Part of our series of articles about what we wear and how clothes make us feel.
I have always loved beautiful clothes. My mother is an exquisite seamstress, and even though we didn’t have a lot of money, she always instilled in me a “better, fewer things” ethos. Special clothes became wrapped in memories for me. I still remember a trip I took to Spain as part of a young Latino leadership fellowship through the gauze of a yellow and white sleeveless blouse with a high neck and an attached bow. It wasn’t silk, but I remember how professional and sharp it made me feel: Polished, put together.
Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, my mother always instilled in me a “better, fewer things” ethos.
My first executive editor job will always be wholly and totally linked to a midi black sheath dress that I bought in London. A black sheath is no big deal, but this one had a faux fur finish. I’d never owned a dress with texture, and when I wore it into meetings with people who were twice my age and who reported to me, I didn’t feel like I had to say a word to make it clear that I was in charge.
Why We All Need Beautiful Things
I wasn’t raised to spend freely on beautiful things just because. I save for the big things in my life. I grew up in New York in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. My mother, a single mother from another country, who struggled to make ends meet bought everything of importance on layaway. She made monthly payments at local department stores on our bunk beds, the dining room table, a glass etagere—that she still owns—for the living room. By the time I came of age, credit cards had replaced layaway plans, but I still save for the things I want in that month-by month way—a beloved chair-and-a-half that’s my favorite place to read; a prized print by the Mali photographer Malick Sidibe. It took me nearly two years of monthly payments to bring that photograph home.
Once a season, four times a year, I buy myself one beautiful thing.
Clothes, on the other hand, beckon as more of an immediate treat. As the years have passed and work and family life have settled into a rhythm, I’ve found that fashion has a place in lifting my wardrobe and my spirit. Once a season, four times a year, I buy myself one beautiful thing. I try not to spend too, too much because, while there are a few pieces I hope my daughter will wear, I realize that mine is too much of a rough and tumble life to stockpile with clothes and accessories that can’t go the distance. I broke, beyond repair, the heel of a beautiful pair of Gucci kitten heels while out to dinner in Maine. I had bought the shoes at an outlet, convinced that they would last forever. My husband appreciates my style, but he couldn’t resist stating the obvious: “Who wears Gucci in Maine?”
True, perhaps, but in my experience, it is the “fewer, better things” version of clothes that give you that extra polish. When my husband sees me in a $15 t-shirt dress from Old Navy, which I sometimes wear, he often starts the conversation with, “Did you get the car washed?” Or “Did you remember to pick up that package at UPS?” When I wear a simple sundress from Ann Mashburn in Atlanta, he says, “You look amazing”—which I prefer, of course.
Feeling Good About “Slow” Fashion
Also, the more I read about the environmental impact of fast fashion, the more I feel good about my Mrs. Maisel/“ladies who spend their lunch hour window shopping”/fewer, better things approach. The Independent recently reported that “fast fashion focuses on speed and low costs in order to deliver frequent new collections inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles. But it is particularly bad for the environment, as pressure to reduce cost and the time it takes to get a product from design to shop floor means that environmental corners are more likely to be cut. Criticisms of fast fashion include its negative environmental impact, water pollution, the use of toxic chemicals and increasing levels of textile waste.”
Nicer items also have better resale value. I made $200 this summer reselling on TheRealReal.com.
Nicer items also have better resale value. I made $200 this summer after cleaning out my closet and listing items on TheRealReal.com. That was money I could use, relatively guilt-free, for a new item to freshen my fall wardrobe.
I’ve applied the same edict to my daughter’s clothes. The way kids grow makes fast fashion seem like the most practical thing. But when I buy slightly larger items from solid brands like J.Crew and Tea Collection, I usually get two years’ wear out of them. My daughter is only in middle school, but I think she gets the logic of how spending a little more saves in the long run. Both of our wardrobes are tightly edited outfits that we wear on repeat. When we get dressed in the morning, we regularly stand at the door and size each other up. I often say to her, “You look amazing. How do you feel?” To which she usually responds, “I feel great.” As it should be.
Veronica Chambers is a prolific author and journalist, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir Mama’s Girl, the young adult novel The Go-Between, and Yes Chef, which was co-authored with chef Marcus Samuelsson. She is the editor ofThe Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own.
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