I’ve always been a bit of an awkward dresser, not least of all because I have an awkward body shape. My arms are Long Like Monkey, and I have no breasts to speak of. My feet could best be described as “comically flat,” which puts many cute shoes (and almost all heeled ones) beyond long-term comfort. I’m quite long-waisted, and I’ve always been very thin — though I’m less thin now than I was when I was younger; so really, dressing myself has been a lifelong chore.
What sweater has sleeves long enough to cover my wrists? What jeans sit high enough to prevent flash of ass-crack cleavage? What shirts are long enough to conceal my belly?
The answer: Expensive ones.
Which is to say: Not much that I, personally, have ever owned.
I’m getting a little better in my old age. Now I can occasionally afford a good pair of jeans, and I’m living in the land of layers which slouch with all the precision of Madonna’s socks circa 1983. So usually, I look more or less presentable when I leave the house.* But Looking Presentable is something I’ve spent years giving a frankly excessive amount of thought to, against all efforts to the contrary. I want to be one of those people who feels cool without really working for it; and I want to be content with whatever I find first in the drawer.
It’s happening more and more these days, but I fear it’s because of a perplexing slip in standards more than the rise of good taste. Submitted by way of example, the following items are in my wardrobe (some of which I’m sporting right this very moment) and — ten years ago — I would’ve sworn I’d never own them, much less wear them:
* Ballet flats. See also: Metallic ballet flats with which I am currently besotted. I used to think they looked stupid, like grown women were trying to wear Barbie shoes. Now I’m kind of digging it. A lot.
* Bermuda shorts. I grant, there is a perilous line between Bermuda shorts and culottes, but I do not believe that I’ve yet crossed this terrible line. When fitted correctly and detailed nicely … and oh, say, worn with cute ballet flats … they actually look pretty groovy.
* Hoodies with 3/4-length sleeves. I’m not sure why I ever hated these; with baboon arms like mine, they’re a damn perfect solution. My sleeves don’t reach my wrists? No problem! They aren’t supposed to!
* Capris. Yes, I know — but before you rip my eldergoth card out of my hands, let me say that they are, at least, black. I’ve long believed they were a middle-age cop-out of, “Oh, it’s too hot for jeans, but yipes, my legs are pasty and unattractive.” But my capris are kind of cool. They’re light and comfy (mine are linen), and they’re quite comfortable with tank tops and flip-flops.
* Dresses/shirts with a “baby doll” or “empire” waist. I’ve always thought they looked like pregnancy gear for the non-pregnant. (Thank you, Justine). But I actually own a lightweight cotton jersey (yes, black) dress with just such a waistline, and I’m forced to confess that it looks quite fetching with a jacket or scarf thrown over it and either knee-high boots or flat black shoes under it.
* Skirts that pass my knees. Once upon a time I was quite proud of my legs. I spent a lot of time in the sun and/or at the beach, and I don’t mind telling you that they were lean and kicky. But now I’m older, and now I live in Seattle so I can kiss that tan goodbye**. And now, most of my skirts are knee length or a smidge longer. Most of them are black. One of them is a layered quasi-gypsy skirt (also black.) The horror. The horror.
This is probably just the tip of the catwalk iceberg, but there you go. These are all things that I have made fun of other people for wearing, and now I sport them … proudly? Apathetically? I’m not sure. Sometimes I think that finally, after all these years of insecurity, I’m coming to grips with myself, and my appearance; and sometimes I think I’m just getting lazy. But where’s that line between effortless and lazy?
The closest I’ve yet been able to come to that steady ideal of comfort is with my body mods. I have nine piercings — eight in my ears, and one in my nose. I wear very understated jewelry in those piercings, usually sterling silver studs or the tiny hoop I’ve had in my nostril for the last 3 years; and I never take them out. But they’re they’re screamingly obvious; I mean, hell — they’re right on my head. I’m so exceptionally comfortable with them that I can’t imagine looking into the mirror and not seeing them … but somehow, I hardly even see them anymore. It’s not lazy. It’s literally effortless.
I also have two tattoos, one on my lower back and one on my left leg. The one on my back rarely gets displayed, but the one on my leg gets shown off every time I’m not wearing pants or boots. In a perfect world, I’d like to see the design expanded one day, but I don’t have the money to pay an artist and I don’t ask artists to work for free, so it’ll have to wait.
In some way I think that by changing myself this way — with the extra holes and the ink — I’ve made myself more easy in my own skin, so to speak. My tattoos are meaningful to me and I love them; I wear them all the time under whatever else I may put on, so between the art and the punctures, I start the day wearing at least eleven things that I know I like.
Maybe it’s just that simple.
And I’m sure it’s not that simple for everyone, but I think it’s working for me.
* Note I make no guarantees about what I look like around the house, where I typically wear ripped-up skull-print three-quarter length leggings and tee shirts with bad puns on them.
** As far as my skin is concerned, it’s just as well. And I don’t do tanning beds or fake tanners. I don’t care if other people do it, that’s cool. But it’s not for me.