Those words, “Dress for the life you want”, were (approximately) the tag line for a coaching service that was supposed to help a woman find her own personal style. The woman who ran the coaching service provided a few free videos to help helpless, hapless, styleless women motivated to define her personal style, learn what was flattering to her.
There were all kinds of mathematical calculations, about what is the most flattering length of a skirt. This actually made me laugh, because I remembered when I was a kid and sang in our church choir. We had gotten new robes for the children’s choirs, and we were all measured so that the hem of our robes was equidistant from the floor. This perfection lasted, I’m pretty sure, all of one service, what with growing kids and the fact that our children’s choir was disbanded shortly thereafter.
I tried to use her calculation, and was appalled to discover that her calculation did not take into consideration my fervent dislike of my knees or the scar I have from the time I landed on a curb knee-first in a rainstorm running to catch a bus. No calculation could ever account for body negativity or broken kneecaps.
The coach had a “points system” about using prints and color pants/skirts and layering and belts. If someone could follow her point system, she was guaranteed a cute outfit. And you know what? This is probably true! For a normal person, at least.
The bigger question
The tagline spoke to me, however, more than the “points system” ever could.
Dress for the life you want.
The bigger question here is, “What is the life I want?”
At the time I was looking into this, my youngest scalawag had just started walking, probably about one year-old, and I was less than a year away from peri-menopause making itself obvious in more than one surprising way.
So I was a mother of very young children, trying to strongarm postpartum depression, experiencing all kinds of inexplicable emotions that would not make sense until my periods started acting up a few months later. I was thinking, most of all, that this was not the life I wanted.
When the only answer I had to the question “What is the life you want?” was NOT THIS, I became pretty darn miserable.
The Ideal Life Exercise was born into this context, and I won’t bore you with all the details right this very second, but if your are interested, here is a primer.
Remembering to remember why
I have written in the past about the origins of the Lily Fields Challenge. It was 2004, a whisper in my ear as I observed the most lovely piece of clothing I had ever worn, one which, incidentally, I had just knitted for myself: an exquisite sky blue gossamer mohair dream. “Consider the lilies of the field,” the voice whispered.
It wouldn’t be until December 2020 that I would develop a follow-up action plan, and that based on a similarly disembodied whisper: “You need to stop throwing money at your self-worth problems.” The action plan was that I needed to stop buying clothes for at least a year, in order to deal with my own abusive relationship with myself.
These are the pillars of the Lily Fields Challenge, or, “why I have spent the last year struggling to learn how to stop coveting what I don’t or can’t have, why I have been inventorying everything in my closet, why I have been practicing mise en place, why I have been working on a Go-To Catalogue and why I have been learning to alter, refashion or make clothes with items I have on-hand.”
As if on cue, just as I am starting the last six weeks of my challenge, a new thought percolated. “This is the life I want for you.”
Now, let me show you what I was wearing when I had this thought, just so we are on the same wavelength:
Yes, that is a faux fur winter coat, with a built-in muffler and a gigantic fluffy collar. Yes, it is gorgeous and has a lovely plum lining.
And I had to wonder exactly what that voice meant. You see, this coat is a hand-me-down from a friend. It is rather ostentatious as winter coats go. Because heretofore, the two times I had worn this coat to drop the boys off at school, I felt rather ridiculous and was considering not ever wearing it again because it made me feel like some sort of rich celebrity diva sweeping through the school courtyard to drop off her child.
The way people treated me when I wore that coat was so different from the way people normally treated me. I mean, people didn’t bump into me or push me aside to get through the gate first. They actually stepped aside to let me go in. More people made eye contact and said “Bonjour.” I am not a person who can just say, “Bonjour…” I have to have a conversation to follow. It’s a hardwired problem. So it meant that I found myself having long, involved chats outside the school, people opening up about so many unexpected personal struggles.
Now, knowing me as you do, me and my self-worth problems, me and my generalized lack of Gravitas, you can understand that hearing that same voice that has been talking to me over the years tell me that this–the swooping celebrity diva, the one for whom people step aside and keep a respectful physical distance from, the one everyone says “bonjour” to and to whom they are willing to share their personal stories with–this went against my every understanding of who I was.
There is a second part of what I understood those words, “This is the life I want for you,” to mean: This coat feels like a big, warm hug, and not just because it looks like one. My dear friend who was clearing out her closet handed it to me and said, “You need to have this.”
This is not the kind of coat I would ever have bought for myself. A. I could never afford a coat like this retail. B. I simply do not have the self-worth to buy a coat like this for myself C. The ostentatiousness of it makes me feel a little embarrassed.
And yet she said, “You need to have this.” As I have pondered this strange little sentence, I have come to understand three things:
A. My resources do not matter when it is the God of the universe who is providing for me.
B. When God is providing, he gives to me based on my worth in his eyes, not my own self-worth.
C. God might just need me to be what I consider “ostentatious”, so that I can be approachable to people he is sending my way, for whatever reason that may be.
The Life I Want
You know me by now. You know that I am a little bit zany. You know that I am hellbent on living a simpler, less-stress life in a little apartment with my little family. I want to raise my boys the hard way, through actually spending time with them, even though I sometimes hate spending time with them. I want to believe that God will provide for the smallest details of my life, according to his timing.
This is the life I want.
Apparently, this is how one dresses for that life:
It certainly isn’t minimalist. Hand-me-down petticoats and tulle ruffles, skirts handknit (by me!) from goat hair yarn spun by monks at a monastery in the backwoods of France.
Who knew that to dress for the life I want would find me dressing like a fairy princess?
I guess Fairy Princess is the life I have always wanted. I’m only now getting around to dressing like it.