OK, I realize this is a 90 degree turn from farming, but a girl still wants to look good when she’s not wearing carhartts and mud boots, right?! And really, this is a post about trying to find the balance between consumerism and minimalism, between living deliberately vs looking like you’ve given up all together, between fashion and farming.
I’m not a fashionista. Much to the dismay of my deceased mother and her mother, who both loved cloths and fashion. My mother styled herself after Coco Chanel, and used to tease her own mother that she was going to have “what shall I wear to my funeral” put on my grandmother’s gravestone, because she would change clothes so many times before going out for the evening. They did their best to style me when I was little, trying to dress me in lace (OMG, scratchy), and wool plaid skirts (OMG, itchy) and gaberdine slacks (seriously Grandma? I’m 10), and gauchos (remember gauchos?).
I was having none of it. I remember in first grade, having a favorite pair of jeans with strawberries on then. I loved them and wanted to wear them every day. Not because of how they looked. But because they were COMFORTABLE! I was a tom boy. I wanted to climb trees, get sap in my hair, and make mud pies. None of which were compatible with dresses and Mary Jane patent leather shoes.
Fast forward to my teen years. I really had no adult female role models to help me navigate the self-conscious, fraught with anxiety, image conscious hallways of high school. I settled on jeans, and solid colored shirts that didn’t completely dwarf my 5’3″ 105 lb small busted frame. Remember Ditto jeans? And velour tops? Yeah, that was how I rolled. With tennis shoes. Cause, you know…comfort.
But I was always aware that I really didn’t have a style, a sense of fashion. And I DID care. Just not enough to go chasing clothing I didn’t really understand, couldn’t tell if it looked good on me or not, and most importantly, that I couldn’t afford. Spending money on a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans in high school was simply out of the question. And that’s pretty much how I’ve existed for most of my adult life. I had a brief stint working in an office where I was expected to wear nylons and dress shoes, and I shopped a local TJ Max back in the day to pick up a few pieces that I could mix and match (and a lot of knee highs, because I still wanted to wear pants), one or two blazers, and I managed to muddle through for the year or so that I worked there. And then I vowed to never take another job where I would have to wear nylons every day, and went back to jeans.
So last year, I turned 50. And somehow, the idea of a capsule wardrobe, mixed with a really outdated closet, of which I was only wearing about 20%, along with a wonderful husband who was good at giving me feedback on what looked good on me and what didn’t, and a slightly less tight fist on a clothing budget, all conspired to make me really reevaluate my wardrobe staring in early January last year. Somewhere in this mix, I decided to join Stitch Fix, after a friend wore several pieces she looked really great in, and I discovered they had come from Stitch Fix.
If you aren’t familiar with Stitch Fix, it’s a mail order subscription clothing service, where you fill out a bunch of information on your “style” (which caused me to take a lot of “discover your clothing style” quizzes online and realize that I’m a mix of mostly classic – thanks mom – with a small amount of chic and bohemian – without the lace – thrown in). Stitch Fix highly suggests that you create a Pinterest board dedicated to pieces you like, so that your stylist can get a feel for who you are. As often as you like (I chose quarterly) they send you 5 pieces in the mail, picked out by your “personal stylist”. This costs $20, whether you keep anything or not. If you keep a piece, they take $20 off the price. If you keep all the pieces, they take 25% off of your entire order. Anything you don’t want you mail back in a prepaid return bag.
Turns out there are huge groups on Facebook dedicated to Stitch Fix. People who sell pieces they have gotten but didn’t like, so that they can still get the 25% discount. NWT, stands for New With Tags. What you hate might be someone’s “unicorn”, a piece they have wanted forever, but can’t seem to get Stitch Fix to send them (not all stylists have access to the same clothing, and you can’t request specific items). A lot of the clothing carried by Stitch Fix is exclusive to them (but not always. There are people dedicated to ferreting out where else you might be able to buy a coveted piece as well). There was a whole lingo to learn. I belonged to a Stitch Fix Facebook group for about two weeks before turning off notifications. The number of posts was insane. It completely took over my feed. Some people are REALLY into this!
My first “fix” was pretty good. Husband also approved of most of the items. I bought it all and sold one shirt that was just a complete NO for me, and so got to take the 25% discount. Total cost? $209.50 + the $20 styling fee, minus the $36 for the shirt I sold. So $193 for four pieces of clothing; 1 pair of jeans, two tops and one light weight cardigan. For most of you, who shop for cloths like a normal person, this won’t seem like much. But for me, this seemed crazy expensive. But…I was going to try this out, get out of my rut, and move into the 21st century. So I stayed with the subscription.
The next step? Going through my closet. Perhaps you’ve heard of the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo? If you read anything about Minimalism, this book comes up. The idea is that we are buried in stuff that we don’t really want or need (why is a WHOLE other discussion). And that to destash our lives, to get rid of the detritus, you take each thing in your hand and ask yourself “does this bring me joy”? If the answer is no, you let it go. This idea was being applied to closets aplenty in 2016! And so, I went through my own.
So many of my clothes were a “well, it’s a neutral and its fairly comfortable and it goes with jeans and the price is right” purchase. And things I had held onto thinking, “I might need to dress up for an office visit”. When I haven’t worn the piece in 15 years. Seriously! I still had those blazers from when I had the office job in 1989. And lets face it, cloths that I was never going to wear again because I had to admit to myself that I’m 50, and I’m unlikely to ever see 115 lbs again. We did a HUGE closet clean out. And I literally tried on most of what was in there, with my husband giving me feedback. “I bought this, but I’m never sure what to wear it with” pieces were either resigned to the donation pile, or we figured out what to pair them with. Anything that needed ironing? Out. Cause who am I kidding.
As an aside here, my husband is amazing. He adores me when I’m in sweat pants and have been shoveling compost. He tells me I’m beautiful when I haven’t washed my hair for 4 days. There was absolutely zero shaming or “I wish you would wear x more often” or “I wish you would stop wearing Y” happening here. And he really is the creative one in the family, with a much better ability to evaluate a piece of clothing on me than I have myself. I would never have felt comfortable subjecting myself to his scrutiny otherwise. So, shout out to amazing husbands!
We also did a shopping trip to the big Tri-Cities to look for some foundation pieces that I was missing. White Oxford shirt? Check. Plain white t-shirt that can be worn under everything? Check. Black cardigan? Check. Black skirt? Check. (Cause, you know…that office visit, lol). And a few pieces that were “on trend” and also versatile, like a long-sleeved button up plaid shirt, or a long-sleeved pullover striped knit, or a pair of leggings (hooray for leggings – loved them in the 80’s, love them now). And shoes. I’ve learned that having several pairs of “booties”, ie short boots with (for me) low heals, can go a long way to making me feel put together, but also comfortable. I also discovered on this buying trip that I look smashing in dresses. Yes, the girl who’s avoided showing her legs (because she refuses to wear nylons and doesn’t shave her legs) has a figure well suited for quite a few dress styles. We had to narrow it down to just three. (The answer to the leg issue is a pair of high boots, by the way. Wink).
So, I’m feeling much more put together and fabulous at this point. I’m excited to get out of my grubby clothes and dress up a bit to run into town, or put on a dress to go out to dinner. And I continue to get the Stitch Fix boxes, once every three months. And I usually keep a piece or two out of each one (that psychological pressure of wanting that $20 to not go to waste…its a fantastic marketing strategy).
Before Stitch Fix sends you a box, they let you include a “note” to your stylist, to let them know if there was anything in particular you are looking for (like, “I’m going on a beach holiday this winter and am looking for some pieces for that”). On this last fix, I requested tunics (to go with leggings) and natural fabrics if at all possible. And I got a jacket that was binding across the arms, a pair of “skinny pants” aka leggings, that were too patterned and shiny for me, a long-sleeved pullover that was a very loose knit (could only be layered over something else) and very boxy on my small frame, and a sleeveless blouse with kelly green in it (cute – but I have several others like it that I like better). And a maroon dress that I did end up keeping.
And I decided, after my fifth “fix” to suspend my Stitch Fix account. Here’s why.
- You never get the same stylist twice. Yes, you can “request” to have the same person over and over again, but even if you do, it’s still a bit of a long shot. So you don’t actually really develop a relationship with one person who gets to know you and your style. Which to me was the whole point of doing this. I NEEDED a person to get to know my style, but also push me outside of my comfort zone a bit. What I got felt much more generic and boiler plate than that.
- The lack of natural fabrics. Seriously. I live and work on a farm. I don’t need an entire wardrobe that is “gentle wash, cold – hang dry flat”. With the exception of the two pairs of pants I kept from Stitch Fix, that contained SOME cotton (98% on the jeans, 26% on the leggings – the balance of which was rayon, modal and spandex and are “machine wash cold/wash separately/wash inside out/tumble dry low”) everything else was some combo of synthetic fabrics, from polyester to nylon to rayon to modal to spandex (I specifically requested no acrylic). These kinds of cloths might look good initially, but they pill and wear terribly over the course of a few months, even when washed carefully. And god forbid you accidentally throw them in the dryer with your cotton t-shirts. It’s hard enough to live with the inconvenience of special washing instructions when you paid $20 for a piece at a big box store. It’s impossible to live with it when they want to charge you $44 for a sleeveless shell or $88 for a pair of “skinny pants”. To me this is a case of “planned obsolescence“, where they know the piece is probably going to look like crap in a few months, so then you’ll need to buy a new one…its just not OK. This isn’t a Stitch Fix issue. It’s the whole fashion industry’s issue. Heck, I’m still mad that my cotton socks don’t last as long as they did when I was a teenager. I suspect that THIS is how Stitch Fix actually makes money. Cause you know all of that boxing and shipping and stylist work isn’t cheap. But if the cloths are inexpensive, but you can convince people that they are high-end, then you make money on the difference. Which brings us to…
- The price. I know. I’m cheap. I always have been. I’d rather spend $100 on an AllClad pot that will last me decades than a pair of jeans. But again, if I’m going to pay $50 for a shirt, I want it to last. I want to know its made well. I want to know the buttons aren’t going to fall off or the seams rip out or the fabric fade or pill in the first few washings. I’d rather spend that money at LL Bean on pima cotton that I know is going to last, and that I can throw in the dryer. I’m definitely over expecting all my clothing pieces to be under $20. I get that I needed to shed that mind-set. But I really do want value for my money, and I didn’t feel like I was getting that. Some of my favorite pieces of clothing over the years have come from estate sales and thrift stores. Spending $58 on a top that is going to look worn and terrible in 6 months isn’t my idea of a dollar well spent.
- The lack of detailed communication. When you chose not to buy a piece, you get about a twitter’s worth of words to explain why it didn’t work for you. Sometimes that isn’t enough, and I’ve often had to edit my feedback to make it fit in the space. Same for that “note” to your stylist before a fix. Same for your style profile. I’m not opposed to all colors of green, so I didn’t check the “no green” box for my color preferences. I like forest green, or a pale seafoam green. But crayola “kelly” green is a terrible color on me. It was my high school color. And when I wore it, people would literally ask me if I was feeling OK, it washed me out so much. Stitch Fix sent me three different pieces that contained kelly green. And there was no way to let them know, on a more global scale (rather than just my short tweet about why I rejected a specific piece) that this color doesn’t work for me. By the way, when I left, they asked me why in a survey. And I was able to choose ONE answer from a list. There ya go.
- Dressing for my age. A common complaint with Stitch Fix is that they dress you too conservatively, and that you need to lie about your age, taking 10 to 15 years off your date of birth, if you want them to send you stuff that is sexy and revealing. Me…I had the opposite problem. I know that low raise pants are still hot in the fashion industry (I’m SO ready for this trend to die), but unless you are under 30 and skinny as a twig, you end up with “muffin top” in these pants, with your belly unattractively bulging over the waist line. And, if you are like me, you also have a hard time keeping them up, and spend a good portion of the day 1) trying to pull them up as they slide down and 2) wondering if your underwear is showing out the back. I repeatedly requested no low raise pieces (and I know they exist, because I buy them from big box stores all the time), only to have several come in my fixes. Um, I’m 50, and am carrying 10-15 extra pounds. This is NOT a good look for me. I don’t want mom-jeans. I get THAT. But I don’t want pants that hit me at my hip bones either.
- I’m just not that into it. Brand names. Kut from the Kloth, Liverpool, French Grey, Renee C, Fate, Miilla, 41 Hawthorn, Collective Concepts, Skies are Blue, Gilli… all Stitch Fix brands I’ve received. The fashion industry relies on people perceiving additional value from a specific name. A Patagonia women’s down jacket in black ($229) vs the REI co-op brand ($99) is a great example. Is the Patagonia jacket really $130 dollars better? I doubt it. I’ve ALWAYS doubted it. And my experience with the quality and price of my Stitch Fix clothing just bore this out, over and over again. I’m paying more for a name. A name that literally means nothing to me, and that I can’t remember without going to look at the tags. And I’m not really getting better quality. If this is the level of quality I’m going to get, I’d rather buy a similar piece at a big box discount store like Ross or Marshall’s or TJ Max for less than half the price. Because I don’t care about the brand unless it is synonymous with quality. You want a company who stands by their products? Just listen to this story (Bean Counter) about LL Bean and their no questions asked return policy.
Was this whole year a great experience in channeling my latent fashionista? Absolutely. It was a long overdue clean out of my closet, and I now have some pieces in there that I truly love and look forward to wearing. And because of all the Stitch Fix emails, Facebook groups, and general internet research, I’m now a little more aware of what is trending, and most importantly, what is trending that I am just SO not into (Stitch Fix sent me a pair of sparkly black gladiator sandals in one of the fixes, and I could NOT stop laughing. One of the best Facebook Stitch Fix threads was a “what’s the opposite of your unicorn” post, about all the crazy open back tops, and cold shoulder tops, and ponchos the size of blankets… it went on and on, and was hysterical. It was good to know that I wasn’t the only one who thought some of the trending fashion was just silly).
In the end, Stitch Fix just wasn’t for me, and I probably won’t be going back. But I do plan on revisiting what’s in my wardrobe more than once every decade from now on. And purchasing a few new pieces every season, to keep it feeling fresh. If I were going to do a subscription service again I’d probably sign up for Trunk Club, which is a similar service to Stitch Fix, offered by Nordstrom’s, with better quality and a higher price tag. I hear that if you can go to one of their brick and mortar locations (only available in select large cities) that it’s especially fabulous, because you get direct feedback in real time from your stylist.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2017, where we’re miles away from being a trend setter, but aren’t quite as dated as we used to be. We do still love our BOGS mud boots though!