Lessons I Learned From My Exchange Student

When I was in high school, my family hosted an exchange student from Germany. Her name was Tina and we became fast friends. Guys everywhere, from high school boys to men in the mall to people we passed on the street gawked at her beauty. Looking back at pictures of Tina, I do see that she was naturally attractive, but not a remarkably beautiful girl. Her makeup consisted of lip balm and some mascara and her hair was cut blunt at the collar bone and was often up in a messy bun or pony tail. She always looked so chic and women often complimented on her style, but I lived with her and knew the small wardrobe she brought with her from Germany:
1. A gray crewneck sweater of merino wool
2. A black and white horizontally striped boatneck tee shirt
3. A chunky black turtleneck sweater
4. A thick fitted black turtleneck sweater
5. Black pants – flat front, straight leg
6. Two pairs of Levi's 501 Jeans.
7. Black leather flats
8. Sneakers
9. Black loafers with a chunky low heel
10. A dark gray wool knit skirt that came to the center of the knee
11. A fitted dark gray tee shirt
12. A black cashmere scarf

I think this, a black leather satchel-like purse and a navy wool peacoat were all the clothes she brought for three months of a winter in Washington DC. With these twelve pieces, she was ready for school, parties, awards banquets, school dances and even a funeral.

Tina exuded confidence and happiness. She always had a broad smile on her face, her hair caught in the wind. She didn't do her nails, she didn't dye her hair. She wore little jewelry and less cosmetics. She did wear cologne. A signature scent that she still wears to this day – almost twenty years later.

What I learned from Tina was that it's not about quantity, but quality. Tina had a small wardrobe, but all of her pieces were of fine fabrics, expensive cuts, and well tailored. Her gray merino sweater was so perfect in color, quality and cut, it didn't matter if she wore it twice a week.

I also learned from her that natural beauty is more appealing to men than artificial. Lots of makeup, dark tans, sculpted hairstyles are not as attractive to men as a woman who can let her hair blow in her eyes.

She taught me that you should wear your clothes, not have clothes wear you. By Tina wearing such muted colors and simple pieces, she let her personality and natural beauty shine through. People saw her, not her sweater.

Though it is almost twenty years later, I still build my wardrobe based on these tips I learned from my exchange student.


  1. June 1, 2010 / 2:43 am

    I just found your blog and can’t stop reading. There no style writing I enjoy more than well-written pieces about building a basic wardrobe.

    I will keep Tina in mind from now on when I shop…

  2. April 29, 2008 / 6:13 pm

    Oh gosh, not sure but it was a scent that smelled more like a man’s cologne. Something in German 🙂 We have lost touch since the writing of this post, but if I ever hear from her again I will find out!

  3. Anonymous
    April 29, 2008 / 5:54 pm

    Loved this post. Did you ever remember her fragrance?

  4. July 12, 2006 / 6:15 pm

    Oh gosh, if I saw the bottle I would recognize it. Clear glass, square, gold leaf design on the border of the ivory label, gold atomizer… label in German (of course)… Now you’re going to have me on Google all day! 🙂

  5. Anonymous
    July 12, 2006 / 4:20 pm

    And what was that signature scent?? I LOVE this post!!!

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