Clothing as Armor

clothing as sartorial armor

It’s Saturday morning, and I am having a mild panic attack. My father-in-law’s memorial service is in less than two hours and I am the officiant for the service. The idea of speaking in front of dozens of people while trying not to sob was not causing my anxiety… my wardrobe was.

I couldn’t find my black dress. Okay, I could find one black dress – the matte jersey one with the tie-belt and the polo collar, but I couldn’t find THE dress, the one I imagined wearing. Lightweight black jersey, surplice neckline, empire waistband, blouson sleeves. Appropriate for an outdoor memorial service, but still stylish and flattering to my 32-week pregnant frame.

“Who cares what you’re wearing,” my husband said. “People won’t expect you to be stylish, you’re in mourning.”

But it’s not about what other people think, it is about what I think, and how I feel.

I put on the dress with the polo collar, tied the belt in a bow, untied it, and did it in a knot. I hated it. The collar was limp, the belt hokey, my breasts looked strange, and the hem was now a bit too short this late in my pregnancy. I did my hair and makeup, hoping it would improve my reflection in the full-length mirror. I felt tacky, I felt awkward, and I felt wrong. I added black hose and the only black shoes that fit at 32 weeks – my Naturalizer flats. I didn’t look like myself. My husband came by the door, “You look beautiful Alison.” I knew he meant it, but I didn’t feel it. I got on my hands and knees and dug through the closet, hoping THE dress fell off a hanger and was hiding behind some shoe boxes or suitcases. No such luck.

Time was running out, so I wore the dress with the polo collar. I jazzed it up with a skinny croco belt with a pave buckle and my large silver cuff bracelet. A feeble attempt to make it more “Allie” of a look. I arrived at the service where friends and relatives greeted me, telling me I looked so lovely, and they were so sorry for my loss. I tugged at my hem, wishing it was closer to my knees, and looked down at the swollen masses that used to be cute feet.

I attended my 15-year high school reunion this summer. At the restaurant, I went to greet a fellow classmate who I hadn’t seen since graduation. I asked her how she was and how her life had been the past decade and a half. She told me about her travels and job and then said, “Well, I already know how YOU have been doing.” I asked her how; she replied, “I've seen your blog. Some days your hair is curly, some days your hair is straight. Not much else going on, huh?” She smiled and walked away. My first feeling was embarrassment. Then I stopped and thought, why should I be embarrassed? I looked at her styled hair, her lined lips, and bold earrings – she must have spent at least as much time as I did this evening to look good for the reunion. The only difference between me and she is that I put my daily look on the Internet. 

I am often teased for caring about how I look, and I get more emails and comments than I can count where people blast me for being superficial, for being clueless, and as one email said, “for killing everything women have fought for the past few decades.”

I don’t blog to gain fame, to force my views on others, or to try to make Allie clones. I blog because, for me, clothing is armor. When I feel good in my skin and in my attire, I gain strength. I can stand in front of large crowds and officiate my father-in-law’s memorial service. I can feel pity, not fear for the classmate who teases me after all these years for caring about my hair. I can work harder, care more, and do more because my appearance is one thing that I know I have control over. I cannot control the weather, I cannot control other people’s actions, but I can control the armor I put on each day. I can walk, can talk, can smile and feel good about myself and concentrate on other things such as my thoughts, my beliefs, and how I interact with the world.

I cared about what I wore this Saturday because I didn’t feel confident I could get through that service. I loved my father-in-law terribly so, and it hurt so much to see my husband hurting so much. I knew I would be surrounded by people hugging me, kissing me, feeling for me and I needed that armor to get through it all, to present a service, to present a strong face for my husband and his family. Some drink, some smoke, some get angry, some withdraw, some make jokes. I find it far more healthy and intelligent to spend a little more time smoothing my skirt and fluffing my hair to gain that strength to get through it.

Women are amazing creatures. We are often portrayed as the softer sex, but studies have proven that we have a higher pain tolerance than men, we live longer than men, we are able to create human beings, feed them from our bodies, care for our loved ones while being able to manage multi-million dollar companies and even countries. Women are beautiful, and work so hard, they deserve to feel beautiful, know their beauty on a daily basis.

Beauty doesn’t come from having the perfect little black dress or pair of pumps. It doesn’t come from finding that perfect foundation that hides imperfections and is invisible on your jawline. Beauty comes from loving yourself, being proud of whom you are, and having comfort in your own skin. It’s finally falling in love with your crazy curls, getting off the diet train and understanding that maybe you are most wonderful at a size 14 instead of 4, respecting the heritage that gave your porcelain skin, and knowing that nurturing your body and it’s appearance is just as important as nurturing your soul and your mind.

And what’s wrong with a little armor to fight through the battle which is Daily Life? My goal with these blogs is to help every woman realize her immense beauty, and help provide her with a little armor to maintain that confidence and self-love. I blog because I care. I care about women, I believe in our worth, our strength, and that we are capable of anything we set our minds to.

Today I did a deep cleaning of my bedroom and did all the laundry. It felt good, to wash away all the stress and anxiety and sadness of this week; to prepare my armor for the upcoming week where I have to return to the Real World, still mourning the loss of a very special man. I already feel the confidence as I look as my organized closet and neatly folded drawers; knowing I have what I need to go into Monday’s battle.

However, I still can’t find that darn dress…

40 Comments

  1. Leta
    December 2, 2008 / 1:12 am

    This is the best piece of “style” writing I have ever read. Glamour ain’t got sh*t on you, girl.

  2. icegyrrl
    November 25, 2008 / 10:35 am

    Allie & everyone else:

    All that matters is what you think of you! Don’t waste time comparing yourself with others – everyone is unique in their own right. It took me a long time to realize this, and although I went from a size 0 to a size 14, due to hypothyroid, at least I am working out to improve my health and weight.

    Like Allie, I experience a similar situation when I attended my high-school reunion. A girl that I knew, but do not recall ever talking to, rudely interrupted a conversation between another person and me. Leslie said, “Hi Pimmsy” in the most snarky tone. Usually I take the high road, but I did not resist the temptation to respond by saying, “Hi Leslie” in the same, if not worse tone to get my message across: “Don’t mess with me.” I enjoyed the rest of the night and it was the best time.

  3. Anonymous
    November 14, 2008 / 7:49 pm

    I just wanted to add to the chorus — your blog is wonderful and of great value to so so so many women. And I’d also beg to differ with those critics who charge you with undoing “all the gains that women have made” — that is horse poop. I work at a high level in a very male dominated world leading global corporation. I can tell you that in our corporate environment appearance for both men and women is of great importance. The attitude of 1970s feminist fashion rebellion does women no good whatsoever in trying to gain equality with men. If we are to be equal to men we need to care for our appearance at the same level that they do — they are careful to shave, comb their hair neatly, dress carefully and not be too flashy. Be comfortable, don’t suffer for fashion, but not casual. Look like a gentleman. The kind of style advice that you give women on your blog echoes perfectly the style of the men with whom I work day in and day out. It’s about class. It’s about making yourself feel good and confident, yes, but it’s also about etiquette. Making those around you feel comfortable not just in how you speak or use your eating utensils but also in how you look.

    So there. GREAT blog, great lady. THANK YOU and my condolences on your loss.

  4. Monica
    November 9, 2008 / 6:30 pm

    My condolences.

    Very well-written, very passionate, and very, very true. I sympathize; self-presentation, including clothing, hair, makeup, lends me more confidence in myself, and it helps me to behave in a way that makes me more amiable, stronger, and generally better in relation to others. If I feel good about how I am presenting myself, including, but not limited to, what I’m wearing, then I feel better, and I can help other people around me feel and be better too. I can’t see any fault in that; I’m improving my feelings and improving my treatment of others by controlling something that I have both the right and the ability to control–my appearance. There is no wrong, and much right, in that.

  5. Anonymous
    November 9, 2008 / 7:03 am

    Allie, if you had any idea how very much you have helped me to slowly overcome a massive complex about my appearance (I’m the plain sister, and I’m almost sixty – you’d think I was past caring about appearance by now), you would simply ignore, or at best pity, your old ‘friend’. Timid, ‘inferior-feeling’ women are damaged women and you can help so many with your ideas and skills. Keep up your wonderful blog!I too love how you cater for all women – thin, plump, those with plenty of cash and those with little.

  6. Anonymous
    November 8, 2008 / 9:22 pm

    Have just stumbled onto this blogg but just wanted to also say that this last post in your blogg also struck a chord with me. I’ve always loved fashion and trying to look good whenever I can and although when I was working pre my son it was okay for me to be so well groomed without people commenting I have now been shocked at how since becoming a SAHM that I get so much criticism over looking and dressing nicely it’s totally bizarre. Most of this criticism is from fellow mothers who seem to think looking and dressing nicely means that I’ve got too much time and money on my hands lol!!

    I’m also very sorry for your loss.

  7. November 8, 2008 / 4:26 pm

    “Some days your hair is curly, some days your hair is straight”

    And every day she is an unpleasant person. I like your blog very much, btw. I doubt I’d want to read hers, if she had one.

    Many thanks for your blog and much sympathy for your loss.

  8. November 7, 2008 / 4:49 am

    Allie your blog has been very instrumental in helping me reshape my wardrobe.I love that you are a “everyday” woman giving real fashion advice that is usable. My prayers are with you and family.

  9. November 6, 2008 / 6:25 pm

    EXCLLENT post. Well written, and full of truth and beauty. Whoever sent you those emails about undoing decades of women’s lib are severley unenlightened. Women’s lib is about CHOICE. You choose to look good, and its for you, not others that you do it. What kind of person spends their leisure time finding fashion blogs and hate-emailing the writers? I just don’t get it.

    I;ve read yor blog for like 2 years and I think you are a creative, compassionate and deeply worthwhile person who contributes light and color into a sometimes dismal world!

  10. November 6, 2008 / 4:10 pm

    OooOh this was a good post! I totally agree with the idea of clothing as armor. When I have an important event to attend, I try to dress in a way in which I present my best while feeling good enough to forget what I am wearing. In the past I’d wear clothing that I was not comfortable in – either because of the fit or fabric or the fact that it wasn’t really “me” and over the years I have realized how important it is to pull together the things that work for you, personally. I’m sad to hear you had to endure this petty person. You have got it goin’ on and I think she’s just small and jealous.
    I’m inspired by what you write about and I also think it takes lots of courage and self esteem to photograph yourself each day and put yourself out there. You are a powerful woman.

  11. November 6, 2008 / 3:48 pm

    Gaining strength through fashion is an interesting concept. I’ve read somewhere that by putting some effort into your clothing – making sure it’s presentable, clean, pressed, in proper taste and so forth – shows you are putting effort into how you present yourself to others, as a way of showing respect and honor for others. If I come to your memorial service in ripped jeans and a dirty t-shirt, what does that say? Feeling comfortable in your clothing is one thing. So is trying to show off your assets. But it’s another thing altogether to dress with respect … to dress appropriately … and to dress with the purpose of being proud to be somewhere, doing something. There are times to show off … and there are times to show up … and there are times to simply dress without pomp and circumstance. To be humble in your appearance yet feel good. Feel good about what you’re doing and where you are, who you are, what you stand for.

    Jeez – nothing going on but frizzy or flat hair? Your pregnant, for blogging sake! That’s NEW! That’s what’s going on. And yeah, it’s hard to get dressed when you’re pregnant. That’s a woman thing. Doesn’t matter where you’re going. Being comfortable while being pregnant is not always easy, no matter how stretchy the outfit!

  12. Chandra
    November 6, 2008 / 4:37 am

    Reading this post just reaffirmed the things I tell myself all the time, so thank you. Clothing is like an external positive affirmation, taking the time to be the best looking me I can be helps me to confirm everyday that I’m worth the time and effort. Sometimes it’s hard to not get beat up by the world at large, but many days I find lookign good actually helps me to start feeling good. It’s a lot easier to believe in all the positves about yourself when you can see some of them staring back at you in the mirror.

  13. November 6, 2008 / 2:36 am

    This is a very powerful post. I can’t believe people think you’re belittling women just because you write a fashion blog.

    It’s the total opposite so that women feel more confident.

    Oh and that 15-year old reunion classmate? She was probably just jealous 😉

  14. November 5, 2008 / 8:50 pm

    I don’t remember how I found your blog.. but I love it! Keep doing what you are doing. I think you are inspiring. And you look fantastic.

    It takes a rare person to really be honest about who they are. Others who comment to belittle you are only doing it because they don’t know how to be themselves without hiding behind a social facade.

  15. November 5, 2008 / 5:36 pm

    Beautiful post Allie………my prayers are still with you and yours

  16. pinkbellepink
    November 5, 2008 / 3:38 pm

    I have been reading your blog for sometime now. As a plus sized woman (or as my boyfriend says ‘plump & juicy’, which believe it or not is a compliment :)) I value your blog, and feel you have had a direct influence on my swing towards a consistantly flattering wardrobe. It’s sad that there are those who must belittle others to try to make themselves appear better. But I think, that when the belittler is at home alone, they are not the happy content person that we all strive to be.

    So sorry to hear of your families loss.

  17. Anonymous
    November 5, 2008 / 2:05 am

    I read your blog regularly and I’ve never commented before, but after reading this, I just have to! As I read this, my eyes filled with tears as I look at where I am in my life right now. My husband and I are trying to raise two toddlers and in the process, keep our own relationship strong–which I have discovered is not as easy as I thought it would be. You are so right about what you’ve said–you must first feel good about yourself and if you don’t look good, it is nearly impossible to feel good. Our appearance is one of the few things we can control and our actions and attitude almost always reflect how we look. You have inspired me in many ways. Thank you for doing what you do, and please keep it up!

    I am very sorry for your loss and I hope you and your family will find some comfort in this very sad time.

  18. November 4, 2008 / 10:49 pm

    Very well said! And I, for one, think you show a very balanced perspective.

  19. November 4, 2008 / 9:47 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. November 4, 2008 / 9:36 pm

    Know one could have said it better! Love your blog and please keep up. Thanks for all the inspiration you bring to us!

  21. November 4, 2008 / 8:28 pm

    P.S. Some days MY hair is curly, some days my hair is straight. AND?

  22. November 4, 2008 / 6:47 pm

    “Some days your hair is curly, some days your hair is straight. Not much else going on, huh?” – sounds like she completely missed the point of your blogs Allie!
    I’m so grateful I found your blogs – they have been instrumental in me taking a hard look at my style, cleaning my closet and coming up with a more confident (and cohesive) personal style. People in my office have even commented on my look and I’ve shared my “secret Allie weapon” with some of them. Don’t ever let anyone minimize the positive effect you have!
    Now if only I could afford to get a pair of those Duo boots 🙂

  23. November 4, 2008 / 6:13 pm

    W9onderful, wonderful post. I read through this post and felt such a true connection to the words. Thank you, and keep doing what you’re doing!

  24. November 4, 2008 / 2:45 pm

    You are too wonderful Allie. I simply adore you, and having gone through pregnancy five times myself, I can understand the woes of swollen feet (and everything else)! 😉

    What is wrong with taking care of yourself and looking your best? Absolutely nothing. It simply shows that you care about yourself and about how others see you.

    This is becoming a very long comment, but I wanted to share a post that I wrote last year that is a related subject,

    “At some point in my development I learned and believed that if you paid yourself a compliment, you were bragging. If you thought you looked pretty, you were vain. If you believed yourself to be smart, you were just fooling yourself. Self-esteem is such a fragile thing.

    In response to my fear of being vain, boastful and proud, I learned to understate myself often in communicating to others. I am starting to recognize the tools I have used, the self-degradation in my self talk and in describing my needs to others.”

    Let’s be kind to ourselves and others by giving ourselves positive feedback and love. I applaud what you are doing here Allie and am very sorry for the loss of your father-in-law. Big hugs. Jen

  25. Amethyst / Marie
    November 4, 2008 / 2:37 pm

    Allie:

    I’ve dealt with petty, catty & rude people when I was in school too. These people are insecure about themselves and teasing and mocking others makes them feel better about themself, if only for a short time. In reality, they are sad creatures. One of the first signs of depression is when people stop caring about how they look. I commend you for wanting to stay stylish, fashionable and comfortable in your life AND throughout your pregnancy. Ignore the jerks, they are the ones with “no life” except to rag on others. You’ve got a great blog that appeals to the masses. Ignore the idiots.

  26. November 4, 2008 / 1:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing – I always admire your open-ness and honesty. We that love your blog and what you do, agree that the haters and nasty people of the world are just insecure in there own little lives!

  27. Allison
    November 4, 2008 / 11:25 am

    Allie – there’s plenty of people out here who love, admire, and appreciate what you do. Those that hate are insecure about themselves. I hope “she” is still reading this blog.

    Take care – and sorry – SO sorry for your loss.

  28. November 4, 2008 / 5:22 am

    Tell me the address of the one who said this: “Some days your hair is curly, some days your hair is straight. Not much else going on, huh?” I will go and beat that jealous beyotch with my heavy jewelry for you. I will even use the onyx skull ring (very painful).

  29. November 4, 2008 / 2:56 am

    I have really enjoyed your blogs. I too know what it is like to need that armor for the everyday happenings, as well as special occasions. Several years ago, my grandmother whom I shared a birthday with passed away. I was asked to do a reading at her funeral, and was absolutely terrified I would break down and upset everyone even more. I brought my favorite black dress, along with a couple different pairs of shoes and accessories. I needed to feel fine in my clothing as a way to feel stronger. You are in my prayers.

  30. November 4, 2008 / 2:21 am

    I’m sorry for your and your husband’s loss 🙁

    This is an especially good post, and so true. I think the armor also goes both ways – it makes us feel good about ourselves and thus able to perform at our best, and it also absolutely effects how other people treat us.

    Dressing well, having good grooming, etc, indicate to others that you respect yourself and you are then automatically afforded a higher level of respect from others. It’s life, it’s what we’re all programmed to do – the better someone looks the more attention / time / respect we instinctively give them.

    Looking good is power, plain and simple. Power, respect, armor, being able to forget about yourself and focus on others as the above poster said. They’re all great, empowering things that make our hectic lives more manageable – I say why not look fantastic every single day!

    **hugs**

    Harmony

    http://thesmartlife.wordpress.com/

  31. Anonymous
    November 3, 2008 / 9:14 pm

    You go, Allie! I feel the same way – clothing is my armor, and I can face anything if I’m feeling okay about how I am dressed. Being properly dressed lets me forget myself and focus on those around me. I like your blogs, and check them daily. Keep up the excellent work!
    Kathy F.

  32. November 3, 2008 / 9:13 pm

    Oh, Allie. First of all, I am very sorry for your loss and am happy you are taking the break that you need to mourn.

    I, too, care a disproportionate amount about how I look, and I, too, feel STRONGER when I feel I look good. We shouldn’t apoligize for that! For me, it’s not about vanity, it’s about feeling good in my own skin.

    Thanks for writing this.

  33. November 3, 2008 / 8:48 pm

    AMEN!

    and you are in my thoughts and prayers.

  34. November 3, 2008 / 4:59 pm

    Allie,

    Thank you for writing this post. I love both of your blogs – they have helped me more than any other fashion blog or magazine that I have read. I have struggled myself with the amount of “concern” I have for how I look – this post explained my feelings so well. I am truly sorry for your loss, my prayers are with you and your family.

  35. November 3, 2008 / 3:36 pm

    You are making the world a better place. Your blog is about empowerment and people whp don’t understand that are really missing out. Thank you for doing what you do.

  36. Anonymous
    November 3, 2008 / 3:19 pm

    Allie, I am sorry for your loss. That must be so hard on you and your husband, and I’m sorry you’re having to go through that.

    This was a really beautiful post. I loved what you said about the strength and beauty of women. This is so good that I need to print it and save it.

    Amities,
    Marsi

  37. November 3, 2008 / 2:56 pm

    I think you’re right–if you are doing “fashion” to make yourself feel good–that is what it’s all about. When you’re doing it just to impress others, that’s when it becomes superficial. Every woman deserves to feel beautiful and knowing how to wear clothing gives you confidence so that you don’t worry about what people think–you know you look and feel good! Our prayers are with you and your family–you should do whatever makes you feel better!

  38. November 3, 2008 / 2:48 pm

    The reasons you just stated here are a major reason why the people I know don’t know about my makeup blog. The reaction is usually the same…”oh”..and that reaction never fails to piss me off. I am an educated woman who happens to care about the way I look. This doesn’t make me less intelligent or strong, it’s just a part of who I am. We all have our own ‘things’..for some it’s makeup, others is clothes, others its going to the gym…either way we all care about how we look we just choose to share our looks with others.

    I’ve been ‘lurking’ on your blogs for a few months now and I really love them!!

  39. November 3, 2008 / 2:39 pm

    Allie, I think you’re wonderful. And this is why – you practice and preach that beauty comes from the INSIDE, and the outside just enhances it. I look at your daily style blog every day and think, “she is one beautiful pregnant woman!” I loved reading this post – it was so encouraging to me. THANK YOU for the writing you do. It makes more of a difference than you will know. This is why I read your blog – I know what looks good on my body and how to find it – but I LOVE reading your encouragement to love ourselves first.

    Some people are afraid of goodness, and lash out because they can’t/don’t feel the same way. Good for you, standing up to the pressure to cave and continuing to be and teach “lovely.”

  40. November 3, 2008 / 2:11 pm

    I had no idea people we so rude to you simply because you write a fashion blog. I’m glad you realize that the girl from your reunion is just taking her insecurities out on you. It’s very sad when someone has to attempt to belittle someone else just to make themselves feel better…and how funny that she’d hide behind the Internet, reading up on YOU, when it seems you’ve barely given her a thought before that reunion. She’s pitiful, indeed.

    There is nothing wrong with giving a damn about how you look when you leave the house. Most people who say they don’t care about these things are lying, and like it or not, our world DOES judge appearance. Someone dressed like a slob is likely to get passed over for promotions in most business environments.

    Of course there are more important things in the world than fashion. But it’s something fun for those of us who enjoy it, and even if clothing isn’t your thing, your list of staples cuts through the B.S. and helps women put together something that works without having to give it much thought.

    Your blog has helped me to streamline my closet so much that I hardly have to give my clothing a thought now. I sleep in later with my husband. I have time to pack a lunch for work. I never stress out about not having anything to wear, and I own 1/5 of the clothing I used to own. THANK YOU.

    You are truly the best fashion blog out there for women who just need a workable wardrobe. I hope you’ll write a book based on this blog someday.

    Also, I was so sad to hear about your loss. I wish you and your family all of the best during this difficult time.

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