An Exercise in Sartorial Restraint

Farmer in a pink dress

A short while ago, near the end of my last pregnancy, a friend saw me go by wearing neon pink tights, pastel pink ballet flats and a black and white patterned wrap dress (aka tired new mom style) and mentioned to my husband how nice it must be to be pregnant and wear anything one wants. His response was, “She always wears whatever she wants.”  When he told me about their exchange, I couldn’t believe it. Shy, retiring me wearing whatever I want, whenever? No way.

And then, thinking about it, I remembered the bubble gum machine sweatshirt from Goodwill I wore in second grade with the mixed felt gum balls that my classmates loved to touch.

The consignment store white t-shirt with a woman’s face printed on it and red plaid fabric sewn on as her headscarf (I could tie a knot in it!) and matching knee-length red plaid knickerbockers that snapped just under the knee.

The lavender button-up tucked into boys jeans with black and white striped Adidas and a side ponytail (that 7th grade hairdo earned me the nickname “Coconut”).

My beloved sleeveless green trapeze tunic I wore with rolled up white capri leggings.

Mind you, my compatriots were all wearing the local uniform of tucked in t-shirts, regular cut jeans and sporty sneakers or work shoes (a lot of students worked on the family farm around school hours) or super trendy skater/snowboard bunny gear.

I wore bear paws, everyone else wore sneakers.

I didn’t exactly fit in

But I loved what I wore, would be obsessed with certain details, fabrics or patterns and would just dive in to different looks from time to time.

In my head, I always felt like a plain jane tomboy, though I am told I was girly enough on the outside. I did like wearing floral skirts and dresses and as a teen would wear a barbed wire inspired choker and black Mary Janes to rough it up a little. My favorite outfits for years were baggy dark brown and slim, flared green thrift store corduroy pants, along with emerald and ruby v-neck long sleeve velour sweaters. A couple oversized button up shirts were in the mix. Dark blue nail polish. My Jimi Hendrix Soup skateboard.

Once, in my early twenties, an employer criticized how I dressed in my off-time, saying it was immodest and too flashy for the traditional belief system I espoused (let’s just bypass the discussion about why I chose to take so seriously a boy just a couple of years older than me with issues of his own) so the next day I wore a plain white t-shirt, dark blue dyed straight leg jeans and plain tennis shoes. I felt so quiet, almost silenced, wiped out, erased. My whole being was screaming to be let out of this straightjacket of normalcy and expectations.

Breton Shirt

No more t-shirts!

I quickly let her out, happily fitting back into my comfort zone, throwing a soft black cardigan over my cherished black leopard Guess bustier and slipping on sleek black tuxedo stripe pants from Rome and painting my short nails ‘I’m Not Really A Waitress’ red. Other days, a sleeveless white ribbed tank and pinstriped low-rise wide leg navy blue pants and blue suede Naot flats with a glittery sandy beige nail polish would do.

For years, I have poured myself into the world, not with words (I am horrid at small talk, and embarrassingly bad at conversation in general) but with my wardrobe.

The last decade was full of black and white houndstooth, metallic sage cotton and brown tweed A-line skirts made for me by a local seamstress, pink and tan fitted blazers and various black and white cowl neck tops with the occasional lime green skirt or flared jean thrown in. White, beige or black fishnets. Nude BCBG ballet flats. Red and black leather Fornarina Mary Jane platform heels.

I have shouted with my hair color and styles. Violet or blonde streaks, a super-short pixie cut, DIY bleached blonde curls(so. much. fun!), long, waist length un-dyed dark brown spirals, and more recently with chin length asymmetrical curls.

The last three years, I have been pregnant or nursing and my choices have reflected that: lots of ruching, soft tops, skirts and pants (<3 Isabella Oliver, Liz Lange for Target and Motherhood Maternity).

classic pregnancy style ballet flats and leggings

Leggings and ballet flats, perfect for the pregnant years. It was more fun to wear my silver BC Footwear wedges than the flats, though.

Now, as a not-pregnant mother of two baby boys in my mid-thirties, reigning over a home with an 80-lb pup and five chickens, I am looking around and waking up to my current life and to fashion as it exists now. Tucked shirts are back?!? Rolled jeans? Okay, not bad, deep breath. Fashion seems to have returned to something like what I was wearing in sixth grade, though we spoke of “bulging” shirts and “pegging” jeans. Lost in a very different world from the one I remember, I am trying to educate myself and find myself, not just the pre-mom me, the who-I-am me, the person I have become.

This decade, instead of Sassy, British and Italian Glamour, Seventeen, and W Magazine, (all still fun now and again) I am poring over images and discussion of style on blogs (mainly Garance Doré and Tavi Gevinson’s), I have reluctantly succumbed to the beauty that is Pinterest as a replacement for the multiple Word docs of collected images and collages on my desktop AND I have committed myself to creating a seasonal ten-piece capsule wardrobe (give or take a piece or three) that I really love and works for my life and me. Not quite sure what that will end up looking like but I am working on it.

For the moment, I have voluntarily put back on the white t-shirt and blue jeans. The wonderfully soft, nicely cut crew neck t-shirt is from Everlane (<–affiliate link), a company whose values I admire. I adore the light blue crew neck, too. The jeans are Old Navy Dreamer Boot-Cut, which are comfortable and holding up to my urban farm life while I search for my perfect pair of jeans (possibly Emerson Fry’s Skinny Straights, or maybe the Vintage Highrise?). My shoes are pastel pink Via Pinky flats from Modcloth (<–affiliate link). My self-imposed straightjacket is a little more me this time.

I am hoping that by exercising restraint, I will, in time, be able to quietly sing through well-considered sartorial choices and perhaps redirect the energy that once blasted out through my clothes and hair into a greater involvement and verbal interaction with the world around me. You know, grow up. For my sake and especially for my children’s sake.

And if that doesn’t work, you may see me striding by shouting to the skies through my ice-cold platinum white hair and deep pink Melissa wedges. I will be happy either way and I hope my boys will see that and be happy too.

2/18/2014 ETA: I decided to throw away the self imposed straightjacket

My current rotating uniform consists of:

  • High waisted vintage flared jeans or a black on white jeggings (yes, jeggings) incarnation of tuxedo pants.
  • An oversized black n’ bright floral satin tee, a pastel lilac eyelet tee, or a white button-up buttoned all the way up.
  • A slim black tuxedo jacket or a bright pink oversized blazer (think Elaine Benes’ silhouette).
  • Black wedge heels or black knee-high suede wedge boots.
  • Two tone glasses (<–affiliate link). Red lips. Black cat eye. Topped off with a blonde-tipped faux hawk.

Photo Credit: Ryan McGuire via Gratisography


  1. When I was in college many years ago, I attended a small nearly all-female school. There I met a woman I remember to this day. She wore second-hand store clothing in the most creative and fascinating ways. I adored her style, her perspective, and most of all, her courage. Because the other women talked about her behind her back. (I think many of them were jealous). Jena was a style-maker and a leader. I am sure that today she continues in that tradition. I wonder how many of her former college classmates can boast the same. Change, if it feels right, but always stay true to who you are. What this says about you is rare and desirable. I’d hate to see you take a chance on losing it.

    • Monica,

      Thank you for such a sweet and thoughtful comment. People like you are the reason I am choosing to believe that the internet can be a positive and joyful place. My husband feels similarly to you and wants me to find a way to just be me:)

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