The Best I’ve Looked Since 3rd Grade

In Third Grade, I had a very special outfit, probably my favorite thing I have ever worn.

It began with forest green polyester pants. This was the 70s, so of course they were flares, and they swooshed back and forth as I walked, as if each of my knees had its own skirt. There was a matching white rayon blouse, soft and shiny, patterned with a bucolic forest of pine trees. There were small woodland creatures in those trees, at least as I remember it. The blouse would be cold when I put it on, and then warm up throughout the day in a way that is unique to synthetic fibers of that era. A white knit vest completed the look. I believe it was acrylic. It echoed the trees & creatures theme from the blouse.  My skin couldn’t breath and no sweat ever escaped. But I felt like I was on top of the world.

When I wore that outfit, I felt invincible. Sassy, special, and ready to face life. I remember walking through my third grade classroom watching my pant legs swing around my ankles, thinking there was no better person on earth to be than me.

I’m not sure I’ve felt that way about an outfit since.

In the years since third grade, I’ve had fashion highs and lows.

I was BEDAZZLED for two summers in high school when I worked for a woman from iu-1New Jersey who sold $500 sweaters in her boutique. I looked like an add for Ronco, with sparkly wonder flung across everything I owned. That’s where I learned to wear shoulder pads. And hair accessories. And big earrings.

It was this unique look I brought to preppy Wheaton College in the fall of my freshman year. I thought Laura Ashley was a girl who lived in our dorm, and kept asking, “Why would you buy a J. Crew Field Jacket when you’re never in a field?”

After college, I found my professional look when my roommate introduced me to Ann Taylor. I’ve dressed almost exclusively in black, grey, white & navy ever since. Those years were okay, but a friend from my bedazzled high school days saw me and asked, “What have they done to you???”

I went through a frumpy stage when I became a Christian. I read all these books about dressing modestly until the only attire that felt even remotely appropriate was sweaters handed down from my father. He’s six feet tall. I’m 5’4.’ I spent that first Jesus-ey year swaddled in yards of wool.

Then a few years ago, I discovered Target. It was cheap! As my body, well…GREW, I had some fashion growing pains. My no longer required Ann Taylor-level professionalism, shopping became a chore instead of a treat. I didn’t like how I looked, so the cheaper the better became my motto. Until very recently, my wardrobe assembly process looked something like this:

Spring/Early Summer: T-shirts on sale for $10 each? Great! I’ll take white, a navy, a grey, and a color like peach or green that I’ll think of as “fun” but never wear. The cut is unflattering and makes me look astoundingly wide, and the fabric both clings AND gets little holes every time I wash it. But whatever, it’ll do.

Fall/Early Winter: Sweaters on sale for $15? Great! I’ll take a grey, black, navy, off white, and something with stripes or a cardigan that I’ll think of as “on trend” but never wear. I’ll need to buy all of these new because last year’s sweaters fell apart. The cut of these makes me look like a basketball, and the fabric pills on the sides and where the seatbelt goes (and pretty much anywhere else it touches something.) But whatever, it’ll do.

I spent a lot of time untagging myself from other peoples’ pictures on Facebook.

I had ALL THESE CLOTHES, but they looked terrible. None of them made “outfits.” I understood, suddenly, that when women look frumpy and disheveled, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they don’t know how to make it better. Because that’s how it was for me.

So yeah, the past couple of years have been awkward. Especially once we began meeting as a church, and I was speaking most Sundays. The Vineyard is about as casual as churches come. Jeans and flip flops are common. But I just looked sloppy. When the hotel where our church meets remodeled their conference room, I was terrified they’d swap out the giant oak podium I stand behind for one of those tiny clear lucite things made popular by TED talks, and there would be nowhere to hide.

This is part of why Stitch Fix has felt like a miracle since I discovered it last month. I’m a bit obsessed. It’s become my new embarrassing hobby. I’m now a person with a Pinterest page.

My third Fix came last week. I’d asked for a jean jacket, a grey & white striped top, tops in colors other than blue, and jeans in a light wash.

This was the best one yet. My stylist tweaked some of my sizes and found the exact jeans I had on my Pinterest page. In three Fixes, I’ve scored three pairs of jeans, five tops, and a jacket. They all fit. They make outfits!

There are PATTERNS – a floral, a stripe, a sort of dot/splotch, and something a friend described as tribal); and COLOR! Okay, two tops are blue and two are grey. But one is RED, a color I’ve avoided since an unfortunate incident during the Giant Wool Sweater phase, where I donned a tomato-ish v-neck and my sister told me I looked like Gilligan.

But look: I’ve overcome!

If you’re feeling like you’ve been covering your body more than getting dressed, give it a try. Here’s how it works & what I’ve learned:

For a styling fee of $20, they send you five items selected based on a questionnaire about your style and notes you make about your current needs.  (Example: “Summer is coming so I’m looking for a dress to wear to a fundraiser, shorts with a 5″ inseam, and some fun colored tops I can wear to work either alone or with a sweater or blazer.”) In your profile you’ll have a chance to note things like “Please don’t ever send me X color or Y style.”  The more detailed, the better.

(I think of this part as handing a skilled stylist a $20 bill and sending her to the mall to do all the shopping for me. She can use the $20 towards whatever she finds.)

You pick the date to receive your Fix.

When it arrives, you will be horrified by at least half of it. Shut down your inner critic and try it all on. Let yourself be surprised. Don’t overthink it. If you turn around and can’t believe how cute something looks that you were sure would make you look like your grandmother’s couch, trust your first thought, and take a chance. That’s what happened to me with the navy blue floral top in #1. I pulled it out and thought, No way, because I don’t wear florals. But now I do :)

If the style is good but the size is wrong, you can usually exchange it up or down. I just did this with some jeans. I held on to the first pair until the second arrived, then sent back the ones that didn’t work. Quick & easy.

If you keep everything, you get 25% off your total. I’ve only done this once. The other times, the jeans & top I kept were worth the full price, even though they were more than I’d been paying at Target. Your $20 styling fee is applied toward anything you buy.

Once you decide, you checkout online, then put anything you don’t want in the pre-paid bag they provide. Hand it to your mailman or drop it at the post office and you’re done.

If you use my link for your first Fix, I’ll get a $25 referral credit when you place your order. (Thank you!)

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Have a dedicated Pinterest Page for Stitch Fix style with things you are looking for NOW. Put pins for future looks or random ideas on a separate page. Your stylist will look at this page when she’s pulling stuff for you. Update this page between Fixes.
  • Join one of the Facebook groups where people show how they style different items. It’s helpful to see the clothes on real people, and sometimes you can even trade or buy items.
  • Remember that clothes are meant to enhance our lives, not become our lives. We’re still us, whether we’re in a frumpy Target tee or a flowy red top that does not in any way resemble Gilligan. But it’s fun to feel a bit more pulled together.

If you’re looking for a fun and helpful gift for a Graduation, Mother’s Day, or other celebration? A gift card to SF would be an amazing surprise.

And who knows? Maybe you (or someone you love) will find your very own forest green polyester/rayon/acrylic woodlands ensemble, and it will make your whole world glow :)