I had an interesting run in on campus the other day as I was racing in between meetings (I have two offices on opposite sides of campus. Completely logical, no? Not the most convenient, but certainly keeps me fit!) As I was scurrying forward between my set coordinates I naturally had to stop for a quick coffee. As the automatic doors swooshed open, I passed by a woman who took in my look from head to toe and met my eyes smiling. She gushed sweetly over how much she loved my outfit. “I always admire how beautifully you dress,” she sighed.
Apparently my reputation preceded me (or I drink way too much coffee in this particular campus cafe), because I didn’t remember meeting the woman before. However, I acknowledge that I’m often in a fog when I’m undercaffeinated and that I definitely stand out amidst the sea of denim and jersey and practical shoes, so she may have spotted me many times from afar. I thanked her smiling and as I turned to go, my eye on the barista and that special caramel-colored elixir of life, she said, “It’s nice to see so much effort. Enjoy it now – Just wait till you’re married!” She waved gaily at me as the doors swished together behind her, clearly not noticing my wedding band.
There wasn’t a malicious tone in the entirety of anything that lovely woman said. But, as I glanced down at my stunning engagement and wedding rings, as much a part of me as my heartbeat for the last 6+ years, I realized a fundamental flaw in the way so many of us think.
The problem that struck me, however innocuously spoken, was that it suggested putting the effort into my appearance has nothing to do with me… but exists, on some level, to attract and ensnare a husband. Or will only last so long until there are other people in my life that will take the time and energy I now put into myself. At which point self-love will cease.
Self-love shouldn’t have an age limit. A milestone limit. A expiration date. We should always invest in the people we love, take pride in the work that we do, and be selfless when it comes to how much we love. But we should never ever let any of those things supplant the investment we put into ourselves. I shared this event with my husband while we were toasting our own wedding anniversary last week. He laughed and said, “I actually think you put in MORE effort since we got married!”
I think about the way my husband’s face lights up when he sees me come out of my closet or come down the stairs in the morning, dressed to the nines. I love my husband something fierce and love how much he loves my style. I love when he praises a particular outfit or takes the time to notice how perfectly my shoes match the red beading along the neckline of a 1950’s dress. It warms my heart when he whispers in my ear how beautiful I am and tells me “I love the way people look at you when you walk into a room.” I’m smitten by how boldly he charges into vintage stores like a man on a mission to find me birthday gifts and how my daily outfits are a ritual for us now that we photograph together. But, although I cherish the part of our relationship that shares in celebrating my aesthetic, I still don’t dress for him. I dress for me.
One of my best friends wrote me a few months ago and commented on how much she loved the blog and had begun amassing her own collection of 1950’s frockery (Eeeexcellent. I’ve converted another into the fold!). She laughed as she told me she hadn’t spent this much money on clothing in years, but found herself splurging on more than a few vintage dresses. She shrugged and said she was “investing in her happiness.” I couldn’t think of a more perfect, poignant, succinct way to say something so profound. Those four little words say everything.
Wouldn’t you be a better wife, mother, friend, neighbor, master of the universe if you take the time to invest in your own happiness? Who says that taking part in life events – a stunning career, new wife or husband, children – necessitates giving up the time you spend on yourself? True, there are only so many hours in the day and as we get busier, those days of languishing in a hammock while being fanned with palm fronds may no longer be on the agenda (if they ever were in the first place), but who’s to say that waking up every morning and being excited about what you put on your body can’t be? Or adding a flick to your eyeliner? Or taking your sketch pad to the beach for an hour. Or reading a chapter of your favorite book. The more you invest in yourself, the more you can invest in others.
As I shuffled forward in the coffee queue and was rewarded for my patience with my flat white and one of those cuter-than-cute mini shortbread biscuits, I was still troubled by the stranger who shared a glimpse into the reality she thrusts upon herself. Do we really run out of time for ourselves the older we get, the more responsibilities we take on? Or do we simply feel less and less worth it? As if we are somehow less deserving as we age. And the less deserving we feel of our own beauty and celebration, the less deserving those around us will believe us to be. And perhaps therein lies the root of cultural flaw that leaves aging women feeling obsolete and of diminishing worth, instead of wearing the wisdom (and the fab shoe collection) we accumulate from experience with the pride and the awe it deserves. If we instead invest in our happiness a bit each day, we can think of self-celebration a bit like a happiness IRA – it will return dividends in the future.
Mr. Dressed and I fly off on Sunday to Fiji to celebrate one of my very best friends getting married. As I straighten her dress and help her slip on her shoes, I hope to share in the excitement for the day to come (which she won’t remember a single second of, cause that’s just how the wedding day goes) and am so excited for the future they’ll share. But I also hope she, like me, never sees marriage as an ending of herself. True, it’s an incredible adventure for the “us” she and her husband to be are creating, but there is (and should) always be a space for the “her” she should never leave behind.
So, how have you invested in your happiness today?
Dress: Dear Golden Vintage (similar modern or vintage here, here, here & here)
Necklace: Gift (similar here & here)
Belt: Modern Millie (similar here & here)
Parasol: on loan from Mo-Mo’s Vintage (similar here & here)
Bag: Vintage (same bag found here!)
Shoes: Brian Atwood, thrifted (similar here, here, & here)