she bought this dress. None of us do.
Many’s the time Prudence Thimbleton has wanted to ask a customer, “Pardon me, Madam, I’m just curious…exactly what part of that little ensemble you have put together made you look in the mirror, sigh with satisfaction, and say YES… This is how I choose to represent myself today?” Or, in this case, “is this how you wish to be commemorated for all time in the wedding album? Did you not get the memo that the Mother of the Groom is supposed to shut up and wear beige?”
But I get it. Truly, I do. I feel for this woman who let her inner Party Goblin and inner Dolphin Trainer get together over a few too many pina coladas and make this choice she now regrets. We all have rogue inner ingénues who show up and toss crap into the cart at TJ Maxx, or late-night click on items from Nordstrom’s that we would never dream of purchasing in the light of day when our more sensible monitors are in charge. Nothing makes me thirstier for adult beverages than taking all my clothes, one by one, throwing them on the floor and realizing that I have Nothing to Wear. Well, nothing that the “me” who has shown up that day really likes. Nor is that “me” entranced by the idea of running naked for the rest of the day. (These are the days I not only hate all my clothes, but the body that goes into them too.) You may not know this about me, but I have a team of personal shoppers whose job it is to squander my money filling my closet with crap I do not like that does not fit.
Ralph Lauren is quoted as saying “Fashion is about something that comes from within you.” Well, what if what you have “within” is a cast of sadistic demons and giddy trollops? Perhaps you have a few of these characters too? There’s the inner anorexic all hopped up on Dexatrim who convinced you that you would actually be a size six by June (she lied) and told you that you would need that full-price silk skirt you will never wear but can’t get rid of. (That is not a garment as much as it is a monument to hope and disillusionment.) She also begs you not to discard those slacks that have not fit you since the eighth grade. She is a skinny little hoarder. Getting even with her is the chubby girl who retaliates by buying an assortment of maxi-dresses that might as well be burlap sacks. Then, there is your inner Grandmother knitting you wooly confections out of homespun yarn—capes and shawls and woolen slip-covers as if you live on the Nebraska Prairie in 1850. (Wait, maybe that’s just me?) The inner hippie just adores all those one-size-fits-most (most what? Animals? Vegetables? Minerals?) Indonesian batik dresses—the scraps of which are turned into table cloths for Pottery Barn. And who bought all these suits? Were you ever in business? Are you secretly a corporate lawyer in your spare time? I don’t think so. Tiny little Exercise outfits? Why so many of these with tags still on? Why the mounds of tattered, paint- stained, sit-on-the-couch-binge-watching-Netflix-and-eating-Swiss-Cake-Rolls clothes in every size? Church clothes, 18th Century Clothes, 1940’s dresses, Vintage Velvet Hippie dresses--WHAT are we supposed to wear to work Today? You’ve got everything from “Geriatric Cave-dweller” to “Pole Dancer”--Why do none of your fashion “statements” say “Competent, Highly-trained, and Capable Professional”? You are letting the wrong goblins shop for you.
When we say “I have nothing to wear,” what we really mean is that “there is nothing here for who I am supposed to be today.” I might have to masquerade as a Responsible Guardian at a parent-teacher conference; or as a person who does NOT deserve that speeding ticket, or someone who turned down a movie deal on the way to her son’s soccer practice. (You can take that last one as anything on the spectrum from “getting the starring role as an actress in a movie to deciding not to buy one of the discounted DVD’s in the bargain bucket at Wal-Mart.) I might just need to be a Matriarchal Tree Sprite, or an innocent Five-year-old who likes any color as long as it’s purple, or some unfortunate throw-back to the Eighties, with shoulder pads that would be the envy of any linebacker. I have no idea who I am going to show up as…
When I was growing up, my options were more limited. I had three choices: school uniform, church dress, or barn clothes for doing chores on the family farm. I could only be three people—student, sinner, or serf. My mother bought all our clothes. She was a savvy bargain hunter who bought things “big” so they would last longer before they were handed down. I went off to college and had no idea how to wear anything that wasn’t plaid. It’s been a problem ever since. The people in my head are not always the people who want to wear what is in my closet. The people I have to show up as, as a Responsible Adult, are not always the people who run amok in a thrift store with my credit card. Consequently, I have plenty of options for the inner Tree Sprite to wear while she fiddles on a tree stump but few of these attires could be worn in public. (She is a close cousin of the inner Trollop who likes shoes that are bad for the knees.) Crabbit Prudence Thimbleton watches all this with a wary eye—the inner Church Lady on alert for dubious hemlines and sensual impulses.
I learn a lot from the customers who come in with their own struggles, whether they are frumpy, frazzled mothers of grooms or trendy young men exercising their God-given right to look dapper. I am delighted to see the number of youthful souls coming into the shop to revise their “look” and fit and to create a wardrobe that reflects their individual sensibilities, however odd they may seem to those over the age of forty. The cleverest among them are up-cycling clothing from second-hand shops and bringing it to us to refine, revive, or revise according to their needs. It’s refreshing to see that our clothing chooses us just as much as we choose it. People simply glow when an outfit is “Them.”
From my standpoint as witness in the fitting room, I realize that these aspects of our Being are not just roles we are playing. Our clothes are not simply costumes that help portray us as hero, clown, martyr, or lost child. They are part of the complexity of us as humans—part of why we frustrate ourselves so much and potentially a source of delight too. We LOVE it when we get to wear the thing that sings “ME.” Self-awareness is the antidote to self-obsession. Who are we? What do we really need? How do we want others to see us? Do we really want to wear something that gives us more opportunities for penance than a medieval hair shirt? We have to work today with today’s best answers to today’s questions. The answers might change for us tomorrow. That does not matter.
When we are triggered to abandon some part of ourselves—to condemn the Inner Trollop, Pixie, Sinner, or Saint—it is a form of self-mutilation. When we have no idea who is buying our clothes—we have lost touch with all the vibrant, creative, eccentric, insecure, reckless and bizarre parts of ourselves who are calling us to see them, to welcome them home. We all have these fabulous fashion archetypes lurking in our minds and closets—from tweedy professors to harlots. And we are Bigger Yet, far bigger than the sum of all of them. We cannot abandon these selves to wordless fears and judgments—“did I do something wrong by being authentically who I am? Does this dress make me unlovable ? Will I be fired if I wear comfortable shoes to a board meeting?” These questions are not based in Love. If we begin to live just one day at a time, with our most heart-centered wisdom in This moment, we can trust that the best learning will come to us from whatever decisions we make. When we know and LOVE All of who we are, we will know exactly what to wear. And whoever shops for us will be Ok.
Rock on, Inner Dolphin Trainers!
Be well, my darlings, and do Good Work!