Like many, I’ve struggled with weight since adolescence. Post-childbirth, the battle intensified. Post-forty, my metabolism began to creep. Post-fifty, surgeries and other health setbacks took their toll.
A year ago, at 64, I was the heaviest I’d ever been.
Clothes shopping, bearable when I still fit into size-12 jeans, became a depressing chore. I believed I shouldn’t reward myself with nice clothes until I lost weight. Yet diets didn’t work anymore. Nothing did. I’d lose a few pounds, only to gain them back, plus some. I lived in sweats, muumuu-like tunics and black stretchy pants – camouflage for the bust-to-thigh region.
Feeling too frumpy to go out, I cancelled social engagements and spent more time alone. No stranger to depression, I recognized the warning signs.
My older sister, Roxanne, has always managed to look fresh and stylish. Catching up over coffee at my house, I admired her outfit. Slim dark jeans, a silver pendant and ankle boots.
“You’re looking downright hip,” I said.
She squinted at me, trying to gauge whether I was being sarcastic.
“No, seriously. In a thoroughly age-appropriate way. New boyfriend?”
“Nope,” she said. “I’ve been refining my ‘capsule wardrobe.’ Get your laptop. I’ll show you.”
Clicking through a series of fashion blogs and websites, she explained the concept. Basically, a capsule wardrobe is a small, carefully curated collection of versatile, well-loved clothing that changes, as needed, with the seasons.
With a goal of twenty-five to thirty core items, my sister had winnowed her wardrobe to the essentials. Two pair of jeans, casual black slacks, tops of varying sleeve lengths and colors, a long jersey dress, a striped sweater and a blazer. Navy, black and white predominated, punctuated with pops of orange, her current favorite color.
“You should try it,” she said.
“Not until I lose some weight.”
The next time we met for coffee, she was wearing the same jeans I’d last seen her in, but with a different top, and the navy blazer with the sleeves cuffed, revealing striped lining. I was in my usual, black joggers and a voluminous old tee.
“You always look so put together,” I said, with an envious sigh. “Like the proverbial little black dress, transformed by a string of pearls or a scarf.”
“It’s my capsule wardrobe,” she said.
“This is my capsule,” I said, with a clownish frown.
The next time we got together, she was in the long dress, with espadrilles and her favorite silver necklace.
“Maybe I should give this capsule thing a try, for the weight I am right now.”
She beamed, as if this was a moment she’d been waiting for.
“First, empty your closet,” she said. “Get everything that doesn’t fit out of your sight.”
That meant most of my wardrobe, all purchased during those rare interludes when I’d reached my goal weight. Flirty summer dresses. Stacks of jeans in half-a-dozen sizes. Clinging to dozens of barely-worn items, meant I’d also clung to a version of my body I haven’t known for over a dozen years. As I slipped these symbols of failure from their hangers, I felt lighter, as if an emotional anchor were being lifted from my chest.
Next, following Roxanne’s instructions, I isolated the few pieces that fit me and that I felt good in. It didn’t take long. Black leggings. A long denim shirt. A couple tunics that are more fashion statement than shapeless sack.
I sent my sister a photo of my tiny wardrobe.
“Good work,” she texted back.
She suggested I begin building my capsule by adding a few tops, some lighter-toned leggings, and, gulp, a pair of jeans.
The next day, I drove to the mall to shop – not as punishment or reward, but for my actual body. With that mindset, trying on jeans wasn’t as demoralizing as I’d feared. I found a pair of size 18s I could wear without getting a gut ache or cringing when I looked in the mirror.
For many of us, accepting and appreciating our bodies as they are, not the way magazines and movies show us they should be, or the way they were years ago, is hard. Giving myself permission to buy clothing for my now body hasn’t miraculously ended decades of wishing I were thinner. But I don’t dread getting dressed in the morning. The contrast between a closet full of clothes that remind me of what I’m not and a small collection that affirms who I am, and that fits and flatters, is proof that less really can be more.
Dorothy Rice is the author of Gray Is the New Black: A Memoir of Self-Acceptance. You can find her at https://dorothyriceauthor.com.