Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we take a few minutes to actually consider what we want our lives to look like–and maybe even how we want to look in that life.
The podcast in which we challenge ourselves to understand and define our likes and dislikes, so that making decisions in the future can be easier.
The podcast in which we shift the narrative on the subject of appearances–examining what it would take to make our outsides match what is on the inside, not cover it up.
That’s right, this week’s topic is Personal Style. This is exactly the right topic for a Fairy Godmother to tackle, seeing as how it is what we are most known for. So let’s get started!
My name is Lily Fields, and I’m going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half-hour or so. In this episode, LiElla Kelly, Death Doula and your Wicked Stepsister, will be with us later in the episode to talk about a surprising overlap of her Deathy topics: Personal Style and Death.
There is no secret about this: Since I was just a tiny little fairy-godmother-in-training, I have loved pretty clothes. Try as I might to be “stylish”, this is just not something I have ever been able to manage. What I have always loved is “Fairy Godmother Chic.”
I only realized this, though, after taking a good, long look at what was in my closet, what I wore often and what I absolutely never touched.
Now, as your fairy godmother, and knowing that Personal Style is one of the greatest powers in a Fairy Godmother’s arsenal, I want to sprinkle a tiny bit of fairy dust today.
First, let’s define what I mean by Personal Style, because I want you to know that I am not a fashionista. I do not give fashion advice. You will not hear from me about whether or not skinny jeans should be relegated to the declutter pile or not, or which side you should part your hair on…or wait…is it down the middle now? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because I won’t be talking about those things.
My definition of Personal Style is this: My outside matches what is on the inside. It’s that simple. What I wear, or how I look on the outside of my body is a reflection of who I am on the inside. My personal style is every-evolving, but only inasmuch as I am changing and growing. My personal style does not depend on trends or influencers. My personal style is about what I love, who I am, and the life that I want to live.
So let you in on two of the greatest secrets of personal style that I have discovered in my long, long years of Fairy Godmothering. You might want to take some notes.
The first secret: You need to stop shopping. The second secret: You need to do mise en place.
Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
But Lily… Oh, that’s you, Cinderella. In my mind, you sound like a Southern Belle. It doesn’t really matter why…but you are just about the cutest thing I’ve ever met.
Isn’t talking about Personal Style…well, isn’t it shallow?
Hmm. You know what? I’m really, really glad you asked that. Because I have spent my life struggling with how much I loved clothes and thought of clothes, and feeling like this is shallow and that I shouldn’t be so interested in it.
But clothes and personal style are an external representation of an internal reality. When we like what we see, and when what we see on the outside lines up with who we are on the inside, there is a lot of dissonance about ourselves that finally gets resolved. In this way, the Ideal LIfe themes of Personal Style and Mental Health overlap in significant ways.
I think we can both agree that Mental Health is not shallow. And if our Personal Style has the ability to impact our Mental Health, which I would argue it does, then we need to take it seriously.
Yes, but Lily…how can we understand our Personal Style if we stop shopping?
Well, now, aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? I know for a fact that saying we need to stop shopping in order to get a handle on our personal style is controversial, but there are several other Ideal Life-related overlaps that come in to justify this. For example, for some of us, shopping is a coping mechanism. When we are faced with emotions that we can’t process, some of us stress or binge eat. Some of us shop. Neither of these are healthy are neither of these actually help us deal with the unprocessed emotions.
Let me tell you from personal experience, it was easier for me to stop shopping for a full year than it is to stop binge eating for one day. I like to tackle projects at which I know I can succeed. So I stopped shopping, and in the process, I learned how to process some of my emotions in a healthier way.
Another Ideal LIfe theme that overlaps significantly with Personal Style is the theme of Contentment. We haven’t talked about Contentment yet, but it is the theme that deals with all the “stuff” I have in my possession–learning to be content with what I already have and to stop wanting things that I can’t have. Stopping shopping is dropping ourselves off mid-contentment…and for the time we set aside for ourselves to stop shopping, we have to learn to properly care for, or make usable and study our actual usage of the things we already have. Contentment also is the Category in which, after we have carefully examined how much or if at all we use something, we can declutter items that we don’t use, for whatever reason.
When we stop bringing in new items to our closet, we can make progress in these two other Ideal Life Categories…and I promise that progress in these areas can make a lot of the rest of our out-of-control life seem more manageable.
A real-life example
A very dear friend showed up to my house the other day with her husband and two children. Now..if you are a regular listener, you have met her before. Her name is Myrtille, and back in Episode 8, she shared with us some of her “In my Ideal Life I am a person who” statements.
Her eldest child is five, her youngest is about a year and a half. I see her several times each month, but this time, something was just different about her.
When she arrived, I narrowed my eyes, trying to figure out what looked different about her. She usually looked great–but this time, she looked genuinely breath-taking. But why? Different glasses? A new dress? Was she wearing makeup? I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Okay,” I said to her, “You look amazing!”
And do you know what she answered?
“Mise en Place!” We giggled for a second, because she and I both knew where she got that idea from.
Mise en Place. It’s a fancy French expression that means to “put things in place.” It actually comes from the restaurant industry, and it describes the process of getting out all the ingredients and utensils needed to make a meal in advance, so you don’t have to go searching for them when it is time to start a recipe.
On my blog, I have written many odes to the process of Mise en Place, which is where Myrtille had heard about it. I spent a whole month last year laying out the whys and hows. Here on the podcast, I mentioned it as one of the first concrete steps I took that helped me out of my post-partum depression.
I use Mise en Place to describe any time that we make decisions in advance in order to facilitate a future, potentially stress-filled moment. Whether it is preparing my coffee maker in the evening when I go to bed, so that in the morning, all I have to do is turn it on, or setting out my clothes and underwear in the bathroom the night before so that I don’t have to decide in the morning what I am going to wear, Mise en Place is a way to get me out of decision paralysis.
We talked a bit about decision paralysis, or decision phobia last week. It’s when, in the stress of a moment, we simply don’t know how to make a decision…so we either don’t make one at all and miss out, or we make an ill-considered decision.
Another benefit of Mise en Place is that it alleviates decision fatigue when it is part of a routine. By pre-making a decision that isn’t urgent, we will have more space in our thoughts and our hearts to make better decisions that are of greater importance. This is just a fact.
In this way, our Ideal Life theme of Personal style, Habits and Routines, and Making Wise Decisions are overlapped.
She went on to say that, although she hasn’t made Mise en Place an everyday habit, it has helped her rediscover her closet and, in that way, as a busy working wife and mother, bring her a few more small beads of joy to her life.
So, you see, Mise en Place isn’t just for Fairy Godmothers. It can help real people too.
In my Ideal Life, I dress for the Life I Want
In my Ideal Life, I am a person who:
- I am a person who never says “I have nothing to wear!”
- I am a person who knows what looks good on her.
- I am a person who loves and takes care of everything she owns.
- I am a person who always looks effortlessly put together.
- I am a person who has more good hair days than bad.
- I am a person who doesn’t just “look good for my age.”
- I am a person who can alter and tailor her clothes to make them fit
- I am a person who dresses for the life she wants
Take a look at your in my Ideal Life I am a person who statements for any that have to do with your personal style.
Here are a few statements shared to me by listeners that I found particularly interesting:
In my Ideal Life I am a person who:
-Supports sustainable fashion sources
-Wears out clothes and mends them instead of replacing with new
-Has a unified look, like a uniform so I don’t have to think about clothes
-Chooses quality over quantity
-Will shell out more for a quality item
You see, whether we like it or not, the way we dress and the changeable parts of our appearance speak volumes about who we are as people. These are choices we make…Like we said last week, making wise decisions can help us avoid regrets. This is just as true when it comes to our wardrobes as it is for anything else.
To say that a person, in her Ideal Life has a kind of uniform–what does that say about her? It says that she is practical. That she likes simplicity. It says that she wants to save up space in her heart and her mind to make decisions about things that are of greater importance to her than her clothes.
If you haven’t completed your in my Ideal Life I am a person who…statements, you really should. Your responses to these prompts can be quite eye-opening and will, as it did in the case of Myrtille, or in the last person I just mentioned, help make decisions that bring more joy. Articulating your Ideal Life is a first step!
In 2021, I decided, as part of an ongoing effort to pursue my Ideal Life, that I needed to stop shopping. It came on the heels of a little voice in my head that whispered, “You need to stop throwing money at your self-worth problems.”
So for one full year, I gave up shopping, which was not as easily done as it is said! It’s hard to not shop, especially when shopping became a kind of therapy I fell back in to avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings.
To make it possible, I set up rules for the challenge. One of the rules was that I needed to do a complete inventory of my closet.
As much as possible, I tried to remember where the item came from, how much it cost, when I acquired it and how often I wore it. Oh, I got super complicated about this, like trying to calculate something I call CPW, which is shorthand for Cost Per Wear. I will spare you the details for now, but let me tell you, this was a lot of fun for me.
As I did the inventory, I realized that there were tons of things in my closet that I never wore. Things that either didn’t fit, or I didn’t like and never had (although I bought them..so, search me as to what they were doing in there) or things that were rife with emotional energy.
By committing to not buying anything for a full year, I was going to stop adding to the number of items in my wardrobe that I bought but didn’t wear, which was already going to be helpful to me.
One thing I discovered about the clothes that I loved the most, was that they were almost all hand-me-downs from people I loved. The truth is that I trust the people I love to make better decisions about clothes than I make for myself. Also, by wearing something I received from someone else, I felt like I was with that person, honoring them. This was a fascinating discovery about myself that helped me get through the year. Throughout the year, I did do clothing exchanges with friends…I didn’t consider this “breaking the rules!”
One additional rule of my challenge was that I needed to wear absolutely everything in my closet at least once over the course of the year or it had to go. So this lead to an interesting conundrum: I have several evening gowns, and 2021 wasn’t exactly the year when people were inviting me to gala events. So I had to improvise.
When I submitted my novel to an agent for the first time, I had a tea party for myself in which I dressed up in one of my best vintage gowns. Towards the end of the year, one of my musical co-conspirators and I planned a series of Christmas concerts, and I wore a different evening gown to each. Yes, it was a lot of work just to get to wear my evening gowns, but I don’t regret it for an instant.
I did several gigantic decluttering sessions throughout the year, also, as I uncovered more and more of those things that I never wore, and I came to discover this piece of truth: having too many clothes drowns out our Personal Style. When our closet is full of things we like the thought of but don’t actually like to wear, then we are not actually representing who we are.
Our closet should be like a mirror that reflects who we are today: our size, our tastes, our lifestyle. We should not be hanging on to things that remind us of aspirational sizes, a career that we no longer have, or memories that we can’t let go of. Removing the excess, removing the memories gives us space to know what we really like.
There is nothing wrong with keeping clothes that are memories. But I discovered that I shouldn’t keep them in my closet. Keeping them somewhere else, with old photographs and scrapbooks became necessary. Clothes can be “objects”. But those objects have no place in my wardrobe. I even went further than just “keeping” the clothes–I undertook to transform them into the things I would actually use, and thereby enjoy the memory of. But that’s a story for another day.
The more clothes I have in my closet, the more often I hear myself say these five words: “I have nothing to wear”. While this is never true, the sentiment can be explained. When my closet is overfull, it is harder to access the items that actually correspond to my current lifestyle–culling through everything I own to get to that “something to wear ” made it feel like I had “nothing to wear.” The overwhelming majority of items in an overfull closet don’t reflect who we are or the life we have or want.
Decluttering, rehoming, donating…all of these help reduce the overall number of items in our wardrobes. By any means necessary, reducing how much stuff we have in our closet, whether by stopping shopping or by doing a megadecluttering is going to help us uncover our Personal Style.
Doing Mise en Place
You know one of my mantras: “Wear the pretty clothes.” I say this because I spent a year doing an inventory of my closet. I discovered in the process which clothes I never dare wear because they are “too pretty” to ruin.
I had a choice then, didn’t I? Keep the pretty clothes in my closet like items in a museum, or start wearing them and bringing that potential for joy into my everyday life.
The problem was that “in the moment” dressing, that is, standing in front of my closet with fifteen minutes before I have to leave would have me choosing the first items of clothing I could reach. I would never get through my entire closet if I didn’t do a little intentional planning. And with the threat that if something didn’t get worn I would have to get rid of it, I needed to make sure to wear the pretty clothes.
I got quite serious about Mise en Place at that time. I started wearing all the lacy dresses and froufrou tops that I have in my closet. I would pick out which of my fairy godmother chic outfits I wanted to wear and I would hang it up in the bathroom before I went to bed.
Did I feel overdressed at four AM when I would be faced with my reflection in the mirror? Why yes, yes I did.
But, I am someone who has always loved lace and tulle and silky things. I have dozens of memories that include lace, from the lace I made my mother sew onto the neckline of my swimming suits when I was a toddler, to the lace top I found when I was in junior high and would have worn absolutely every day for the rest of my life if I hadn’t ruined it in the dryer, to the lace top my sister Poppy just brought for me when she came to visit.
I love lace. I could get incredibly philosophical about lace if I wanted to. Lace is transparent without being entirely so: I like the thought that this reflects who I am. I want to be seen as someone who is transparent. Lace is delicate and easily snagged…something that, while I wish it weren’t so, is true of me too. Lace is complicated. I know that as human beings go, I am rather complicated, but, as I like to tell my friends, being complicated is part of my charm, so get used to it. Lace is something that is often seen at joyous occasions, and I want to be someone who is seen as joyful.
When I started putting to work what I had in my closet and what I actually loved the thought of, I started dressing in a way that reduced the dissonance about myself. I was able to embrace the more “delicate” “complicated” or “sensitive” part of my nature, because I could associate it with something beautiful, and also, wear a visible reminder to be “transparent” and “joyful”.
Yes, this meant that I was chronically overdressed. But this also allowed me to echo something I had heard once: Dress for the life you want. And I want to be someone who is transparent and complicated and joyful. I want to be ready for a garden party or a wedding. I want to be ready for anything. So yes, I have gone for hikes in the woods wearing a yellow lace dress. I have gone to pick people up from the airport in an orange lace dress. Yes, I wear Converse hightops with tulle skirts. That’s how I roll.
It’s who I am now. Sure, there have been a handful of occasions when I am just not feeling it, and in spite of my best efforts at Mise en Place, I still decide to wear jeans and a boring black sweater. Because some days, feeling invisible is better than feeling delicate or complicated or joyful. What I know about myself is that if I am willing to go to the extra effort to return to my closet in the morning and ignore the mise en place that I did, then I can consider that little invisibility cloak as an act of self-care, too.
I know I just threw a lot at you, and next season we will be returning a bit to this topic. For the moment, just take your temperature on the idea of what your clothes say about you. Be a little esoteric for a minute. Are your clothes saying what you want to have said about you?
Wicked Stepsister: Personal Style
LiElla Kelly, Death Doula and your Wicked Stepsister is here to get us thinking about another question of Personal Style: when we die, what do we want done with our bodies?
It really is a question of Personal Style…LiElla, the floor is yours!
In my ideal death, I am a person who what? In my ideal death…well that’s quite personal isn’t it? There’s only one person who can finish that sentence for you, and it’s you. Your ideal death is influenced by what you value, by your experiences, your preferences, the things that bring you comfort. It’s all about your individuality, you could even say that your ideal death is a reflection of your own personal style.
Today, I’m going to skip right passed end-of-life and dying, though that’s a time period that could certainly benefit from your personal input…but we’re skipping that today. Yep, we’re going right to you being dead. Good night! Do we really have to go THERE? As I’m the one doing the talking, I say yes, yes we do. Perhaps you have a follow up objection, something along the lines of, well if I’m already dead, what does it matter? It’s not like I’d know the difference. True, and you’re not alone in that argument but all the same, I’m still going to give you options for going out true to your own personal style.
Let’s start nice and easy.
You’re traditional. You like convention. You admire formality. For you, the classic American funeral may sound perfect. Your loved ones will gather in a church or funeral home, well chosen music will be played, attendees will dress in dark colors, after the service your floral covered casket will be loaded into a hearse that will make its’ way to the cemetery, followed by a long string of cars with glowing headlights indicating that their passengers are part of your final entourage.
Not traditional? Ok. Perhaps you love simplicity. Nothing fancy for you. You choose a direct cremation or aquamation. Upon your death, you will be picked up by cremation or aquamation provider and go directly to body disposition, no embalming, no viewing, no visitation. If you choose cremation, your body will be placed in a cremation machine called a retort. The retort is between 1400 and 1800 fahrenheit. The high heat will break down the your body into fragments of bone and ash. These are collected and allowed to cool. Metal objects are sorted that were not burned up in the fire. This can include any screws or nails from a coffin, dental work, gold teeth, and surgical implantation devices. The cooled bone fragments will be placed in a cremulator which will process the fragments into uniform ash. During the cremation process, harmless compounds such as water vapor and a variety of gases will be released into the environment. Organic compounds are also emitted and these react with the hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride under combustion conditions to forming carcinogens that will also be released into the environment. The yearly toxin release from crematoriums contribute only a very small fraction of harmful compounds or greenhouse gases.
If you like the simple idea but aren’t loving the environmental concerns, then aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis may be the thing for you. Aquamation results in ashes, very much like cremation. Instead of fire, a chemical process using a solution of 95% water and 5% potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide will reduce your body to components of liquid and bone. Aquamation is a gentler process, which is more environmentally friendly. It uses significantly less fuel and has an overall lower carbon footprint than both traditional cremation and burial.
Maybe cremation and aquamation aren’t for you because you love nature and want nothing more than to return to the earth, nourishing new plants to grow. In that case, consider a home funeral and natural burial. Your deathcare will be performed by your loved ones. They will bathe and lovingly prepare your body for burial, washing, primping, dressing and laying your body out for viewing. You’ll be shrouded or placed in a natural fiber coffin and transported to a green cemetery. Your loved ones can decorate your shroud or coffin with flowers before helping to lower your body into the earth. From dust you are, to dust you will return.
One final option, you’re not traditional, you’re anything but simple and decidedly not a nature lover…you’re flashy, you’re over the top and you need a send off to match your larger-than-life personality. In that case, extreme embalming may be the perfect choice. Your body will be injected with a chemical fluid which will make your body totally rigid and able to maintain a pose. You could stand at the entrance of your own funeral holding a cocktail and welcoming guests to your own service. If that’s not quite flashy enough and your family can pull the right strings, you could attend one last bash like rapper Markelle Morrow did in April. His body was propped up on the stage of a nightclub for his memorial service. Definitely personal style.
Whatever sounds right for you, one of these options or maybe something completely different and uniquely you, it all starts with this. In my ideal death, I am a person who…a person who what?
Hmmm. I’ve got all kinds of ideas about what I want done with my body after I’m gone, and oddly enough, not one of them has me presiding over a party at a nightclub.
I know that I want my funeral to be a party, with music and dancing. I’m mentally working on a playlist for the event, and it definitely includes “Happy.”
Thank you so much, LiElla. You have really given us some food for thought. I will put a link to your website in the show notes, so our listeners can take a look at the resources you provide for many of those end-of-life decisions.
We might not like to have to think about what will happen to our bodies after we are gone, but I believe that giving it some thought now can help reconcile us to the thought that it is going to happen. This can make the whole thing less scary…And being comfortable with the thought of dying can help us be more comfortable with living.
All right. Let’s take a minute to review the four questions we ask for each of our Ideal Life Categories, on the theme of Personal Style
What is working?: Did you put together an outfit that you were secretly pretty pleased about? I am so proud of you! Or maybe you resisted buying something that just wasn’t perfect, although it was cute. That is something to be proud of, too. Good for you.
What isn’t working?: Did you have the perfect outfit, but not know what shoes to put with it? (Before I shifted to all Converse all the time, this was my problem too. I totally get this.) Or, are you feeling like you have “nothing to wear” right now? I want to reassure you of something: this is not shallow or petty. It is a symptom of something else.
Things to consider: If you are feeling like you have nothing to wear, I want you to really consider what is going on there. When does this thought happen? Is it because you have too many clothes that don’t fit in your closet, so you have to go hunting for something that does? Is it because you have too many clothes in your closet that were from your career that no longer fit your lifestyle? Be brutally honest with yourself. Those five words, “I have nothing to wear” are almost never true. Try completing the sentence: I have nothing to wear that fits. I have nothing to wear for this occasion. I have nothing to wear that is clean. I have nothing to wear to workout in.
Things to do: Here, I want you to do something today, something small. Like…take two minutes. Set a timer. Cull five items from your closet, put them in a black trashbag to rehome. This won’t be hard. We all have five items that we could remove easily, with very little emotional baggage attached. This is called progress. And you know how I love progress.
The topic of Personal Style is about more than just clothes.
I believe in you and in your potential to fulfill your purpose in this life. But just consider this: even superheroes have superhero suits.
Personal Style is about reducing the dissonance between who you are on the inside and the image you present on the outside. Digging into and articulating who you are in your Ideal Life will help you determine what you want people to see when they look at you, but more importantly, who you see when you look at you.
They say, “Dress for the life you want.” Sure, it might feel like you’re wearing a costume for a while. Giving careful thought to the life you want and dressing accordingly is just one way to bring the joy of progress into your life as it stands today.
And as the Philosopher Princess always likes to say, “This world needs more joy.”
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe on your podcatcher, and please, if you enjoy something you’ve heard here please share it with someone you think could use a fairy godmother, too! Also, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast. It really does help the platforms direct people to us.
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: You should really stop shopping; Personal Style and Mental Health; I’ll be greeting the guests at my funeral with a cocktail in hand.
Episode 24: You Are What You Wear is part of our series on the Ideal Life Categories, this week’s theme being “Personal Style.” The series began back in Episode 15: The One About Our Bodies, in case you want to get caught up!
Lily’s series, “You Should Really Stop Shopping!” starts here: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/04/05/you-should-really-stop-shopping-part-one/
Lily’s many-article ode to Mise en Place starts here: https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/01/may-1-make-magic-with-mise-en-place/
Learn more about LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, on her website and blog, Leaving Well…The Blog. or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.