Moving Up is a Step Down.

I received some disturbing mail at the end of December. It was something that I receive yearly and had previously always enjoyed.

It was my yearly Nordstrom wrap-up, letting me know what reward level I’d achieved for 2015. I remember my excitement the year before, when I’d moved up to the second tier for the first time. I planned to take advantage of every reward in 2014. It turns out I did, and then some. For 2015, I was being bumped up to the third tier.

Level THREE. I had spent between $5,000 and $9,999 at one store in one year, solely on clothing, shoes, and accessories for myself.

I felt sick, ashamed, and embarrassed. I didn’t even want to think about what I’d spent at all the other stores.

My attitude change about shopping has been profound. I don’t struggle to avoid shopping; I don’t even feel like shopping. I realize this might change once the weather gets warm and sunny. I’ve had cycles before where I was less enthused about material possessions, but the drive to shop always came back. I’ve been coasting with this new view for around seven months now, so there’s a chance it will stick. It’s nice to not feel suffocated because I need to shop but can’t, or want to shop but have to hide it. There is no suffocation, no secret, no shopping agenda.

Oh, that term. Shopping agenda. A wardrobe plan. Ideas for tackling a wardrobe update.

Those phrases seem so odd to me now. Do I need an outline of steps for this “agenda”? Does clothing my body really need a “plan”? Do I need to make a PowerPoint presentation for how I’m going to “tackle” wardrobe updates?

Other shopping terms have started to give me visceral reaction. Haul. Must-haves. Spring essentials.

Haul: to pull or drag, move or carry something with effort; a usually large amount of something that has been collected. If I’m buying so much that I can aptly use the word “haul” to describe my purchase, there’s a problem.

Must-have: something that is necessary to have or get. Retail stores and shopping sites are quite keen on telling me what I Must Have. I must? According to whom? What happens if I don’t buy that item? What happens if I do? Will I look just like everyone else who was told they must buy it? This phrase taps into my seventh-grade self, when I was desperate to make myself popular by trying to look the part; that is, trying to look exactly like the popular girls. (I failed, by the way.)

Essentials: of the utmost importance. The stores have been announcing spring essentials for a while now. It snowed this morning, so spring is yet to arrive here in New England. Still, I’d better be prepared and pick up the necessary and very important clothing items so I can look like I stepped out of a catalog! The same catalog that is telling everyone what to look like!

I far prefer the terms wardrobe basics, trends, and other words that aren’t loaded with a sense of commanding and dictatorship. But those terms don’t garner enough attention and credit card activity.

I’m sure I’ll be back to level one next year at Nordstrom. I haven’t spent much there (or anywhere else) so far this year. And most of my Nordstrom tab is from their excellent cafe, which is one of my favorite lunch spots. You’ll find me there in my very ordinary outfit, which is only essential in that if I removed it, I’d be arrested.

The Aftermath.

There have been some tangible changes as a result of my realizations this summer. The biggest one is, I’m back to wearing jeans and t-shirts! I’m no longer taking hours thinking about possible combinations that I can wear the next day. I’m not thinking about juxtaposition and proportions. I’m not “styling” myself in the morning, I’m getting dressed. SO much simpler. Basically, what I did for 30 or so years of my life.

I also went back to my old standby: traditional cardigans. I lived in them for years until the blogs told me they were old and stuffy. Yet all the cardigan alternatives I’ve picked up the past two years leave me stumped in the morning! I mean, I can eventually figure out what to wear…but I look in the mirror and feel so uncomfortable. Who am I trying to be? Last weekend, I wore plain, everyday cardigans and felt free. (They’re from Talbot’s, by the way. I was and will not be compensated for stating that. I just really, really like them, and they wash fabulously. Unlike a thinner cardigan I bought from another mall store, which wrinkled all down the button area. Boo.)

This is related to my second change. I’m no longer trying to be someone else! I’ve ditched the “style persona” idea that has been haunting me. I was stressing over not being able to find a few words that described me, not being able to find Pinterest pins that exactly represented the look I wanted, not being able to dress in a way that everyone would say, “oh yes, that’s so you!“.

It is silly to write out, but here goes. If I am cold, I put on a regular ol’ cardigan. THERE. Warm and toasty.

Here’s what I would’ve said a few months ago. If I am cold, I go into my closet and pull out my drapey genuine leather jacket to see if I can finally make it work after a year of non-wearing. I like it, but… I look like a b!tch in it. Take it off, toss it on the bed. I pull out my faux-leather drapey jacket. It’s better, but… the waist just kind of ends in the back and looks a little too short for what I’m going for. (I do not know what “going for” even means right now.) Toss it on the bed. I shake my head at my two extra-long itchy merino wool cardigans (why do I even still have these? I know I can’t wear wool!). I wonder if I should try a sweater instead. Oh wait, they all have three-quarter sleeves (insert expletive here at how dumb that is, but they are stylish!). My blazers are all too formal. My modern denim jacket is too stiff and I can’t type in it. Ugh! WHAT can I wear so that I’m not so cold?? I have nothing; I’ll need to go buy something!


I cannot put into words how happy these “boring” cardigans, jeans, and t-shirts have made me over the past week. I am now so calm in the morning. And I still look fine.