Crosspost: Ex-Fundamental Girl Goes Clothes Shopping

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on May 27, 2013.

"Technically I was the young person in grandma style."

“Technically I was the young person in grandma style.”

You remember that scene in Tangled where the little girls have to fix Rapunzel’s hair up? That’s totally me in the clothing shop. I’m pretty sure most 8-year-olds know more about women’s clothing to me.

I hate clothes shopping. It’s painfully difficult for me. One would think it’s as simple as trying on clothes, fitting them, coming up with the money, and paying a cashier. Actually it’s a lot harder than that.

First, I never bought clothes at the store as a kid other than the thrift shop. From grade school until high school, I had maybe two or three store-bought dresses that I didn’t actually buy; my aunts/grandma bought them. The rest of my clothes came from thrift shops, garage sales, or were home sewn (the insane part is that some of my garage sale dresses were not only worn by my family for the next six years, but were still being worn by other little girls I knew 15 years later. Classic homeschool). My grandma bought me my first pair of store-bought shoes when I was 16, so I wouldn’t get made fun of while taking driver’s ed at the high school.

Second, I wore mostly dresses, or other baggy clothes, and all my clothes were 100% cotten (the Old Testament says don’t wear mixed clothing). So even if all my dresses had come from the store, it wouldn’t have transferred to today very well.

I didn’t learn…..

1) What fits me. I wore baggy clothes. What’s normal size?

2) About undershirts. OMG I had no idea why people wore them until I was in my 20s (I never wore them; I wore baggy T-shifts), and I still wonder what the heck sometimes.

3) Old people’s style verses young people’s style. Technically I was the young person in grandma style.

4) All about pants. When do I need a belt? What’s too low? I didn’t wear belts on pants as a kid. I wore dresses, elastic pants,and skirts that included a belt.

This is why today was particularly painful for me. My clothes are wearing out like crazy because I’m an extreme minimalist, and the few shifts I did have shrunk like crazy when they accidentally got put in the dryer (no dryer in SE Asia = smaller clothes). So I went to the store to buy summer clothes, and stared at the mirror trying to figure out what size is appropriate. I tried on the small, then extra small, then small again.

I did better today than normal. I think I figured out which shirts needed an undershirt. I think I found a pair of shorts that won’t show my butt-crack. Being back in the US helps because US sizes do fit me better, but only time will tell whether my new style looks like a 50-year-old instead of a mid-twenties girl.

Perhaps many young adults struggle with sizing and style, and I am one to believe setting they style is more fun than conforming to it anyway. But I think for me, I am sent in frustration upon walking into a clothing store because I remember what it was like to accidently buy shirts too short because I had never bought shirts to go with shorts. And I remember the humility of wearing pants that didn’t fit right because I had never bought pants at the store. Young people take many things for granted, and one of those things is learning how to clothes shop. I didn’t learn it until college.

Anyone else never shopped as a kid? How was learning to buy clothes for you?

22 comments

  • Even as a public schooler (public schooled k-6) I wore a ton if hand me downs. In high school I wore more storebought clothes but as I was shopping with my parents – sometimes both of them – looking for modesty more than style and my mom pushed her 40 year old tastes on me – I never really learned how to shop either.
    I get soooo stressed shopping for clothes. I dumped the modesty stuff ages ago but it still creeps up sometimes.
    But hey, I bought a pair of shorts this weekend that make my booty look great (instead of just technically fitting) – so I am making improvements 🙂

  • Wow this is a huge deal for me. I wish you’d say more what you learned and not what you don’t know. I have so much trouble explaining to people that I don’t understand basics and they just jump in at a really high level. You never explained undershirts. Wtf is an undershirt? Should I be wearing more shirts? Are you always supposed to wear more shirts? Is that what people mean by layering? I thought they meant a sweater.

    I think it’s a major accomplishment to figure this stuff out. Do you think you could write some kind of primer for the rest of us?

    • I should definitely but also scared of getting it wrong? But for example, I didn’t know I needed an undershirt for short shirts because I had only worn baggy shirts or that it can help with no sleeves. I learned this the hard way.

      • I’m not sure the term “undershirt” is the correct term :). There are camisoles (spaghetti strap shirts) and you can later under other shirts, and then you can also layer a tank top or another tshirt under another shirt for a casual look :). And I don’t think you “need” to layer any shirt under another shirt because the shirt is too short – the shirt shouldn’t be too short to begin with. It looks dorky most of the time if you bend over and people see shirt tucked in under a shirt (if that’s what you were talking about…). Just buy a shirt that is long enough to be the appropriate length for you in the first place – long shirts are easy to find now in stores. Short shirts were “in” when I was in high school so it was difficult then. Hope that helps! 🙂

      • I dunno. Even my long shirts are often not long enough because I never fit the shorts right. I’ve gotten in trouble and been made to wear layers for this reason alone. Maybe that’s my real problem. I need short lessons.

        But yes, I was talking about spaghetti strap kinds. I don’t know what they are called but not talking about tucking something in. I have tucked in clothes since I was a kid. You brought up other bad memory. Gosh I hated that my mom made me tuck in my shirts. but I could use me taking me to the stores. No one has ever taught me anything.

      • Did my last comment not go through? I haven’t tucked in shirts since I was a kid. Talk about bad memories. My mom made me tuck in shirts, and I hated it. I did mean the spaghetti strap kind but I have no idea what you call those shirts. But they are for layers.

        I think all shirts are not the right length for me and the layers help me. I’m in all sorts of positions constantly, but I’m probably not fitting my shorts right either. I could use your help.

      • Hahaha. 🙂 I’ll contact you on your blog. Maybe we can set up a Skype date or something and I can help you out. 🙂

  • Oh, goodness, yes. If we bought new clothing, it was often from catalogs. Shortly after I started wearing “normal” [though baggy] clothes, I got pregnant. Breastfeeding made shopping even more complicated!

    At first I shopped at “old lady” stores where the styles were more familiar. I keep dressing younger now, so by the time I’m a grandma, I’ll probably shop at Wet Seal. 🙂

    I still agonize over all the choices, but I no longer hear my mom’s critical voice in my head. It does get easier.

  • Even today I often get things that are too big for me, though I’ve never been a size small. Today I’m wearing a size XL men’s shirt and some girl has the cheek to say I need two sizes smaller (that would fit my waist but stretch uncomfortably tight elsewhere.) I got my first real pair of shorts on clearance last September (you can’t count shorts that are an inch longer than the knee) and they’re mid-thigh and I’ve been having a hard time adjusting to those. I’m constantly thinking they’re too short/tight and my husband thinks they look fantastic. Even by the standards of the Christian college where we get our internet these shorts are just fine.

    We recently moved and I was shocked at how much clothing I had that I never wore anymore because it was just all frumpy. Still have some to get rid of but it’s hard when you think it looks just fine but other people don’t agree.

    • Then again, maybe I shouldn’t trust my husband’s judgment on what is too short or too tight for wearing out in public.

      • Your last comment made me smile because my husband is like that too–he loves seeing me in stuff that looks kind of sexy, but sometimes I notice the level of attention he’s paying & go, hm, maybe more attention-grabbing than I want? (I remember this one skirt–a gift–that turned out to be so tight I could barely walk, and he was just staring at me and going, “Maybe you could wear it once in a while?… On special occasions?” and I was like, “Dude, the way you’re looking at me, I can only think of one kind of ‘occasion’ I’d better wear it to!”) I actually have a small category of clothes for “just around the house b/c my husband likes me in them.” I know what you mean about having trouble adusting to mid-thigh shorts too–I would find myself tugging them down, etc. I ended up just choosing not to wear stuff that (even though it is decent by general cultural standards) made me self-conscious. I hate feeling self-conscious about my clothes and it makes me less confident with people. That’s the thing. Other people’s opinions on what you should wear only go so far–I think the real thing is finding what makes you feel good when you’re wearing it. It may be a matter of finding a balance–the thing that makes you feel attractive but not self-conscious, basically.

  • I completely understand. I had no clue how sizing worked when I first went shopping on my own. I think I tried on a million things.

    My biggest frustration comes from allowing myself to wear clothes that look feminine. That was never allowed in my household. It was always sweats, T shirts, loose fitting jeans. Skirts were to the ankle, turtlenecks accompanied the skirts. There was never anything feminine or frilly, no lace, no pinks or purples or bright colors or flower patterns….you get the idea.

    A few weeks ago I was bold and daring and bought a tank top with lace trim. In PINK! Ok, so it’s a small lace and the pink is more of a salmon color, and I bought it two size two big, but hey – baby steps, right?

  • I don’t have your same experience, but I’ve spent a good bit of time studying how to dress. The single most useful resource I have is the blog, “Already Pretty.” Here is a page where she has a bunch of tutorial type posts listed out:

    http://www.alreadypretty.com/greatest-hits

    And here is one that specifically addresses basic questions of fit and flattery: http://www.alreadypretty.com/2010/07/what-is-flattering.html

  • I understand where you are coming from. I was not homeschooled (attended public school all 12 years) my clothes were store bought but I had a mother who made all the clothes decisions, a lot of times just went to the store and bought what she thought we should wear. Or overrode our decisions in the store if we disagreed with her choices. As an adult it has taken a long time to become comfortable trusting my own judgment on what looks good and what doesn’t.

  • I remember the first time I realized I WASNT A SIZE 20!!!!
    It was like I had suddenly lost 30 pounds. The actual thing that happened is I began wearing my size instead of “the size that wont be tight on your chest” size.
    I am still plus-sized, but I can wear a regular-medium shirt without feeling like I am placing my chest on display! Little baby steps and we will make it!

  • whitechocolatelatte

    Finding the right size has always been a little tricky for me, because everything was supposed to be pretty loose. One fun trick I found this year is free personal shoppers. 🙂 Macy’s, J.Crew, and Banana Republic have them — you go in, tell them what you are looking for, and they pick out sizes, cuts, and colors they think would be good for you. It was a blast! There’s definitely a little sales pressure, but if you’re ok saying no to their suggestions and telling them what you like, it can be a great time!

  • Oh my gosh, yes! After being homeschooled my whole life in a conservative community where my family was scorned for wearing “immodest” skirts shorter than mid-calf, I went away to college with a wardrobe of frumpy stuff I’d been wearing since the start of puberty! They’d been hand-me-downed through who knows how many other homeschool families before reaching me. Most of the items were so sack-like that it really didn’t matter if I’d grown or filled out any during that time or not. “Fit” meant simply that it covered all the necessary skin and it didn’t cling in a “revealing” way. Fortunately, some dorm-mates helped me weed out many garments which would have been particularly embarrassing if I hadn’t been clueless. However, I didn’t know how to replace them with anything more appropriate. I am sorry to admit that 7 years after graduating college, I still pull some of the remaining items out of my closet and wear them occasionally. Seriously, hand-me-down thrift shop dresses and shirts I had as a child! Although I’ve had help from older female friends when I needed to select a business outfit for job interviews or the like, I still really struggle to determine in a fitting room whether something fits the way it’s meant to or not. I can’t bring myself to wear shorts above the knee — I try now and then but feel like everyone must be staring at me wondering if I’m working the streets. And aside from all the bewilderment regarding style and fit, the prices of new clothes in even an outlet store still blow my mind! It’s a weird, weird real world, isn’t it?

  • Haha, I begged a good friend of mine to come clothes shopping with me to help me buy my first pair of pants. 😀 Studying fashion magazines and trial and error have helped me develop my own style that I like. 🙂

  • I cannot figure out jeans!!! I have not found a single pair that fits me!!! and almost all shirts are too short! Clothes are way too confusing when you grew up on homemade dresses and thrift store stuff!!!

  • I’m thankful my Mom didn’t dress me and my siblings so conservatively, but she always pressured me to buy things a size or two too big so that I could “grow into it.” My Mom grew up incredibly poor and still acts like she doesn’t have money for full priced things, so she never would pay for “expensive” well fitting clothes for me. It always had to be on clearance or at the thrift store and a size bigger so we wouldn’t have to buy more clothes once I grew more. Which inevitably meant baggy jeans and really loose shirts. I hit my maximum height and weight at 15, but it took me several more years to realize that I wasn’t ever going to “grow into” most of my clothes.
    Also my Mom has a completely different body type than I do and suggested clothes for me based on the insecurities she had about her own body. She is short, muscular and big chested while I’m tall, thin and pretty delicate (also have muscular dystrophy which has slowly gotten worse over the years–my legs and arms are quite thin). She always would say things like, “Oh, that’s too low. Guys are only going to focus on one thing with that shirt,” when I’d pick out V-neck shirts, even though I’m not chesty at all.
    Once I discovered how nice I look with fitted clothing, it really increased my confidence. Also it took a while to get over thinking that fitted clothes equaled immodest clothing. Dressing to my body type makes me look and feel so much better!
    Now I love taking friends clothes shopping and helping them discover clothes that look and feel great. I remember how frustrating it was as a teenager trying to find pants that fit my changing shape or shirts that looked and felt nice. I was so clueless and didn’t get much guidance from my Mom on fashion or how things should fit. She would get impatient and just want to find something that was good enough and be done shopping. Now I’ve realized that taking up to a few hours to slowly browse and take my time to find something that’s quality and looks really good is more helpful. Instead of trying to buy a whole outfit in a rush, sometimes I just look for one item of clothing–one trip to hunt for jeans, another to look for work pants, another trip to the mall just for scarves and jewelry, etc. It makes me feel less stressed if I tell myself sometimes that I don’t have to worry about finding anything more than a cute pair of earrings on this visit to the mall. Other times I totally hit the jackpot and find a bunch of stuff that looks great. (oh and there are websites now like eShakti.com that make really affordable custom clothes, so it’s much easier these days to buy clothes that will fit all manner of body types.)

  • I definitely understand your post. As a little girl, most of my clothes were picked out by my grandfather, who cared for me while my mother worked. For an older man, he had very definite ideas about how little girls should dress (frilly dresses and the like, even though I identified as a tomboy pretty early on). As well-meaning as my grandfather was, he had it in his mind that I was to dress this way forever. I still had my picture taken in “Christmas dresses” when I was eleven years old. Ironically enough, eleven was the age when many of my friends started to wear makeup and clothes such as t-shirts and polo shirts from the “teenager stores” to accentuate their pubescent bodies. I’m not sure exactly why, but I was afraid to dress like that because I was afraid of eventually turning into a slut. I refused to shop at those stores, insisting on buying my clothes in the children’s department of a regional department store instead (I was very skinny.). All of my shorts, skirts, and dresses absolutely HAD to go past my knees. I was constantly bullied for my clothing choices all throughout the latter half of elementary school and the former half of middle school. I went through approximately a year and a half of dressing somewhat decent in a desperate attempt to fit in… until I met a very special guy, the only guy I’ve ever been truly attracted to. We have known and liked one another for several years, and we are currently trying out a form of dating that seems to work for us. I’m very grateful that he seems to like and pay more attention to who I am on the inside versus the outside, and I do my best to return the favor. We rarely compliment each other on our physical appearances, and that is just fine with me. This drives my mother, my grandmother, and my best friend absolutely crazy, but I don’t think appearance matters nearly as much as “good Christian women” are supposed to place on it. I say all of this as a young Christian woman (not fundie, but moderate Calvinist).

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