And I liked it

I found myself despondent, wandering around the mall on a Friday afternoon after dropping my kids off with their dad, looking for something, anything to purchase that would make me feel better, look better, you know, just be better. I was going out later and I had nothing to wear.

That’s a lie, actually. I probably own a dozen or more pairs of jeans, and have a double closet full of shirts, sweaters and dresses. Earlier that day I stood in the middle of my room and tried everything on. Some items I purchased before my kids were born. Might as well chuck those; moms and midriffs don’t mix. Some I bought because they were cheap and on-sale, were now ill-fitting—having shrunk and stretched in the wash. Toss them into the rag pile too. Some clothes I clearly purchased while I was drunk, or my mother bought me when she was drunk. How much time, energy and money have I spent on wearing stuff that I actually don’t like?

That’s what snapped in me as I felt up the sweaters on the hangers at The Loft. In a panic, I ran to the Gap. Desperate, I stumbled into Target. But everything was basically the same—cheaply made, to be discarded after wearing it a few times. I can’t afford designer clothes and I knew that if I bought something at the mall, I’d feel the exact same way in another week or so. So I did something completely out of character. I went to Joann Fabrics and bought one yard of black jersey knit on the remnant’s rack for $5.50, came back home and sewed my own damn dress.

My approach was recklessly simple: I took a dolman sleeve tee-shirt that I liked (but had unfortunately pilled) and I traced it with a piece of chalk onto the fabric. I lengthened the torso so it would function as a dress. Then I cut two out and sewed them together. Voila, a dress. I was generous in my sizing estimates, so took me two fittings to get it right, pinching here and there, taking it in an inch or so more. After an hour, I ended up with was a dress specifically designed to fit me—or at least, hacked together to fit. Jersey won’t fray, but I was feeling adventurous and folded over the neck and sleeve edges and finished the seam with some neat, pink top-stitching. I put on my dress and some leggings and felt good. I felt damn good.

And then the next day I put it on again. This time, folding up the skirt inside the shirt and wearing it with jeans. The day after, I discovered that it looked nice belted. The day after with leggings and a colorful cardigan, the day after with a scarf and heels. My dress could be sassy, sexy or conservative, depending on how I wore it and with what.

By the time the first week rolled around, it became clear I didn’t need or even want the bulk of my wardrobe. One custom dress was worth more than hundreds of off-the-rack pieces.

A seam tore around the eighth or ninth day, and I realized it might be wise to add a second black dress to the rotation, so I purchased another yard of jersey (I repaired the seam and haven’t gotten around to sewing a second dress, but that’s on my list of things-to-do). I can see adding a lighter color, heather or gray, for spring and summer—having a staple wardrobe of four or five pieces, plus accessories.

And the thing is, I’m not a fashion stoic. I’m not a minimalist either. I’m your average 30-something American lady with a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. Average build. Average income. But beyond the practical reasons for adopting a less-is-more approaching to clothing, there are plenty of ethical considerations that shouldn’t be ignored.

I’m still wearing my dress and I plan to continue wearing it as long as it will hold out—in which instance, I’ll make a new dress. My closet has been liberated. The time and energy I was wasting putting together outfits can be used elsewhere. And the money I was spending on clothes is now freed up for other, more important purchases.

Like boots.

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Written by Melissa Jo Hill.

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