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Dressing The Part - Sara Cornell

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Dressing The Part

April 11th, 2016

For the first time in three decades I am single.  As in not romantically involved with someone.  It’s a weird feeling.  I first noticed it (the feeling, not the fact that I was single) the other morning when I was getting dressed.  I was standing in my closet and I didn’t know what to wear.  It wasn’t my typical fashion conundrum.  It was deeper than that.  I didn’t know how to dress myself because I couldn’t identify myself.Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 1.48.50 PM

Who was I?

I was neither wife nor partner nor lover.  My days as dressing as a practical hands-on mother were long gone.  As my own boss I have the freedom to show up in my PJs if I choose.  And the move to a new house and a new closet had left me living out of a suitcase for far too long.

I didn’t know where to find my clothes, and once I did, they didn’t seem to make sense to me.  All the people for whom I had donned an outfit – either for sensible or sensual reasons, were gone from my life.

When I was first married and childless I was the up and coming career girl.  I wore suits and stockings and pumps and played dress up of sorts, trying to look older and more polished because I was not only a professional, but someone’s wife.Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 1.52.50 PM

Then the babies came, and my body changed, and I had an identity crisis, but that was OK because when you have babies you are supposed to question who you are and what the hell you are doing.  But the wardrobe is simple.  Gone are the suits that don’t fit and the pumps that are impractical, not to mention too tight, because your feet grew a full size with each pregnancy.  All you wear are jeans, T-Shirts, and baggy sweaters to hide the flap of pregnancy skin and droopy boobs.

And after a certain point, when you have time and energy to care, you seamlessly morph into sports bras and Lululemon pants and running shoes because that’s what young moms  – and even older moms – wear.  It’s practical, and the spandex gives you hope that one day you may actually get your old body back.

Then one day my kids were a bit older and gone most of the day, and my husband was gone all of the time, and I fell in love and started having an affair.  Gone were the sports bras and practical panties.  I dressed for love.  I dressed for sex and adventure.  I washed and styled my hair.  I wore lacy things and skinny jeans and pretty tops.  I was dressing for a reason.  I was dressing for someone.

The in between stage – between being married and divorced and now single – was like a costume box.  Sometimes I had to dress like a wife, or a mother, or a lover, or a businessperson or someone going to court.  There was a mental script for each day, and the days when I wore many hats, well, those days I wore many clothes, like layers of a personality. There was some freedom in my wardrobe choices, and I found myself buying new things and trying new looks to capture the essence of who I was at that moment or who I was going to be later in the day.Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 1.53.37 PM

Now that I am single I can dress without thought.  But I’m not sure what to wear.  Nobody will notice if I wear a lacy thong or boy shorts; should I put some effort into my outfit if I’m dressing only for myself?  Do I want to be comfortable or fashionable?  Do I care, if nobody is there to mention that I look pretty or sexy?

My body has changed – shrunken with fatigue and sadness, so even the familiar outfits hang differently and look strange.  The unpredictable New England weather seems to be taunting me with extreme temperatures one day to the next, making me unsure if I should wear a sweater or a sleeveless dress.

Perhaps when the temperatures settle and my mind settles into its new role as simply me, my ability to dress will come more naturally.  Maybe I’ll find new favorites, or a whole new wardrobe, or maybe I’ll just find that regardless of what I’m wearing, I’m comfortable with who I am.SARA-CORNELL-0995





  • Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Before the Industrial Revolution in the West (which happened first to the textile industry because textiles are so friggin’ hard to make), most people had two suits of clothes: one for work and one for church. These two suits were forever being altered, patched, mended and preserved, right up until the owner died, whereupon the work suit was handed-down to relatives and the church suit was used to clothe the corpse, unless the deceased was exceptionally poor and was buried only in a shroud (a kind of body-bag).

    One’s work clothes announced one’s role: gentleman or lady, mechanic, farmer, etc. Finery was looked down upon as being too continental (meaning French), too elitist or too impractical. Adding to one’s wardrobe was time consuming and expensive, which partly explains why the notoriously tight-fisted Massachusetts General Court voted to outfit Samuel Adams with some nice threads for his trip down to Philadelphia to serve in the Second Continental Congress.

    Just thought you’d like to know…

    Personally, I subscribe to Ian Dury’s view:

    “Every bit of clothing ought to make you pretty
    You can cut the clothing, grey is such a pity
    I should wear the clothing of Mr. Walter Mitty
    See my tailor, he’s called Simon, I know it’s going to fit”

    -Ian Dury and the Blockheads, “Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll”

  • Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Since I still have a day job, I have a business casual wardrobe. And I dress to be comfortable, most of the time. Clothes that require a lot of attention – ironing, or, stars forbid, DRY CLEANING – have mostly gone by the wayside. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

    Is it comfy? Are the colors and cut flattering to me? How do I feel when I wear it?

    I still keep some “dress-up clothes,” and sometimes I even put them on when I am home, writing, to help me get my head into a character. But more and more, I feel like this too shall pass, that clothes just aren’t that important in the big scheme of things.

  • Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 1:40 pm
    nicki said:

    Sara- I really felt this piece. Interesting how clothing shifts as we do. When I wear all black, (sometimes unconsciously) I have to remind myself other colors exist and that I’m not perpetually depressed. Thanks for sharing.

  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016 at 8:14 am
    Tara Dillard said:

    You will like, An Island Garden, by Celia Thaxter. She wrote it at the turn of the century. How she tends that garden is about many moments of dirt on her hands, and something more special. Won’t give it away. When you read it I hope you’ll know why I bother leaving this message.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  • Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Love this post. I, too, am struggling with who I am now and how am I going to dress. Not sure what part to play anymore. Might be a god time for a total style revamp.

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