Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Don't Know How To Dress Myself

And I know I'm not the only one...

I was thrilled to see a physician-mom address this in the Atlantic: The Clothes Make The Doctor, by Anna Reisman. In this thoughtful and humorous piece, she describes how she met with a potential new primary care doc, and was put off by the sharp-dressed woman's stiletto heels and expensive suit. She then explores how physicians should ideally dress, and thus, present themselves.

She hit on a perennial topic of discussion and debate amongst my colleagues, both male and female. Male colleagues bemoan that they are expected to wear a collared dress shirt and tie, day in and day out. But female colleagues complain that they have no real "dress code", and thus, no guidance, on how to dress for patient care.

In my office, which is an all-female practice, the "work uniform" runs the gamut from: clean and pressed white coat over smart dress suits and heels, to dress suits and sensible shoes without the white coat, to business-casual with or without the white coat, and then, to me.

I'm usually in whatever Bargain Basement Clearance Store pants with less-dirty knit top and scuffed sensible shoes I can match when I get dressed in the dark at 5:30 a.m, with a reasonably clean white coat pulled over it all, like a disguise. I can't remember the last time I ironed anything; I think it stretches back a decade or more. I buy all permanent press or knit clothing. If something needs to be dry-cleaned, it's a once-a-year piece. Sweaters, slacks, scarves- they all must go into the washer and dryer, or be relegated forever to the back of the closet. This all is, I feel, most practical. Who has time to fuss over clothes?

I also LOVE a bargain. And while there are women who can browse Nordstrom Rack or Marshall's or TJ Maxx and put together respectable, even snazzy, professional outfits, I am not one of them.

Still, I can't let go of my old habits. In medical school, we had an informal group of women about the same size who met occasionally to "swap": everyone brought a bag of clothes they didn't want, all higher-quality stuff, and we had a party as we tried on each other's stuff. Everyone left with a "new" item, and the leftovers went to charity. If someone I knew suggested this today, I would so totally be there!

I even found my wedding dress, a 100% silk designer ball gown with an impressive train, for $250.00 at the Filene's Basement Run Of The Brides Traveling Sale, back in 2008. I considered it the find of the century, a total coup, and I told anyone who seemed like they cared how much I had spent.

I still have had no qualms with rooting through school fundraising secondhand clothing sales, and leaving with large bags of the clothes of people who are probably my neighbors.

I think some of my reticence on spending money on clothes stems from the fact that I've gone up and down ten sizes within the last five years. Yes, there were two pregnancies in there, but the ballooning waistline was not due to gravidity. It was due to the fact that I gained an unbelievable amount of weight with each pregnancy, on the order of sixty pounds, EACH TIME. Three months after my second baby, my daughter, was born, I realized that I had even GAINED weight while breastfeeding. My BMI was over 30. I was OBESE.

Then, with a two-year-long concerted effort at a low-carb diet and exercise when I could get it in, I lost fifty pounds. Babygirl is now almost three years old, and I've kept the weight off for almost a year.

Despite being back to my pre-pregnancy weight and size for this long, my closet is still filled with a mishmosh of sizes, and alot of "more comfortable" pieces, like Ponte slacks (read: knit pants). A friend and colleague recently pointed out to me, in a humorous way, that Ponte slacks are in the same category as yoga pants. Meaning, not acceptable work attire.

Unfortunately, in order to dress well, one needs two things: Time, and Style sense.

I know I will never have the time or inclination to study fashion magazines or follow style blogs. And for some reason, when I see someone who I think is dressed really well, meaning, how I'd LIKE to dress, I can't seem to replicate their look (probably because of my clothing care learning disability.)

But, I still want to look like a real, respectable, clean, practical yet SOMEWHAT stylish physician. Someone who is aware that it's almost 2015, but who is also willing to kneel down on the exam room floor to look at a patient's diabetic foot ulcer.

I know, I know. Time to grow up, learn how to iron, make the dry cleaners a regular weekly errand.

I also need a personal shopper. I have seen this mentioned on prior MiM posts (that I cannot locate right now), and people have suggested Macy's, as they offer those services free of charge. Of course, to take advantage of that requires several things: Making an appointment, taking some time, and investing in attire.

Sigh. With two children under age five, a working husband who travels alot, and boards study on the agenda every day, these things are not likely to happen anytime soon.

Tomorrow will dawn, and I will likely be pulling on a wool blend turtleneck, my black slacks with a little elastic in the waist, and Danskos.

But I will be comfy...



  1. Here's what I had to do. Go on an online shopping spree (with plans to return >50% of the items) and get a friend/relative or your husband to witness the fashion show. Do NOT trust your own opinion, only others' (except as to comfort, i.e. the waistband is digging in). Recommended stores: Boden, Ann Taylor (not Loft, their quality sucks these days), J Crew/J Crew Factory. These are smaller specialty stores, so easier to browse their sites than a whole department store, like Macy's or Nordstrom's, which overwhelm me. All of these stores had 40-50% everything after Thanksgiving this year, so subscribe to the emails and wait for something like that to come along again. Even if you keep ONE outfit, you are on the right track. Keep doing this every few months for a year, and you'll have 7-10 outfits.
    Also: dresses. I love dresses. No need to find and coordinate TWO pieces of clothing in the dark. And, don't forget the shoes. Zappos or amazon, buy several pairs and wear around the house for a day or so before making decisions (for comfort) and return the rejects. Be prepared to reject everything when it comes to shoes, and try again.

    1. Yes to this. Spend several hundred bucks each at 2-3 retailers which will determine which ones fit and flatter you. Ask a stylish friend to judge and send rejects back (often >50%). I like Boden, Jcrew/j crew factory and banana republic. All these retailers have 20-40% off sales frequently. Once you have a few outfits you like consider this your base and don't veer too far from it when online shopping, buying things that complement the pieces you already like.

    2. Yes, when you find something that works for you, especially in something tricky, like pants or shoes, buy MULTIPLES. All the colors. I have 3 of the same pair of Aerosoles pumps and 3 of the same Express Editor pants, 3 of the same J Crew Factory cardigan, etc....

  2. Given what you describe, I highly recommend StitchFix.

    RH+ mentioned it here over a year ago:

    You answer some fun questions about your style, your size, and how much you'd like to spend in general for different pieces, and a stylist will pick 5 items for you and send them to your door. You can also specify that you never want pants sent or that you need something for an upcoming tropical vacation. You try them on and send back whatever you don't want to keep, postage- paid. They also send styling cards to show how the pieces can be styled. You only pay for what you keep (and a $25 styling fee that goes towards any purchase). It's brilliant - the company was featured on NPR not too long ago. I've done it several times and have referred many friends and family.

  3. I would be lost without friends in my life who love to shop. I shop like once every 2-4 years and completely redo my wardrobe. Yesterday I spent around $450 at the loft outlet and am set with pants and cardigans and sheaths and sweaters. There are probably women in your social circle who are great shoppers--you just have to find one and make a date of it.

    Btw, she also recommends talbots.

    1. p.s. This looks cool:

  4. You should totally try Keaton Row. It's a personal shopping website. I did it post baby 2 and it's amazing. My stylist is Rebecca Green. Basically, it is free personal styling and once you sign up, you get a stylist who makes personalized "lookbooks" (a personal catalogue almost) just for you. Rebecca is really great at finding cheaper (under 100) dresses and work stuff. It is amazing and you only pay what you buy/keep since the service and returns are free! I like dresses since I don't have time to coordinate, and now even my husband noticed i'm looking "cooler." Definitely try it out :)

  5. I lost a great deal of weight two years ago and went from not caring about clothes at all to having a very good time. I discovered a few crucial things about styles that worked for me and made me feel good (more important than looking good) and that helped me choose pieces that would work. I completely agree with the suggestion to shop online and think of it as trying things on, not buying them. Macys has free shipping for orders over $100.00 and free returns to stores - when I was looking for a dress for Eve's bat mitzvah, I ordered 20 outfits (not an exaggeration). The day I returned 18 of them, someone else had done the same thing. They took my clothes back without a murmur.

    Figuring out what styles work for you helps make future choices much easier. Much as I hate to admit it, I learned a lot from watching "What Not To Wear" when it was on. The website is still there and they have suggestions for different body types.

    I understand the drive for thrift. Clothing isn't a bargain if you don't enjoy wearing it, though.

  6. try stitch fix! it is like online personal shopping! you fill out a profile and they send you pieces, you only pay for what you like/keep. most everything has fit me and i've found some great new items that i would have never otherwise picked for myself.

  7. Oh dear, I thought I was dressing ok but now I'm not sure! I'm like you genmedmom, with sensible Danskos and knit tops. I do wear Express Editor pants which fit very well. I tried a different type of Dankso a few years back that was cuter, but excruciatingly painful. After that experience I decided never to compromise on comfort when it comes to footwear. And I'm way to lazy to wear any tops that require ironing or buttoning. I am the only female in my group of 7 FPs in a small town, and I definitely dress better than they do (scrubs or polo shirt with slacks) so I figured I was doing ok. But maybe as a female I can do better. I also stopped wearing my white coat after a while because nobody else does. Like you, I'm also cheep and lazy when it comes to shopping for new clothes. Maybe one day... sigh.

  8. As long as you feel good and comfy, then that's great. Stitch fix might be a fun alternative since your time is limited. My sister-in-law liked the boxes. I would suggest laying out your clothes for the week on a Sunday so you can see what to wear. It also saves time feeling frumpy in the morning or wondering what to wear.

  9. Consider capsule wardrobe? With all neutrals and maybe 1 accent color? Easy peasy, and should coordinate even if done in the dark 😜. Doesn't require a lot of clothes either. Has been done with as few 30 pieces. Google "333 project" or "capsule wardrobe." Fascinating.

    I second amazon and zappos for free shipping and returns. I also use ebay but you have to know what size and brand, as many sellers do not offer returns. Can get high quality clothing on ebay for good deal

  10. Wow, this is so weird. I've been meeting to make this exact post for a long time. I just feel like I'm not quite stylish enough. I feel like when I was young, I could get away with it.  But as you get older, I feel like you have to be more stylish.

    That said, I am really really bad at spending money on myself. So I can't work up the nerve to shop anywhere much more expensive than target and buying a shirt for $50 is really just out of the question. And like you, there is no way I'm going to wear anything if I can't just throw it in the washing machine.

    Also working against me is the fact that I don't think anyone I work with is better dressed than me.  It's mostly all business casual and/or scrubs.

  11. I do the online shop at a discount too. I usually buy a few different sizes and keep the one that fits. It's an amazing concept! Definitely Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy are constantly running sales (Take 40% off your entire order) and things come out pretty reasonable! Just make sure you buy at a place with free returns or return to store option ;)

  12. Great suggestions. I love the online styling concept. And the shopping sales concept. Also the idea of purchasing just one quality outfit a season, as over time, it will build up. This all makes sense! Maybe after the boards... a treat if I pass! Thanks all.

  13. Stitch fix, stitch fix, stitch fix. I am an OB/GYN resident and I love it. Half of my department uses it now and we all look better for it.


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