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The Art of Getting Dressed: Confessions of a Mood Dresser

Facebook, have we even MET?

That’s what I think when I see some of the ads that pop up in my newsfeed. Whoever is in charge of these algorithms is really missing the mark. Particularly the other day, when I saw an ad for a line of women’s professional clothing that began with this astonishing claim: “Your clothes should be the least interesting thing about you.”

Wait, what?

I was sucked in by my smoldering sense of indignation and soon discovered that there is apparently a clothing line so uniform and boring that it is made up of only four pieces which can be endlessly mixed and matched. I mentioned this to my older sister. I made some snarky comment about a clothing line made especially for the soulless and the damned. Her reply was a sheepish, “Actually, I would really like that.”

Wait, what?

A short conversation ensued, which stretched my mind and wrapped it around the understanding that some women just want to look put together and have the decision making taken out of their morning dressing routine. I can accept that, I suppose. But I am not like that. I’m what I like to call a “mood dresser.”

My daughters get me in this respect. Especially my middle daughter Moriah. She is a mood dresser, too.

One day, I came home from work and flopped into a chair.

“How was your day?” she asked me.

“Blah. Alright I guess,” I said. “Not great. My clothes were all wrong.”

“Ohhhh,” she said, “I feel you. But today, my outfit was really on point!”

Much was unspoken but implied in this conversation. Like the fact that if my clothes are right, I soar through my day, energized and engaged. If they are wrong, I feel at best, like an actor forced into an ill-fitting role, and at worst like an imposter walking around in someone else’s skin.

Each morning, I open my closet and I think carefully. What am I feeling today? Or what will I need to feel? Confident, creative, interesting, disarming, or maybe a bit controversial? I have something for every occasion. I have tights that are neon, patterned, even fishnet; but I also have tights that are black or brown. I have hippie dresses and t-shirt dresses. I have cardigan sweaters and denim jackets in three different colors, some torn, some embroidered. I have tall fancy boots and short combat boots. My closet looks like it belongs to twelve different people because, let’s face it. I am twelve different people sometimes.

And all of this is me.

But some things aren’t.

I do not own flesh-colored nylons or a pair of pumps. Nor do I own anything that could remotely be called a blazer or suit. To me, “business casual” means probably steer away from the t-shirts with funny sayings on them; but anything else goes. Take it or leave it.

Where did this begin? How did I get this way?

I blame my mother. (At my age, don’t we always blame our mothers?)

She didn’t do anything wrong. She was just trying to make me presentable. As a little girl, I’d come flouncing down the stairs wearing a flowered top with bright plaid shorts, and I remember her telling me, “Sweetie, there’s just one little rule: solid on the bottom, colors on the top; or colors on the bottom, solid on the top. We don’t mix colors with colors.”

I’d drag my deflated self back up the stairs and trade out my top or my bottom, and there, that feeling was born: “These clothes are not right for this day.”

When my daughters were little, I had my own rebellion. I’d let them wear whatever they wanted. And they did not disappoint. Their outfits were amazing explosions of chaos and creativity. Some days they were a little bit clownish. Most days they probably looked a lot poorer than we actually were. But they were dressing their moods, happily expressing themselves. Even when they stretched my limits a bit, I swallowed my opinions and always told them, “Honey, you look great!”

My sister was deeply concerned. She used to hand down clothes to us from her own daughter, Target-model perfect pairings of coordinated outfits in solids and prints. She’d rubber band the tops and bottoms together in a not-so-subtle hint as to which items went with which. My girls would have rubber band wars with the elastics, then shove all the clothes in their drawers and combine them exactly as they pleased.

As they’ve grown up, become young adults, they still retain their style. The four of us walk into church each Sunday looking a bit like a classic rock band, I think. You know, the ones where the members each sported their own distinct look. My oldest will be wearing jeans and some sort of nerdy graphic tee – The Periodic Table of Minesweeper, perhaps, or something Dr. Who. My second daughter will be wearing some bold combination of short skirts, sneakers, and scarves. My youngest will be perfectly matching, her outfit symmetrical and coordinated; but one week it will be mall-store mannequin, and another it will be L.L. Bean.

And me? Heaven only knows. It depends on the weather, but also on a whole lot of “whethers”. Like whether I am tired or rested, calm or restless, in conflict or at peace, elated or angsty, questioning or certain. And I won’t lay out my outfit the night before, because I won’t know what is right until I open my eyes and take my own measure for the day. Once I’ve done that, I’ll get dressed. I’ll curl my hair or crimp it or straighten it. I’ll wear grey eyeshadow or green or blue.

If I’m lucky, and if I read myself right, to quote my daughter, “My outfit will be right on point.” If not, though, if I’m off that day and everything falls a little flat. If my lectures don’t thrill my students and I’m late for that faculty meeting, and I feel a little underwhelmed with myself, I’ll be left with one consolation:

Sorry, Facebook ad. But at least my clothes were interesting!

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