How well I remember the morning that the tree crew arrived to do some work on our 75-foot oak tree at our house back in Virginia. Gideon was little, and I was home with him. I hadn’t planned on going anywhere that day, so I had on my grungy “at-home” outfit, an old t-shirt dress that was frayed around the edges. It was easy to pop on. I think I had taken a shower but hadn’t done anything to my hair, a sure recipe for the Wild Woman of Borneo look. (No disrespect intended to the real women of Borneo!) The head tree guy came to the door, wanting me to sign off on the job. I was so embarrassed by my appearance that I didn’t go out and check on what they’d done, and as I recall there was something left out. The details have mercifully blurred with time, but I still remember how awful I felt answering the door in my getup. What a disaster!
Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that while that t-shirt dress has long since gone to the landfill, I still don’t make a point of getting myself into a reasonably-presentable state every day. I’ve read Sink Reflections: Overwhelmed? Disorganized? Living in Chaos? Discover the Secrets That Have Changed the Lives of More Than Half a Million Families… by Marla Cilley, in which she tells her readers to “get dressed to your shoes” every day no matter what. (She wouldn’t approve of my flip-flops.) I have followed The Daily Connoisseur, the video blog of the charming Jennifer Scott, which advocates for a presentable look every day, and now . . . ta-dah! Gretchen and Liz are going to try for the entire month of February to wear “clothes” every day. By that term they mean “real” clothes, not just stuff they usually throw on. Liz wears sweatpants almost every day unless she has a meeting scheduled, and Gretchen wears yoga pants. They both wear hoodies and running shoes. So for February, jeans are allowed, “nice” hoodies are allowed, but not running shoes or sweatpants (unless they’re actually, you know, running or sweating). I will point out, by the way, that the rest of this episode of “Happier” podcast is about a very serious subject with a very special guest. Be sure to listen to it.
None of the women mentioned above leads a life centered on fashion. Marla runs the Flylady website (which is very, very cluttered—I don’t know why she doesn’t practice what she preaches in that venue), Jennifer runs her website (which is about much more than dressing well), writes books and homeschools her two older daughters, Gretchen is a powerhouse writer and speaker, and Liz is a successful TV writer. They all just want to look nice instead of falling back into their slob-at-home clothes.
If you were to drop by my place on a day when I’m not going anywhere, you’d find me a) in my pajamas, or b) in my bathrobe, or c) in my jeans and one of the three tops I wear around the house, plus flip-flops, messy hair, no makeup, and my Mr. Magoo glasses instead of my contacts. Charming! So since tomorrow is the first of the month, I’m going to join the two sisters in this effort.
Here are the rules:
1) must wear a vest or scarf along with one of my nice shirts or turtlenecks,
2) must wear earrings,
3) must style hair, and
4) must put on mascara, powder, blush, and lipstick.
Does this all sounds pretty trivial? It’s really not. We all know that a reasonable effort at good self-presentation is very helpful psychologically. I have quoted before from the book The City of Joy, about life in the very worst slum in Calcutta, India. (It’s quite a book; you really should read it.) The women, we’re told, manage to wash themselves from head to toe every day without removing their saris or having access to water other than that from a single spigot and always arrange their hair neatly and put in a flower if at all possible. And, oh yes, in one of M. F. K. Fisher’s books, she tells about a woman who lives down in the cellar of the grocery store that she and her husband run but who manages to look fresh every day. (I’m not sure which Fisher book contains that story, but you should read all four that are included in The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition anyway.) I could go on and on. Taking a certain amount of trouble, making an effort, doing your best with what you have, all pay big dividends. Your self-respect is strengthened.
I got rather tickled that Gretchen and Liz mentioned how thrilled their mother was going to be about their nice-clothes February: “Even just sitting alone at home reading a book she looks nice.” I’m pretty sure that I saw their mother at Gretchen’s book-signing event in Kansas City that Jim and I attended as part of an anniversary trip one year. (He was a very good sport about getting roped into that one.) She was a charming little woman, wearing a scarf as I recall. The sisters also mention that sometimes we have nice things that we never wear, not because they don’t fit and don’t suit us but because we’re too lazy to bother. I have a couple dozen pairs of earrings, even after the great sorting-out that I did before we moved. So all of these pairs came through that process. I like them. Why don’t I wear them? How long does it take to pick out a pair of earrings and put them in? And I own a pair of diamond studs that my husband gave me for our 12th wedding anniversary—diamonds for the dozenth. But I hardly ever wear them because it does take about 30 seconds per stud to screw them in—they’re made to be very secure! Since I don’t wear them much, the holes have grown back together and so I need to get them re-pierced. (I got a second set of holes done specifically for those.) I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
How about you? Could you make a little more of an effort in the personal-appearance department? Would that effort give you a shot of confidence?
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