For many years, I never spent more than 25 dollars on an article of clothing. This is easier to do than you think. H&M sells jeans for ten dollars. Goodwill sells shoes. Lots of friends give away big ugly coats.
This wasn’t out of necessity. I am not, and have never been, poor. I come from a very comfortable middle class background. I have parents who have gone out of their way to clothe and over-feed me.
No, I’m just cheap. Horribly, inexorably cheap. The lure of fast disposable fashion from places like Forever 21 and H&M has been too strong for me to resist. I have always felt guilty paying lots of money for clothes; for a long time I thought a really good wardrobe could be assembled from Goodwill shelves and freebies. I wanted to look cool effortlessly – like I was too focused on important things, like world peace and nirvana, to care about what I was wearing.
But what I really wanted was to be someone who wore the same outfit everyday and traveled on boats in Thailand with attractive men who found her both enlivening and mysterious (never mind that I was attending an elite private college and more concerned with the calories in my granola bar than the mysteries of the universe). Unfortunately, I usually missed the fashion mark. Instead of looking enlightened and free, my outfits were cheap and tacky. And probably dirty.
After college, I traveled for a bit and actually had to wear the same outfit everyday. It sucked. I felt dirty and gross, no matter how much laundry I did or how much lipstick I applied.
So having revised this fantasy, turned 24, and moved to Los Angeles, I had to accept it: my wardrobe is ridiculous.
Everything I own falls into three categories: something I’ve had since high school, something covered in stains, or something recently purchased during a violent Forever 21 binge and already unraveling at the seams. Many things have been living deep in the cracks of my closet, where I had hidden them, I’m assuming, to avoid my shame.
It’s overwhelming how under-prepared my wardrobe is for adult life. Not only do I not have anything to wear to an office job or a soiree (I don’t go to these things, but I want to be ready if I’m ever invited – to an office job or a soiree, I mean), I don’t even own heels without scuff marks.
But it isn’t easy. In my old fast-fashion days, I could dip into H&M and emerge thirty minutes later with an armload of clothes. Trying to build a wardrobe that will last means a long struggle to find nice clothes that fit and feel comfortable. A lot of clothes are cute in theory, but when I put them on my human body they look like what happens if you fill a latex glove with candy corn – it gets lumpy and stretched out in strange places, though the general “human-hand” suggestion is still in play.
But lots of good things will come if I can just persevere. For example, I wore a $15 pair of denim shorts for over a year despite the fact that they fit my body in a very special way, drooping off my waist while still managing to bunch up into a crotch diaper. Recently I bought a pair of shorts that cost me significantly more, but they fit well. They look good. I look good.
It’s not that my values have changed. No. I’m realizing now that I only ever wanted to look like I cared about nirvana. I wanted all the accessories of a free-spirit life with none of the discipline or disposition. Ironically, I feel more free now that I indulge my materialism than I ever did when I was wearing the crotch diaper trying to pretend like I didn’t care. I am way more shallow than I gave myself credit for. And it’s a wonderful thing.
On Model: Target shirt, Sports Bra, Crotch Diaper Shorts, Nalgene.