Living by the Numbers

Even though people claim to have a poor relationship with math, we sure do live in a wriggly snake pit of numbers. For example: I have two children, one cat, one husband, one mom, and two siblings. I have a numeric value for how quickly I solve certain types of arbitrary problems (an IQ), another numeric value for a measure of my mass (my weight), and all manner of numeric values for my eyesight, my hair length, my ring size, my pants size, my bra size and even the size of my feet.

I don’t generally mind all my numbers because put them all together and they add up to one of me, but I mind a whole lot when my numbers are used as a comparison for myself vs. someone else’s numbers. I can accept – begrudgingly – the need to standardize sizes some kind of way so that I can buy a clothing item with a reasonable expectation that, given a certain number, it means something relative to my ability to wear it without it either cutting off my circulation or falling off of me. Got it. But then we have to get all immature about it and use our numbers to shame and/or brag. Oh my goodness, she wears a size 00, she’s so lucky. Ummmm, why? Or, she needs to stop eating so many deserts – she wears a size 14. So? Stop it. Just stop. No. Take a time out or a nap until you can make better judgments.

This is not to say that I am completely unaware of my numbers. Nope, I am aware that my number is bigger than some numbers and smaller than others. I don’t blame commercials for this, nor do I blame some plastic doll. Does anyone really think they ought to look like Barbie? Scratch that; I know the answer and I am not smiling. If I am going to be silly and compare myself to others, I will most definitely compare myself to a living person who represents a quality I admire – and when I do that I am not thinking about whether I can borrow their clothes. I have to remind myself that clothing sizes are not a measure of human worth and awesomeness.

I would like it if my brain wouldn’t get stuck on the sizing loop, but after a particularly fruitless shopping expedition of looking for blue jeans that involved the sales clerk recommending a store with jeans better suited to my age bracket (oh yes she did), I have concluded that the blue jeans of my dreams are somewhere sitting beside my sewing machine waiting for me to make them. My body didn’t do anything wrong; it was minding its own business of respiration, digestion, and locomotion, so it’s my brain’s fault for overthinking the numbers. My best way to rid myself of this numeric nonsense is to create a story problem: if a woman goes jean shopping on a Monday and the relative humidity is 80% while a train is coming down from Chicago to Tampa at 60 mph with a stop in Kentucky because it’s pretty, how much does the size of the blue jeans matter? Not a bit.

I am now heading out to the movies with a friend wearing my favorite blue jeans because they are the exact comfort level I want. Also, I cut the tag out of those a long time ago.

Skin Deep

Beauty is skin deep, in the eye of the beholder, and/or a matter of perception depending on whom you ask and whether they’re talking about themselves or someone else. One of my favorite quotes that I wish I could give proper credit to is that everyone is beautiful given the proper light and perspective. Maybe it was a photographer who said that, maybe a poet, or maybe I wish I could have made it up.

One of my favorite people had a baby a bunch of months ago and was disheartened recently when her clothes didn’t fit the same way post-baby as they had pre-baby. Even though she could remind herself that her innards had shifted when she birthed a person, there was still a part of her that felt betrayed. The clothes hanging in her closet are as yet still unwearable, not because they don’t fit but because they don’t fit her the way she remembers. She literally has a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. The clothes lurk there, silently passing judgement on her postpartum physique. It doesn’t matter that I could remind her that she is a remarkably beautiful woman, with honeyed skin and big blue eyes that show a deep level of caring for others. Nope, it’s inanimate objects she’s paying attention to.

This weekend she’s going to be the boss of her closet and take down the clothes that aren’t comfortable at present so that she can assess what she has to work with. I hope that she’ll feel a burden lifted by putting subliminal reminders of the past away rather than lament what doesn’t agree with the beautiful woman she is at the moment.

We’re ever-changing multifaceted critters, we people, and our beauty is best expressed in our current evolution, not some vestigial remnant of clothes and days gone by. I don’t advocate to anyone that they run out and buy an entire closet every season – that’s pretty silly. I do, however, know how much better people feel when they feel comfortable in what they’re wearing. It’s just another version of being comfortable in one’s own skin, which is quite a bit more than skin deep.

Spring Cleaning Part Two: My Closet

Yesterday I mentioned that it was time for me to sort through the closets to free up some space. I don’t believe that hanging on to items I don’t/won’t use serves any purpose except for making my closets looks full of miscellaneous stuff that sits there sullen, judging me for not using the items or not taking care of them properly. It’s Toy Story in my closets, but without the toys. Today, I decided to begin spring cleaning in my own closet. The bulk of dubious items included my wedding dress, bridesmaid’s dresses, shoes through the ages, and really what amounted to piles and heaps of random stuff.

I laughed as I put aside the bridesmaid’s dresses, a tribute to the 80s, 90s, and early millennium. My wedding dress, while highly sentimental, isn’t going to be passed down from generation to generation. My daughter is four inches taller than I am and is built differently. I still have the photos from my wedding, and aside for some residual smugness over the fact that I can still wear the dress, the fact that I’m not going to wear it again begs the question of what it’s still doing hanging around the house.

I did some checking, and now I know of plenty shops, consignment and otherwise, that accept formal wear. It would make me happy to know that another person could wear the wedding dress, and hopefully they’d be as happy as I’ve been. I don’t hold onto memorabilia as a method of making me happy. It makes me just as happy, if not moreso, to share with someone else. Those bridesmaid dresses, though. Maybe someone can repurpose them and turn them into skirts, tops, or maybe throw pillows.

I didn’t have any trouble tossing out the shoes from my quest to find the perfect pair of black flats. I now know that the perfect pair doesn’t exist, so I have since settled on three: penny loafers, oxfords, and ballet slippers. All the rest went happily into the donation pile. I have one lettered shirt from my sorority days, and one logoed shirt from my days of wearing spirit wear at my old school, but other than that, the only clothes in my closet are the ones I wear–and my daughter’s dresses.

The crafts and treasures from my kids are all in my “special” box, labeled that way and on the shelf. I’m not ready to get rid of those, but they also don’t take up an unnecessary amount of space. My daughter’s forays into the world of art include bodiless people that are still charming to the rosy-hued glasses of momma love. My son’s truck and train pictures still make me smile. I will give these items to them at some point, but for now, that’s one of the few boxes in my closet that I don’t’ need to use on a regular basis.

The corner where I keep my grandma’s craft supplies whammied my emotions. We enjoyed a particularly complicated relationship, and while I loved her dearly, about the only thing we had in common was crafts. We both liked needlepoint and crewel. We could spend hours together working on whatever projects we were in process with at the time. I have no doubt that this is part of the reason she had me go to needlepoint club with her. I remain grateful for the gift of time and creativity that she gave me.

When she died, she willed her crafting supplies to my sister and me, and we shared the vast array of creative potential. Today, when I opened up the boxes for the first time in probably seven or eight years, I was hit with the double whammy of completely knowing why I hadn’t used the items in the boxes and knowing that no craft should go unfinished. There were patterns for table runners and holiday decorations, skeins of yarn for needlepoint, canvases and more. Now that my kids are grown, I could theoretically begin working on needlepoint projects galore, but I know I won’t. When grandma died, my desire to needlepoint and crewel went with her. I have, on the odd occasion, picked up needle and thread and created a gift or two, but otherwise, nope.

This is no sadness to me. What I regret is that someone else couldn’t enjoy these materials sooner. I wasn’t ready to part with them, but now I am. If grandma were standing beside me, I can guarantee you she’d say, “About time.”

My closet is now clean(ish) and ready for the boxes my kids want to store in there. I don’t usually personify things like closets, but they are the anthropological evidence of who people are. I am always going to be fond of hand-crafted needlepoint projects, whether or not I’m the one making them, and I am definitely my grandmother’s granddaughter. My closet is now both physically and metaphorically clean. Not bad for a couple hours of labor.

Being Presentable

The capsule wardrobe craze is fascinating to behold. Take your clothes, graciously sell or donate the items that don’t make you happy, rotate through a streamlined version of the rest every three months or so. A thoughtful blend of clothing and seasons. One of the arguments many capsulers (capsulets?) claim is that using a capsule wardrobe makes them presentable more often. They don’t go out in sweats and ratty t-shirts because that’s not part of their capsule. My question, even as I remain intrigued by the capsule concept, is how come someone doesn’t just up and decide that their capsule is sweats and ratty t-shirts? Probably someone has, but hasn’t posted it on the internet.

Regardless, capsule wardrobes are wardrobes that make sense. A person doesn’t have to stress over what to wear because the choices are preselected and either ready-to-go or in the laundry. I love this even as I doubt that I’m going to apply these concepts to my own closet. The larger issue, and maybe that’s what minimalists advocate, is that less clutter equals less stress. I can appreciate that. The summers I spent working at a fine arts camp were great. I had no worries about what to wear because we had uniforms: blue shorts, blue logo polo, blue crew socks. We called ourselves Smurfs. I loved my shorts, which was good, because I washed and wore them for two summers.

If efficiency is one argument in favor of a more manageable wardrobe, making oneself presentable would also fit, with apologies to my fictitious sweatpants/ratty t-shirt friends. Even if we don’t think of it this way, we usually wear some type of uniform to work. For me, it’s usually slacks and a cardigan/top combo. Ta-da. Bright and sparkly in less than five minutes. My husband has a work uniform too: slacks, shirt, tie, repeat. The end result of this isn’t that we look the same every single day, it’s that we’re presentable. We don’t look like we just rolled out of bed, and we also don’t look like we’re playing dress-up. We blend into the situations of our days. I love my sweats and couch potato ensembles; they’re everything that’s comfortable and snuggly in my life. Nobody could pay me enough to wear any of my “at-home” relaxing clothes out in public. I know that the instant I leave my house to run a quick errand while in my college t-shirt and ratty sweats, I’m going to run into a student or a parent. Some things are best left unnoticed.

There’s a certain harmony in doing more with less, which is why the whole idea of minimizing the girth of my closet appeals to me. If I know what I’m wearing in advance, that’s one less decision to have to make in the morning. Looking presentable and put together while not having to overthink everything? I’m in.

The Power of Grey

If black is a powerful color, red is bold, orange is happy, and purple is regal, what is grey? I’ve mentioned before that black is not my go-to, grey is. Grey is smokey and blends in; it’s mysterious, aloof, but still kind of cool. It’s neither one color nor the other, but a mixture. Grey it is.

Not that I fancy myself as being aloof. I have too much of a puppydog personality to manage that level of indifference. But grey is my go-to color. This is only important because, in the act of decluttering my closet and minimizing the amount of unnecessary objects I have hiding in boxes, I realized that I have a collection of grey clothing for every season. I think I became the poster person for minimalism (as in, I need to practice this) right about the point where I counted my third matching grey t-shirt in exactly the same cut and shade as the other two. Was I thinking that I’d have backup when I spilled food on my shirt? Probably.

I have been organizing my closets in part because I don’t particularly like overcrowded storage areas, but also because I couldn’t remember what some of the boxes contained. To my nontangibly sentimental brain, this means those boxes could go away without taking up space or being missed. This is a process that’s been happening over time. I am not going to konmari myself out of my sentimental junk, I just like the idea of knowing where to find the objects I’m seeking.

Same thing for my clothes. I am not one of those people who has clothes with the tags still on them. Rather, I like multiple looks from one piece; grey suits my needs just fine. I would be perfectly happy with five grey t-shirts and five grey blouses in different cuts and shades, dark slacks/jeans, and various scarves and accessories in my favorite colors to add a little eye interest. That sounds wonderful. It would be my working and playing wardrobe reminiscent of smoke and ash. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.

So why don’t I do this? I really don’t know. I admire versatile wardrobes and the people who have them. Their lives seem so much more put together for the simple reason that they don’t have to spend so much time worrying about what to wear. Shallow? I honestly don’t think so. There’s a quote in the first fashion book I ever read (Chic Simple: Women’s Wardrobe, 1996): “The more you know, the less you need.” This is attributed to an Australian Aboriginal saying, and the way I interpret it is this: when you know who you are, you don’t have useless stuff lying around mucking up your decision-making process.

Other people have the power suit, the power ensemble, superninja red, clean white, neutral beige, and sleek black. Me, I have grey.

An Uncluttered Yet Fashionable New Year

On New Year’s Eve, while Times Square glowed with overcrowded exuberance and California was rockin’ with Pitbull and his sparkly backup dancers, I was at home merrily trolling YouTube and researching the uncluttered lifestyle, particularly as this relates to clothes. I am a fan of clothes, mostly because they cover my person and keep me from causing people to get into accidents because they are laughing too hard at the nekkid middle-aged woman getting the mail or going for a Mocha. If I didn’t have my clothes to absorb the coffee I invariably spill as I run my errands, I’d burn myself. Clothes are a practical, useful invention. That they can also be pretty is a bonus.

After spending about 20 hours studying and note-taking (yep, I really did), pondering my own fashion steps and blunders, I arrived at some pretty good conclusions about clothing, fashion, and wardrobes. I am now going to share all this knowledge with you. Consider this the abbreviated version of my research:

  1. Buy undergarments that fit. Men and women, please respect your parts. Make them feel special. If you choose to go all-natural under your clothes, then make sure those clothes can accommodate that. For women, clothes don’t look right if “the girls” are not secured appropriately. While nothing feels better than removing the bra at the end of the day, nothing looks worse than clothes that gap/poke/sag in the chestal region. If you are one who doesn’t wear a bra, great. Again, just make sure your clothes can let you fly free without any bits and parts showing or playing peekaboo.

In terms of underwear, if you are shaped as a human person, no thong or Spanx-ified undergarment is going to make gravity less of a force of nature. Buy panties that cover what they need to cover. If you have a problem area, rather than thinking that you will drop/gain 20 pounds in the next 10 minutes, deal with the situation as it is and save the thong or boycut undies or boxers or whatevertheheck style for yourself and/or a loved one when the situation calls for something a little sassier.

  1. Buy clothes that fit and only keep clothes that fit. “D’uhhhhh” I hear you say. I’ve said it too. However, and this is a pretty big however, did you ever notice that people tend to think they wear “this” size and only this size? In reality, particularly for women’s clothes, sizes and cuts are different across brands. I am a pear-shaped woman, and the pear is only going to become more pear-like as I age. I’m cool with that, but I also have to accommodate my changing shape. The Dockers I wore before I had kids still technically go on my body, but realistically, they don’t fit. When I go shopping now, I have to allow for the effects of gravity and time on my person. I buy pants with button-flap pockets on the backside to make it appear as though I have a tush, when in reality all I have are pockets. I got rid of those cute little Dockers of yesteryear and didn’t mind; I have adult children who thought it was hilarious that I was putting them on in the first place.

Whatever your body type, please buy clothes that fit. I am not ashamed to say I have a range of sizes in my closet, not because my weight fluctuates, but because the cut of clothes fluctuates. I have learned that, as it relates to pants in particular, if they are lower-rise, I need to size up so that I don’t have to worry about muffin-top because that just looks wrong. I’m a person, not a baked good. In dresses, I wear a smaller size, probably because I don’t have to allow for the pear shape quite as much. I still have to pay attention to whether the fabric pulls across the hips, though. If it does, I don’t get the dress. Money saved.

  1. Buy clothes that make you feel wonderful. As a person who sews, I love the drape and feel of fabric. I do not love the drape and feel of certain fabrics and will therefore not wear them. Clothes that squeeze you, poke you or in any way inhibit your full range of motion might appeal to you on some level, but they will look like you are being squeezed, poked, and inhibited. If that’s the look you’re going for, then okey dokey, but don’t complain to me that your feet hurt or that your pants are too tight.
  2. Own your basics and build from there. Your basics are not going to be my basics. I can’t wear black because, when I do, I look like an anemic mortician. My version of a little black dress is a little purple dress. Maybe your little black dress is blue, or green, or a swirly paisley print. The point is that it’s a go-to dress. Maybe your little black dress is a pair of slacks and your favorite shirt. Whatever it is, if you are older than 16, you should have a go-to outfit that looks good on you. I am still looking for the perfect pair of black shoes, but I have reason to believe it’s because I’m a little fickle in the footwear department.
  3. Own something in your favorite color. I don’t care what the garment is; just make sure you have something in your favorite color. I recently learned that my mother’s favorite color is yellow. She is a beautiful, brilliant bundle of momma-ness, and I am pretty sure the closest she has come to yellow is a peach-colored polo. I will be remedying that very shortly, because there is something very powerful about wearing the color that makes you happy in the first place. My favorite colors are purple and green, and I have two accessories in this combination: a pair of ear rings and a scarf. I wear these on days when I need a little boost, either of confidence or sparkle.
  4. Be true to you. This sounds kinda hokey, but it’s true: aside from workplace uniforms, you’re not going to wear clothes that don’t make you feel like yourself, so don’t waste your money. My daughter’s aesthetic is a bohemian combination of graphic tees punctuated with business attire. It works for her. My husband has a clothing rotation that puts the capsule wardrobe to shame. A friend of mine has a flower-print button down that she wears with the silver and turquoise ear rings a student made for her. Most of my clothes are along the classic/preppy line because, at heart, I’m the embodiment of the girl next door. Whenever I wear a stiletto or a bustier or something slightly more daring, I seriously look like I’m a toddler who’s playing dress up. Classic and unpretentious works for me. I have a couple scandalous pieces in the closet, but they’re not for the public’s viewing.

That’s what I learned as the ball dropped on 2015. I begin 2016 with a sorted closet; and I am wearing my favorite tan shorts and purple t-shirt. I went and got a Mocha without spilling a drop. Not a bad way to start a year.

Celebrating Free Spirits and Sports

I live in Tampa, FL, proud home of the Tampa Bay Lightning and annual host of MetroCon. To be fair, I’ll describe both: The Lightning is a fantastic hockey team. With all due respect to my hometown Blackhawks, there’s an approachable quality to the Lightning and its fans that grabbed me by my inner fangirl when I first moved down here and held on. I have been to very few hockey games in my life, but all of them have been Lightning games. I love the crowd, the energy, and the grit of my chosen team.

MetroCon is Florida’s largest annual Anime convention. Anime enthusiasts can choose to represent their favorite characters, often creating costumes that defy gravity and require feats of engineering. It is absolutely acceptable to wear a costume that looks, to the outside world, like an overgrown cow and have said cow run and hug a cosplayer who, again to the outside world, looks like a series of strategically placed strips of duct tape. The costumes are vibrant, the people friendly, the event energetic.

I sew clothes from patterns. To an Anime enthusiast, I am probably the equivalent of a single-celled organism of creativity. They create remarkable costumes that I would argue are every bit as fantastic and elaborate as the costumes in movies. Sometimes they actually look a little better. I have seen people dressed as Loki in more Loki-esque attire than Tom Hiddleston himself. As a fan of both Hiddleston’s grin and his acting ability, this is high praise.

You can predict where I’m heading with this: culture clash. The events of the busiest day of MetroCon collided with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. As I drove to pick up my daughter and her friends from the convention center, the only thing I was concerned about was traffic. I forgot that some sports enthusiasts, especially after a game, are a bit on the rowdy side, and inclined to judge people dressed in Anime awesomeness – shall we say, unkindly?

As people left the game and the convention center, I heard the occasional shout of “Freak!” getting tossed at the cosplayers. Where, I wondered, were the cosplayers tossing the word “Freak!” out at the sports enthusiasts? Of course that question is rhetorical. No arguments broke out that I saw, but still. Why did anyone have to judge? From an outsider’s perspective, isn’t it every bit as ridiculous to be walking around with a sponge #1 finger pointy thing or long noisemaker doohickey as it is to be dressed as the character from an Anime show?

We are allowed to choose how we represent ourselves and we are definitely allowed to choose what we will do in our free time. My beloved cosplayers are no stranger than my beloved sports enthusiasts. Just saying.

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