The Mother of Re-Invention

It starts when we’re very little girls. Someone reads Cinderella to us, and we are told that as her clothes and shoes and coach are transformed, so is her life transformed. The seeds are planted for our belief in the Magic of the Makeover.

From Cinderella to the Ugly Duckling to Sabrina to Pretty Woman to My Big Fat Greek Wedding to Oprah to Extreme Makeover, stories abound of a physical or sartorial transformation that accompanies or is even a springboard to a new and shiny life. Our culture loves a makeover. We wait breathlessly for the unveiling, “It’s a new me!” Except that often inside it isn’t. As my friend Becky used to say, “no matter where you go, there you are!”

For a good part of my childhood, I awaited transformation. At 8 years old, I was certain that once I was older/thinner/had longer hair that my golden life would finally begin. And then I grew up and kept waiting…waiting to get thinner, waiting to make more money, waiting to become the stylish, sophisticated woman I knew I wanted to be, that golden life still just over the horizon.

The Sartorialist in his Kara post from August 28 (can’t seem to link to it directly), talking about transformation says:

“I bet if you ask most people what keeps them from being who they really want to be (at least stylistically or maybe even more), the answer would not be money but the fear of peer pressure – fear of embarrassing themselves in front of a group of people that they might not actually even like anyway.

If you were really honest with yourself and really wanted to change your style what is keeping you from doing that? Is it really the cost? Is it really your psychical shape? availability of goods? Or is it not fitting in at your office, or PTA, or skateboard park?”

I don’t know that I agree totally with that. Peer and family expectations do play a part, but during the times of my life that were most ripe for reinvention (the three times I’ve picked up and moved to a new city), money was the biggest factor preventing it. The second was my size/shape. But even today, when the money is easier, and I’m able to find clothing in a wider range of styles that fits me, my sense of self more than anything probably limits my ability to re-invent my look. Or I should say, my sense of Selves, ever thwarting my desire to develop a single, cohesive, defining style. There’s my nerdy self, my aging hippie self, my Corporate Busnoid self, my chic-and-sophisticated-wannabe self, and my practical self. My closet is a mishmash of styles, a result of these different selves being predominant from month-to-month or even day-to-day. A garment that feels like “me” one week, may feel foreign and forced the next.
Perhaps because my style icons have always been so far removed from my body type, my era, and now–often–my age, it’s been difficult for me to have some realistic style goals. I’ve met very few women IRL whose style I’d want to emulate. The styles that really inspire me are more often costumes (Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, Juliette Binoche in Chocolat) than real-life dressing. Perhaps I just need to give freer rein to my closet Drama Queen.
The idea of makeover = total life transformation also holds little sway these days. I have enough years under my belt to know that most of what makes one’s life worthwhile comes from the inside. I’ve managed to carve out a pretty darn good life for myself, and I’m not looking to trade it in. Doesn’t stop me from fantasizing about renting a stylist, though.

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5 Comments

  1. August 30, 2007 / 5:50 pm

    Good Lord, Deja, WE ARE sisters under the skin. Maybe even twins! Last Christmas, Mr. Janey gifted Miss J WITH A STYLIST, who she still hasn’t used yet. Ostensibly, money was a factor (we were to take a shopping trip for new wardrobe) but in truth, she had a generous bonus that could have been used. When she really gets down to the nitty gritty, body and other issues LURK. She’d just been diagnosed with an eating disorder and there’s a part of her that feared opening her closet to a stranger. What if they found her wardrobe lacking? Even (gulp) TACKY! Jeez- all that work to put her trailer park youth behind her… what if it were undone in a minute? You friend Becky is right: “no matter where you go, there you are!”

    One thing is for sure, though, she’s come a long way in treatment, and this holiday season- she’s seeing that stylist. Viva la change!

  2. August 30, 2007 / 10:42 pm

    This post resonates with me in so many ways. Personal style is so complex and so intricately woven into our sense of self–perhaps that’s why is seems to make sense that by changing one’s style, one’s very self can be transformed, but your friend Becky got it on the nose. I do think this is why I feel I’m getting closer to knowing my own style in my 50s–I simply know myself better (and actually like her!)– but it’s also why I now know my style will never be as cohesive and chic as I’d like — ’cause neither am I, most days! I suspect I’m going to come back to this post and think about it some more on my own blog at some point.

  3. Anonymous
    September 7, 2007 / 2:25 pm

    I think I best not sign in with my real name for this one.

    There are other real ‘design’ issues with choosing style. Every year, I buy religiously the American Vogue’s “Shape” issue in April. I have even ordered it post-facto a couple of years, when I missed it in the shops.

    Now their idea of petite is really very odd and mostly limited to height. Petite women are not all under 5’3″; some are under 5′ too. They are not all skinny. Some have 32E tops and 35″ bottoms held tightly with years of exercise.

    With such a body, no stylist can help! Shirts that button properly look like gunny sacks on the small waist; trousers that fit the waist will not fit the bottom and if they do the shape will be odd because they were made to some other weird specification.

    Any ideas?

    Yours, Frustrated in PetiteVille

  4. September 7, 2007 / 4:25 pm

    Personally, I think the Vogue “shape issue” is a big fat joke. They don’t really show different *shapes*, just the same shape (well-proportioned) in different heights and sizes.

    As a sister curvy petite, I hear your pain. I tend to avoid blouses, or buy them to fit the waist and leave unbuttoned over the bust with a camisole underneath, or wear open as a light jacket over a shell. Most fashionistas will recommend finding a good tailor, which is probably great advice but a big investment in time, and I’ll confess here and now it’s something I’ve not done as much as I should.

    I don’t know what your style is, but if you can tolerate some preppy-ish items to build around, Lands End does custom fit jeans, chinos and blouses from your measurements (and they’re not all that expensive). If you have your heart set on some nice tailored blouses, it might be worth a try. http://www.landsend.com/cd/index/fp/0,,71462,00.html

  5. October 20, 2010 / 5:45 pm

    I guess I’ve always looked at it like people don’t care about anyone but themselves, so I would not be high on their radar for commenting on! Money plays a factor for me since I have diamond eyes with a pennies pocketbook!

    C’est pourquoi le rêve est un élément essentiel et a toujours été dans ma vie!

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