Growing up, I didn't have a lot of nice things. The youngest of five children, I often wore hand-me-downs from my siblings (yes, even my brother) and although I was really interested in fashion, never wore the latest anythings. In a way, I'm grateful for this aspect of my life for two reasons: (1) I was well-loved and cared for and had everything I needed, and (2) It taught me the value of a hard-earned dollar, as well as the importance of personal style regardless of trends.
But now, as a 38-year-old fashion executive, I'm afraid I've left these roots entirely. My wardrobe is a revolving door of latest/greatest, and I love the rush I get from wearing something brand new. Unfortunately, the rush wears off after one wash and I'm left feeling wasteful and guilty that I need something new to feel good about myself. (I also think I have a fairly healthy self-esteem, so I'm puzzled by this behavior entirely.)
Clementine, how do I change my ways? How do I get back to my roots of embracing personal style without purchasing new? I'm in a financial position that I can treat myself to these things, but that doesn't mean I should. I'm tired of the guilt that comes with each price tag. I suppose my question is this: how does anyone change anyone's ways?
Wash and (Never) Wear Again
My dear, sweet, guilty girl,
A super pessimistic pal of mine claims that people don't change. Ever. No matter what. And on the off chance that change occurs? It's a result of a daily, minute-to-minute hardcore sweaty effort or else a total tripped-out fluke, and always temporary. You'll see. (Insert wagging finger, pursed lips, and an unsaid but somehow very loud "I told you so...") But even I, an eternal sunshine optimist, have to agree. We are who we've always been, plus or minus a bad or brilliant new habit, or possibly three depending on the day. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
I like us.
We're all drawn to loveliness, the definition of which differs from person to person. For you, it's fashion. For her, it's Botox. (And a bit of collagen in her lips, but please don't tell a soul. She's pretending it's a result of her plumping lip gloss.) For me, it's holidays. Preferably of the beach variety. And watches. Preferably of the fancy variety. For someone else, it's something else. The details probably don't matter. What does matter is recognizing what's on our wish lists and making sure some of those come true. Because the rush of a wish-gone-wild is pretty wonderful, isn't it? You said so yourself.
Listen. I grew up poor, too. I didn't have much, except for love and library books and mosquito bites and a mom who told me I was sunshine every day. Which helped greatly when my parents couldn't pay our electricity bill. And to this day – even though we've all got enough sunshine and scratch now – I feel a pang when I tell my parents about a trip I'm taking, omitting all mention of the amount of stars on the hotel. I swear, it's like appendicitis every time my mother wonders why I take extra care with a watch that looks almost exactly like her silver Swiss Army, because I don't want her to know my Swiss timepiece has a few more zeros in the price. I don't want to have better, but I do. And it's not the having that makes me sad; it's them not having the same luxuries in their lifetime, past or present, that wrecks me.
So I understand your torment. I truly do. But I am not a fan of beating up each other about semi-harmless habits. Let's be clear. No one's dying. No one's being cheated. No one's off to rehab. No one's utilities are cut. The only concern here is a guilty gut.
Now let's get past this. Charles Bukowski unknowingly gave me one of my favorite mantras when he wrote "The less I needed, the better I felt." What about trying that? You're a fashion executive, so I imagine the fashion part is non-negotiable. You could go uber-extreme and adopt a uniform of sorts to wear every day. No surprises. And, sadly, no new-shoes-new-skirt rush. Sigh. Total. Buzzkill.
I love the tone of your note. It is the perfect little cocktail of gratitude and guilt. If I saw you on the street, I bet I'd be taken with your awesome accessories, like your oversized heart and coordinating smile. You're one of the real ones, of that I'm sure. But if you honestly feel like you need to change, let's take baby steps. Say no to yourself once a week, at least. Especially when you're in Neiman's. Cap your spending on clothing to a semi guilt-free amount. Or go the philanthropist-lite route; buy something for yourself, and give something up to someone less fortunate. If it's a hard and fast rule, you're either going to find yourself cutting back on expenditures...or becoming the fairy godmother of your local women's shelter.
Now that's style, sweets.
That's the only way I live my days. (And for the record, my other favorite Bukowski collection of words is "Stop insisting on clearing your head. Clear your f*ing heart instead." But that is advice for another letter altogether.)
p.s. Are you looking for guidance in a particular area of your life? Email us your questions for Clementine – she’s here to help!