The Thinking 

Beyond Ugly Jeans and Exercise Wear

October 18, 2012


Girl Beside a Stream, Arthur Rackham

LAUREN writes:

I am eight weeks post partum with our third child and my husband has given me the opportunity to purchase some new clothes. I spent much of this pregnancy wearing dresses (mostly because it was a hot summer), but I felt much more feminine in them. Interestingly, it seemed to help my overall outlook toward my day-to-day duties, most likely because I felt attractive. I would like to continue wearing dresses or skirts as opposed to going back to jeans for my everyday wear, but do not know where to shop. A morning trip to my local Kohls department store proved worthless. Do you have any recommendations for where to shop for simple feminine clothing that will be comfortable and affordable for everyday use? I am 33 years old and although I want to dress modestly, I don’t want to be frumpy. Thanks in advance for any suggestions that you can make. A quick Yahoo search for “housewives and traditional dress” yielded many results for dressing like the “Real Housewives of …. County”! I am looking now on the Lands End website.

 Laura writes:

Many readers offered suggestions for places to buy pretty, non-frumpy clothes in the previous posts herehere, and here. The Internet offers many options. Here also is a post about the modern trend of women in pants. Further reflections on immodesty can be found here, here, here, and here.

I also recommend second hand clothing stores, which often have great finds, such as designer dresses. I agree with you that dressing well when at home makes a big difference in one’s mood.

Good luck, and congratulations on your new baby.

—– Comments ——

Hurricane Betsy writes:

On women, all jeans are ugly, all the time. I do physical labor in harsh surroundings and do not wear jeans to do so. Nice cotton pants, yes (you can’t wear a dress in heavy brush forests) but never jeans. I have seen beautiful women with perfect bodies wear jeans and they may as well be Quasimodo, the effect is so painful to look at. Why are women so stupid?


Jeanette V. writes:

 On the topic of how we dress, it seems the way I dress is having an impact on my woman friends.  I mostly wear dresses or long tunic tops with leggings.  I have gotten many complements on the way I dress.   The nice part I really hate dressing up but yes I can look nice and feminine and still be casual.

 Here is another of my finds.  I buy her tops which are more like short dress and pair them with leggings. But she also sells dresses.  She also has a shop on ebay.

 Also don’t rule out previously worn dresses.  I have a few brands I like and don’t mind wearing used dresses.

Christine writes:

In response to Lauren’s question about where to find good skirts, I definitely agree with your advice to look at second-hand shops (consignment stores or thrift stores). I have found all my best skirts at such places. My theory is that most modern women do not wear skirts regularly, yet feel like they should have a few in their wardrobe. They end up not knowing how to wear them right (such as adding appropriate under-layers during cold months), or else only wear them for a few “nice” occasions. Eventually, the skirt ends up being donated to a thrift shop, having been barely worn.

I find that wearing skirts is such a simple way to both experience and express femininity. When I first began to wear them regularly, I found that it actually made me more aware of being a woman – something different from and set apart from men. And because of this, it inspired me to want to grow in womanly virtues. Dressing this way, I have noticed, also changes the way others (especially men) behave towards me, though I’m sure most of them are unaware of it. I think it helps men to remember that they are different, and are accountable for treating me as a woman.

It is also a way to avoid the trap of dressing simply for comfort. Many skirts are undoubtedly very comfortable and easy to move in. But even the simplest skirt looks infinitely more formal and appropriate than most of the outfits you see women wearing these days (the one that gets to me the most is pajama pants in public). If I dressed myself in clothing that suggested “relaxation” and “comfort”, then all I’d want to do all day is lie around being relaxed and comfortable. If I put in a little effort on my appearance, then it makes me want to put in some effort in my duties as well. And when someone puts concern and thought into their dress, others perceive that, and treat him or her more respectfully.

Laura writes:

Very good points.

Kimberly writes:

Polyvore is a fashion website that has really been useful to me. I was having such a hard time knowing what exactly to buy, and kept wasting money on little pieces I thought I’d use because I didn’t know better. I don’t shop through Polyvore, but I piece together outfits that I would like to wear, and the more practice I get, the better I am with my purchases. I get everything on clearance, usually at Target, and people think I’m rich and ultra stylish these days. I get compliments all the time, and I get asked where I bought my shirt, etc. Just six months ago I was just a shirt and jeans kind of gal most days, and if I ventured to dress up I always felt a wee bit self-conscious. Half of the battle is feeling confident about what you choose to wear. If you look confident you can pull off a lot more than you could otherwise. With practice comes confidence. Plus, it’s ridiculously fun. And as a wife, it’s not a waste of time to learn how to dress well.

I read a quote recently that went something like this: “Style is nothing more that knowing what you want and how you want to say it.” I think that’s true.

Kimberly adds:

I should warn that there are some dreadfully immoral sights to see on this website. In fact, at the moment they are promoting the most horrible show with an all-white nun that bleeds black through her black eyes! I can’t wait until they get that over with! I have written to the editorial group about my disappointment.

It’s just like being on facebook or anything else online. You have to choose your friends carefully. There are a surprisingly large amount of good women, however, and groups that promote modesty.

Vita Benedicta writes:

Vintage style is actually very popular right now, so there are many fashion designers creating new clothes in a 1940s or 1950s style.

Modcloth is one retailer that sells some of these vintage designs.  It’s true that much of their clothing is immodest, and it’s understandable that traditionalists may prefer to avoid them for that reason.  But if you comb through their selection a bit, you can find some genuinely cute pieces like this.  (Just be sure to check the measurements on all of their dresses.  The dress in the link is 39 inches long, which falls below the knee on my own frame, but might be too short on a taller lady).

Laura C. writes:

I don’t have much to add to the conversation, except to say that I really appreciate the resources you and your readers have provided for someone looking for more modest and functional but still feminine attire. I do have one question, however, and that regards the nursing mother. I have tried many articles of clothing designed to be easy to breastfeed in, but have ultimately resigned myself to wearing an extra layer (a belly band that covers my abdomen) and just lifting my shirt up (as opposed to pulling a neckline down, or having shirts with special “concealed” nursing holes) to nurse. It is the easiest and most modest way I have found. However, as I want to wear more skirts and dresses (eventually, I hope to wear them exclusively) I don’t know if this will really work any longer. Are there any good patterns for nursing dresses or tops that will work well with skirts? I can only assume that most clothing used to be practical enough to nurse in, since formula has only been around the last century or so–but what it looked like or how it functioned is as yet a mystery to me.

My thanks in advance for any helpful advice on this matter.

Laura writes:

Yes, many dresses don’t work with nursing.

Other than the solution you have mentioned, which works with most skirts and tops, I don’t have any ideas.

Kimberly writes:

Button-up dresses work well for nursing. You can wear a tank-top underneath, lift that and unbutton just low enough to let yourself out! It works very well.

Mary writes:

Since Laura C. said “patterns” I assume she is a sewer. This is very cute and looks easy, could also be made with long sleeves, and I don’t think it screams nursing shirt.

 Also, here is a Pinterest site with some ideas, there are probably many other sites like it:

Sarah Sams writes:

Am I too late to add to the discussion about pretty dresses? Your readers have linked to some lovely things, yet I find it hard to shop for clothes online– I really prefer to try things on. If there are other ladies who feel that way, I would suggest they might have some success at the very affordable chain stores Ross and Marshall’s. The key for me has been to look strictly for dresses that meet my criteria (as one could easily be distracted by the trashy, trendy dresses in the mix). I pick up anything in a beautiful fabric, cut with the shoulders covered, and appropriate neck and hem lines. I have bought things in a wide range of sizes– it all depends on the brand what size a lady needs. So for very little money I have a week’s worth of beautiful, washable dresses.

Thank you for covering these very practical issues, Mrs. Wood. The everyday things, like how we dress, add up to quite a lot in the end.

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