What Do I Wear?

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Every night before I go to bed, I stand in front of my closet, sigh loudly, and lay out what has become my uniform: a pair of jeans that may or may not fit right and a sweatshirt that is (hopefully) unstained. I put these clothes on my body. I look in the mirror before I leave for work. I’m 36 years old, but I dress, at best, like a 14-year-old boy. Were I to have an “event” after work that required me to look nice or even semi-presentable, I would make a panic purchase at H&M across the street from the office, only to find myself at said event clutching a plastic cup of wine wearing a blouse that makes me feel as if I were interviewing for a job in advertising. All this to say: how does anyone get dressed, ever?

Years of watching What Not to Wear and absorbing the questionable rules espoused by Stacy London and Clinton Kelly for women whose bodies look like mine have convinced me that I need to nip in my waist and embrace ruching. I do not like ruching, and am allergic to any shirt that could be interpreted as a “Going Out top.” Looking “fancy”is not for me, though who can say what fancy really means? A sweatshirt that is not stained and ill-fitting is fancy; so is a shirt that I found at the bottom of my drawer that is relatively clean, unwrinkled, and smells fine. Is this true? Is this how to dress? I am desperate for alternatives to the wardrobe I’ve crafted for myself, which is designed to obscure my figure for no reason other than I think that’s how it should be. My figure is fine—it does not resemble a pillowcase stuffed with dirty clothes as I erroneously thought for years—and so I must clothe it somehow. But what is the way to dress for a woman of my age?

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“Basics” are an answer, but to me a basic is, again, a sweatshirt in the winter and a tee shirt in the summer. Pants, yes. Dress, sometimes. Skirt, never. Shoes, if I must. Is this enough to communicate to the world that I am a capable and employed woman in my mid-to-late 30s? Who knows. What I do know is that finding a wardrobe that feels suitably “adult” that doesn’t make me “uncomfortable” for reasons that I have made up feels like an impossible task. Common sense dictates that I should spend more money on higher quality clothing and ditch my nasty habit of buying jeans that rip in the thigh almost immediately, but I am a grubby little creature of habit—irrevocably cheap for no good reason, and wedded to the ill-advised notion that no one is looking at the clothes I’m wearing, so why does it matter. People are looking—I’m looking, for christ’s sake—and some might say it does.

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