Ahem, Yes! I Did Wear that Before!

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Jacket Circa 2002 – Gift from Mark

I am becoming a staunch counterculturalist! I don’t know precisely when or how it started happening, but it is clear to me that if everyone is going left, then I will be the one staring longingly in the right direction with my hand raised high to ask the annoying question with a preface: “Ahhh, not to cause problems or anything, but exactly why aren’t we going right?”

That is certainly how I have felt about fashion and the media’s constant barrage at us to buy more new clothes. Well, “Not to cause problems or anything, but what’s the deal with this constant buying of new clothes for the change of season, a special event, a new job, or for no reason whatsoever?” I just don’t get it! As someone who deliberates long and hard about most clothing purchases, the lure of intentionally choosing to sign up again and again for a shopping encore, eludes me. Personally, I hardly have time for all the wonderful things in life that interest me to devote another minute more than necessary to shop for clothes—be it online or face-to-face.

But then again, perhaps my penchant for being this way is not even of my own doing; it is a function of growing up Trini. If there was one subject area that I learned while still in elementary school, it was economics. My father, aunts, uncles and teachers, well, almost everyone, it seemed was teaching us about economizing. What that meant in our house was that we should cut the cheese so thinly that we could see through it. What that meant was–“No, you cannot have bread with peanut butter AND jelly. Are you kidding me! It was one sandwich filling OR the other. My dad would say: “Learn to economize.” When I eventually got to high school and started the formal study of economics, I was thrilled that I already had a head start in understanding that in a world of limited resources we need to use what we have wisely.

In Trinidad, we were recycling, reducing, reusing long before it was fashionable to do so. In fact, I remember collecting glass bottles along with all the other children in our neighborhood, and waiting expectantly for the trucks that would drive through on certain days to swap our collection for coveted coins that would allow us to purchase a palette or ice-cream cone when that particular truck came by. All school children wore uniforms to school, and we washed and ironed them until they were so threadbare that the tired fabrics would burst forth in triumphant holes with any sudden slight exertion.

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Spring Jacket Circa 2005- Still Wearing It!

Is it any wonder that I still hold on to my clothes?  I have clothes in my closet that I have had for as many as twenty years. Yes, twenty years! In a younger life that would have perhaps bothered me a bit to admit, but now I celebrate it! There’s no shame in my game! First, can I just say that they still FIT (Well,  most of them, anyway.) Sheesh! That should be reason enough to celebrate, right? Those that don’t fit, I pass along to a friend or donate.  And if you are thinking well: “You must look a mess!” I think my husband would be the first to tell me so. (He was not fortunate to grow up as I did but had to contend with growing up here. Ha ha ha! Let’s just say, he does not quite share my passion for old clothes).

Now, I know that my approach to  fashion is not for everyone. So if this is not you, feel free to mosey on over to another blog at this point. However, if you have even a sliver of curiosity or are an aspiring counterculturalist, I will offer 10 tips for getting the most out of your clothes and in the process loving the planet a bit more.

  1. Recognize that you are MORE than what you wear. My personal mantra is my own butchering of a quote by Coco Chanel: “Dress showy and they notice the dress; dress immaculately and they notice the person.” Aim to dress in such a way that people notice YOU before they notice what you are wearing.
  2. Know your Style Formula and Work with It: Spend time thinking about what colors, fabrics, and styles work best for you and work that formula. For example, I have learned that I look best in autumn colors, long skirts, princess line cuts etc. I couldn’t care less about what is the rage this season. I do venture out to try new fabrics, styles, or colors on occasion, but for the most part I remain true to my formula.
  3. Go for Classic Designs: Avoid trendy looks that are in one season and out the next. Instead opt for wardrobe staples in classic cuts. If you work in a professional settings, go for classic blazers, suits, shirts, slacks and skirts that you can easily mix and match. Give as much thought to your casual look understanding your style formula and choosing timeless pieces that bring your collection together.
  4. Shop Quality over Quantity: Be prepared to spend a bit more on clothes that you intend to keep in your wardrobe for the long haul. Pay attention to the quality of fabric, go with trusted brands, and pay attention to care labels. However, quality does not always equate with high cost—(See next point).
  5. Shop End of Season for Next Season: Free from the compulsion to be the first to wear the latest color craze for the season, choose to wait until the end of the season to buy quality items when prices are sure to dip low. Be sure to also browse discount stores for good quality past season clothing.
  6. Care Creatively for your Clothes: Invest the time in taking care of your clothes. Follow care instructions for fabrics and be prepared to update, mend and even transform pieces. I have switched out buttons to update a suit, added appliques and decorative patches over holes, dyed fabric, and used needle and thread and/or my sewing machine to extend the life of a treasured piece.
  7. Share the Wealth: If you have taken great care of your clothes, then those that no longer fit or just don’t work for you anymore can be consigned or donated to benefit some else.
  8. Shop Consignment: If you want to cultivate a timeless look, consignment shops are a great place to find classic, hard to find, quality items at reduced cost. Moreover, with the push for conservation in recent times, consignment shops have undergone remarkable transformations. You can find clean shops that are very well run in upscale zip codes.
  9. Buy Only if It Passes the Test: Set up your own internal criteria for determining if a new item should become part of your wardrobe. I have about four test questions: Are there multiple occasions and events to which I can wear it? Does it play nice with other pieces in my collection? Is it consistent with my style brand? and Is it something that I can see myself wearing for years to come?
  10. Cultivate Your Style Brand: Well-worn pieces of clothing that have been with you through the years have a certain je nais se quoi quality to them—that money cannot buy. They become a part of your identity brand. The more you practice and adhere to the first 9 tips, the more your wardrobe will be congruent with your personal story. Your sense of style will effortlessly communicate your life brand without you even saying a word. What I hope my clothes communicate is my personal brand– elegantly simple.

I love going through my collection of clothes, and thinking back to the occasions and events on which I wore them. There is so much history there: the suit I wore for my first job interview after graduate school, the skirt I wore on one of my first dates with Mark, my first splurge on a pair of St. John’s shoes, the dress I wore to my father’s funeral, and the denim jacket –a gift from Mark while we were dating (I am wearing it now as I type). Oh my! There is more than old clothes here, more than fabric, more than fancy buttons, designer tags, and embellishments on these pieces—they are mile markers on my life journey, and it is comforting to fit into them and feel the warm nostalgia of yesteryear embracing me once again.

So I say: “Out with the new and in with the old!” And the next time you see me and are perhaps wondering: “Hmm, didn’t I see her wear that before?” Chances are that the answer is: “Yes!” Yes, indeed, and isn’t that a beautiful thing?

 

In Search of An Unhurried Life

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Morning walk -Tortola, BVI

One of my friends shared a link to a book by Alan Fadling entitled, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest. As I made a bee line to get the book from my library, I could not help but think: “Foiled again! Someone beat me to it!” Well, perhaps, not exactly, the title of the book I have been writing in my head for the past year or so, but close enough to the central thesis. But even as Fadlings’ book sits on my pile of books to read, my mind has taken off again with thoughts about the hurried age in which we live.

Somewhere along the line, I think we’ve been bamboozled into thinking that the level of busyness in our lives is in some way equal to our level of importance. In the book, Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace, Jan Johnson launches a sharp critique against a culture where we actually celebrate such busyness. In fact, it is common place to hear comments like: “Wow, I only got three hours of sleep last night”; or “I flew to 3 different states in this past week” (all uttered with an air of thinly concealed importance). Unbelievable! And wait for it! This is usually not a singular, once in a while occurrence. It is, in fact, a way of life. Well, not for me. I pass! Before you take me to task for adopting such a stance, I will offer three reasons in defense of my penchant for easy living.

First, I come by my quest for an unhurried life quite honestly. My aversion to such “madness” and I do call it “madness” stems in the first instance from a source that is partially out of my control—my socialization. I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago. For those of you who do not know, Trinidad and Tobago has been ranked in the top 10 countries in the world for having the most public holidays, 14 at last count. It seems that every week in Trinidad and Tobago, there is always something to celebrate—a moment to “kick back”, “buss a lime’ with friends and family, “have a fete”, or just take it easy. And though some have argued (I must admit with some credence) that this kind of frivolity is one of the chief culprits behind low levels of productivity, I would argue alternatively, that the benefits of such a life style to the “je no sais quoi” –that certain something that is so infectious, bubbly, inviting and warm-hearted about Trinidadians is in my view of inestimable worth.

The second influence, is a function my personality. Again, not exactly something I could control, right? I knew early in life that I wanted to find a job that would feel more like play than work for me—a job that would nurture my spirit life and also leave me enough time to live. I didn’t want to be pressured to take a bus, or train, or plane, or bicycle for that matter; in rain, wind or snow in a race to catch the mighty dollar; to get to a job that would suck up 8 hours of my day for 50 to 51 weeks out of the year. So, I became a professor And I don’t mean to gloat, but, hey, it works!

I can deal with less money in my pay check—but not less time to live. Living for me involves crafting out the right ratio between time to work and time for the really important things in my life. For me those things include time to seek out an old teacher/mentor or friend and reconnect, and tell them what a blessing they have been in my life; time to lose myself in a new favorite hobby that does not require clicking or dragging anything on a screen, time to ease into the day with a good talk with God so that I am clear on His assignment for me for that day; time to sip and enjoy a cup of tea and a good book; and time to look into my children’s eyes and really listen to what they are experiencing in their world.

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Sunrise run -Fort Myers, Florida.

The third influence on my quest for an unhurried life is the most critical. It is my faith. I believe that God calls us into a space of simplicity and quietude so that we can come to find him and know Him better. Moreover, I have been struck by how little “capacity” (a term my husband and I use to describe our lack of time) we have built into our lives for anything other than our concerns or what is in our Google calendar. There is just no time to do ministry, meet for a casual informal get together, stop by someone’s house just because, or help a neighbor in need.

Just to be clear, I do not live in “La La Land”. I know what it is like to have bills to pay and mouths to feed. In spite of my job and my desire for an unhurried life, each day, I push against the current and a tidal wave of activities and requests that threaten to crowd my life with ‘stuff to do” for me, for my kids, commitments at work and at church, financial commitments etc. etc. And yet, ultimately how we choose to spend our time has to be a personal choice. We can take control! How intentional are we in crafting out unhurried time and space, to reflect, take in the rhythms of life and to hear God’s voice? Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God”. I don’t have all the answers, and I am not totally in the quiet, unhurried space I want to be so God can effectively use me, but with His help, I am continuing the search. I want to be ready for His interruptions! Won’t you join me?