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Fashion Is a Form of Gardening
A childhood friend moved to my neighborhood. The other day, we were walking through the community, she was seeking inspiration for landscaping her new yard. We wandered the sidewalks, admiring the work of neighbors, and appreciating the variety. Some were carefully manicured, some were charmingly haphazard. My friend has gotten very into gardening and said she finds it similar to pruning a closet or creating an outfit: you know something isn't quite right and you play with color and proportion until it feels right.
I agree, I believe fashion is similar to gardening, home decor, crafting, and many other artistic endeavors. While there are recipes and paint-by-numbers sets, blogs and books on how to garden and landscape, a lot of joy and personal style comes from playing around with color and proportion and texture until it “feels” right for you.
What makes fashion more difficult is how personal it is.
Instead of a plot or pot of dirt, you are styling your body. A body that may have been injured, that may feel as though it's failing you, that is so wrought with pain from bullying, societal expectations, parental expectations, partner expectations, traumatic moments from the fitting room to the locker room to the bedroom.
A body is not taut, and it is not unchanging. It fluctuates with movement, with time, with the moon. It can look one way but inside feel completely different. It remembers, it reacts. But by thinking of fashion in the same way you do when landscaping your yard, arranging flowers in a vase, choosing the print of fabric or color and texture of a yarn for your next garment or blanket, hanging artwork, rearranging a bookcase, plating a dinner, organizing a pantry… it may help disconnect some of the emotional heaviness.
Your garden has rocks, or clay, or sand.
It's very shady, or it gets harsh direct sun. It's in a spot that pools water, or you live somewhere that is prone to droughts… or rabbits, or aphids. You may plant what you deem pretty, regardless of what it says on that little plastic card. You spray it and fertilize it and water it and fence it in but no matter what you do, that pretty plant just doesn't make it.
You can curse the clay, or the bunnies, or the sun, but it won't change your environment. You can keep trying the same thing, buying replacements of the same plants and watching them burn up, wilt, or be nibbled away and feel like a failure. Or you can learn from that experience and find different plants that thrive in such an environment. In fact, you can find joy and a sense of pride in figuring out what works and “feels” right.
I started Wardrobe Oxygen back in 2005 because I was sick of reading advice from so-called style experts that said EVERY woman needed a crisp white shirt, a trench, and a black pencil skirt. I was a soft curvy body that looked like a disheveled catering waiter in a white shirt, cosplaying Columbo in a trench, and a black pencil skirt made me question every aspect of my body and how I lived my life up until that point.
I worked for years as a retail apparel trainer, visual merchandiser, and personal stylist.
And I saw that most women didn't look or feel great in these garments. Different heights, shapes, sizes, and ages… they all tried on these so-called fashion “musts” and felt wrong.
Expecting every woman to own and wear a crisp white shirt is like expecting every yard across these United States to be a perfect habitat for gardenias. I began this site with a list of items I felt should be in every woman's wardrobe with nary a trench coat or crisp white shirt. But over the years, I learned even that capsule wardrobe was too limiting.
We are as varied as our yards and home floorplans. As with our sandy soil and our weirdly-placed windows, we can curse those issues and give up, or we can find ways to work with what we have. And a lot of that has to do with play.
We can move plants after a season to a place in the yard that is a better location. We can spackle over that nailhole and move that painting up and to the right a few inches. We can be proud of the misshapen sweater we knit, knowing the next one will be even better. We play until things feel right. And our bodies deserve that same form of play.
As grown-ass women, we may feel exhausted by still having to figure out our body and how to dress it.
And it's totally okay to say, “I have no more fucks left for this,” and choose apparel that gets the job done. I totally respect that, we deserve to be able to choose what is important in our lives. But if you do still find fashion perplexing, traumatic, and overwhelming yet intriguing or important, play with treating it like a garden.
Go slow, no one expects you to bulldoze and start from scratch. Find what works with what you already have, fits in your existing space. Try it out, and if it works consider more of the same or similar. Research what is complementary so you can have variety without conflict. Use the internet to find those who have a similar habitat to you, or if not a similar space, similar tastes and aesthetics. Know that if it doesn't work, it's likely to do with external forces, not you personally.
Using the garden analogy is a good way to start separating your emotions from your wardrobe. To give yourself grace for what makes you unique and know you're not the problem, the clothing is.
And if you decide to just replace all your flowers with hostas because you're over the whole process, I support you. Seriously, take one look at my front yard and you'll see I support you. Having something sturdy and reliable and made for your environment is a win. Life is short, don't stress over what doesn't ultimately bring you comfort and joy.