Personal Style

I walked to the train this morning through a sea of mist. It’s one of the fun things about Walnut Creek – since it’s in a valley just over the hills, when the fog makes it in from the inner East Bay, it tends to lie low instead of flying high like it did in Berkeley. It lends an aura of mystique and mystery to an otherwise quite ordinary neighborhood that kicks off all sorts of fun trips for my imagination. I can pretend, as I did when a child, that I’m lost in the mist over the Barrow Downs from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or gliding on a boat across the Lake to Avalon.

Despite the mist, the weather has taken a step back from the chilliness that overtook it last week. It’s a little bit warmer, a bit more autumn-like a bit less wintry, so I’ve downgraded from my super duper winter coat again and adopted the more sleek and stylin’ plum-colored leather jacket that my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas last year. Technically, the jacket isn’t really my style, but it does look pretty good on and bears the dual virtues of being the right fit and the right weight for our late-year weather.

My style has actually been absent from my mode of dress for quite some time barring the odd dress-up day or forays into wearing garb. The problem with my style is that for the most part, they don’t make the kind of clothes I like to wear in the sizes that now fit me. The few companies that do make the style I’d prefer to wear in my size, charge an arm and a leg for their wares. So while I can find some nice things to put together into a style from say, Gypsy Moon and Silhouettes and Art and Artifact, there’s no way in heck that I can begin to afford an outfit, much less the multiple pieces that go into making a warddrobe.

Sabs has said recently that I’d be more of a clothes-horse if I weren’t overweight because I’m self-conscious about my size. He’s right to a certain extent, except that the rest of it is a matter of money and that simple fact that it’s hard to find things I like in sizes that will fit me. So instead of wearing “Bethywear” as Sabs calls it, I’ve defaulted into a bland uniform of pseudo-preppy and highly practical things – pull-on pants with elastic waists, stretch chinos and lightly tailored tees in a variety of colors. When I look at my reflection in the mirrored doors of the elevator at work, I see something of a non-entity – just another professional girl with a practical haircut and business casual clothes. I blend into the background along with the rest of the worker bees taking the elevator up to the offices above.

The last time I remember really shopping to my style was the summer before I switched to public school. I was changing over from a private school where button-downs and kilts were the required uniform to being able to wear whatever I wanted every day. We had dress-down Fridays in Upper School at the private institution, but there had still been a certain level of decorum required – no shorts, no jeans, skirts still preferred, no minis, no sneakers, nothing low-cut, etc. At the public school, you could wear ripped jeans as long as your underwear wasn’t visible.

That summer we bought extra things to supplement my rather sedate warddrobe of slacks, button-downs, knockaround t-shirts and a single pair of unfaded, decidedly dark blue jeans. Two extra pairs of blue jeans of the stonewashed and faded variety joined the ranks in my closet, nothing to write home about there. The interesting pieces came largely from the Smith & Hawken catalogue. At the time, they offered a wide range of clothes in comfortable, all-natural fabrics, including their Japanese Farmer’s pants. Several pairs of these in shades of purple and blue, some matching shorts and skirts and shirts in complimentary colors became staples in my warddrobe. Outside of the catalogue circuit, some looser, poet style shirts and funky vests also became a part of my daily wear.

I wore this type of clothing through the rest of high school, expanding on the basics with swirly skirts in Indian cotton, peasant blouses and bodices during college, before my weight began to climb steadily upward and the waistbands started to become too tight for me to slip into my pants and skirts. In the years since the weight creep began after my sophomore year of college, all of the boho/gypsy elements of my warddrobe have gradually made a quiet exodus out of my closet and into the goodwill bag or the trash when they wear out. There are a few holdouts still hanging there, waiting for the day that I can put them back on again – a black suede vest my brother got me for Christmas several years ago, a poet shirt I picked up from a plus-size shop but currently won’t button across my chest due to breastfeeding, a swirly skirt in black and red and a patchwork design dress from Carole Little, both gifts from my mother and left to languish due to “big thigh chafing” (can’t wear skirts without leggings these days and most of the time it’s too warm out here to wear so many layers).

At Halloween this year, I wore some of my garb into the office and one of my officemates commented that even though I was wearing a chemise and Renaissance style gown, that the clothes looked completely natural on me and not out of place at all. This made me think a little bit about what I wear, and why I don’t wear the kinds of things that I really like to wear on a daily basis. I looked through my closet at the things tucked away at the back, the swirly skirts, the fun vests, the shirts with some flair to them, the pile of brightly colored silky scarves at the bottom of a suitcase. After that I decided to try to bring a little bit more of me back into my look.

The scarves have been making more frequent appearances at the very least, though many of the pieces must remain relics from another time when I wore a smaller size. I’ve looked through catalogues to find replacements for my blouses and vests, but still, most items remain either out of my budget or beneath my size range. Some catalogues are more frustrating in that regard – they’ll claim to have something in 1x and 1x turns out to be size 14-16 instead of 20-22. So while I work on slowly losing weight, the whole style issue will just have to wait.