Recently a reader wrote to me the following words, "I have a really hard time not feeling guilty spending money on clothes. It seems that it would be better to donate the money or spend it on bills and have to's." She went on to ask if I could touch the topic of taking care of oneself, and justifying the expense of doing so. A timely request, because I was planning on addressing the topic of wardrobe building in contrast to wardrobe collecting. The question and my topic go hand in hand; it will become clearer how in just a moment.
A lot of women feel this way, guilty, that is, about spending money on matters of personal appearance. Many such women are mothers, and running a house and home means that the food, clothing, shelter, and education (not to mention recreation) needs seem to never stop. And maybe money is even tighter because the decision has been made to try to make it on one income for the sake of the kids. If you are one of these women, please, hear me out. I know you want to.
First of all, I think it helps to see the maintenance of one's personal appearance as a "have-to", to borrow the words of the inquiring reader. We all have to wear clothing, we all have to get hair cuts, we all have to follow the basic rules of hygiene. I don't think that any guilt ridden soul out there would deny these facts. And unless you are shopping at some store I'm unaware of, even ugly clothes aren't free. So, like it or not, the mere fact that you live in a civilization means that you are spending some resources on your appearance.
Secondly, you are worth it. You are an individual of inestimatable dignity and worth. You are beautiful and it is not vain to desire to be found beautiful. Not only is it in your nature to desire beauty, it is also your birthright to "subdue the earth." In general, this concept means to subordinate and coordinate the material world to higher purposes. Even in things as apparently trivial as what one chooses to wear, the opportunity to put the stamp of personal creative genius on a material reality exists. In utilizing the resources around you to bring out your best and most beautiful features, you are using your "talents" of both rationality and unique physical attributes.
And finally, the people in your care are worth it and so is your role, whether it is outside the home or not. I know it's something of a cliche, but dressing well truly is a gift to those around you. And this is true in more than just the obvious aesthetic sense; when you feel confident and prepped for action, you just take care of business better. And who doesn't want to be better at whatever it is they do? And yes, I do understand that life can be hard at times, but dressing the part doesn't make it any easier. Rather than serving as a visual chastisement to those around you, choose to be a reminder that life is beautiful, too.
So what's a girl to do when money is an issue, but she still wants to look her best? She needs to build her wardrobe according to her budget, rather than collecting. Collecting is my term for what happens when you don't give your wardrobe thought - random purchases, emotional splurges, indiscriminate acceptance of sister hand me downs, and last minute panic buys, the sum total of which is a packed closet and nothing to wear. Building is everything collecting is not. It is determining what looks best (according to your body type and coloring) and makes you feel fabulous because it expresses you. Building means getting rid of everything in your closet that doesn't meet this standard. Building means planning out what you need to optimize the pieces that survived the culling and to meet your current needs. And finally, it means acquiring those pieces methodically. Sum total of building? A smaller but highly functioning wardrobe that does justice to you.
Even if you think you have no budget for your wardrobe, you will be surprised what happens when you start thinking and planning. Like I pointed out above, looking bad isn't free (in more ways than one!). By acting with intention you will make less mistakes that cost you money. When a gift card comes your way or a family member insists that you tell them what to get you for Christmas, you will know what to do because you are prepared!