Finance Friday: Wardrobe Rebuild

It’s Friday again! Today’s episode of Finance Friday is about a situation that folks who have either gained weight, lost weight, or have generally seen their bodies change have to deal with: rebuilding their wardrobe. As I’ve mentioned before, my body has changed a lot in the last couple of years that I’ve been weightlifting. And here I am again–it’s time for a wardrobe rebuild before the fall semester starts.

The situation

Last summer, I bought new pants for the fall term only to have them all barely fit in the spring. Most of the stuff I’d gotten the year before–beloved, seriously expensive stuff from Stitch Fix, for example–I donated when it no longer zipped over my lower half. I bought new shorts this summer as only one pair I had last year remained. My jackets don’t fit as my shoulders have broadened, and my blouses don’t fit over my biceps. Now don’t get me wrong–I love my strength. I love my muscles. But I hate replacing clothes every few months. It’s expensive and irritating. So I have a new plan so that I can replace my wardrobe with enough flexibility that hopefully, I won’t have to do it again anytime soon.

Here’s My Thinking
Diana, Kickass *and* Fashionable

I should tell you that Wonder Woman as Diana, working at the Louvre, inspired my fashion aesthetic here.

The perk of having to have a wardrobe rebuild is that I can use it as a chance to plan, essentially, most of my clothes deliberately. I’m aiming for a modified capsule wardrobe–a moderate amount of clothing, nearly all interchangeable (ie, tops can swap with other tops with all of the bottoms). Outfits can be changed up with accessories: I have lots of scarves, costume jewelry, shoes, and so forth for that.

So far, I’ve replaced my multiple too-small work-suitable jackets with a Prime Day purchase: a nice trench I scored for a fraction of its MSRP at $35. I used my head, looked at the size chart and the comments, and made sure to size appropriately, rather than buying the size I have usually been. It arrived Thursday and it fits my shoulders beautifully and my biceps well. Hopefully it will last a long while. I’ll try not to spill coffee on it too often.

Sew on

I’m a skilled seamstress, which allows me to tailor much of the rest of my new wardrobe. I’m making it primarily out of knits. Thus they’ll stretch if I grow a bit, and I can take them in if I shrink a bit. I’ve made myself two pencil skirts using the remarkably easy and FREE pattern at Patterns for Pirates–one’s a charcoal knit (Ponte de Roma is the fabric type), so easily paired with any top, and the other’s a pink and black gingham, for fun. I lined the front of both with a little Power Mesh, cut to a smaller size and stretched to provide just a little belly smoothing. The charcoal I’d bought last year, so that’s not even on my cost tally this year, and I got the pink gingham and mesh from Purple Seamstress for $25 shipped. The mesh will last me through probably four or five skirts.

Next, I took advantage of a sale at Joann Fabric and Craft to get more of the charcoal and some black Ponte de Roma as well as a McCall’s pattern to make some wide-leg pants. They’ll end up coming in at about $22 a pair. That they’ll be adjustable with their stretchy though formal enough goodness has me hoping they’ll make it through at least a couple of years. (I got a nice Ibotta rebate on this, too–we’ll talk about that another day.)

So, assuming my skinny pants still fit (super stretchy poplin), with these two pants and a few skirts, I should be good with bottoms for a while.

Squeezing into Shirts

In addition to several surviving tops from last year, I picked up two blouses on thredup for a song. They’re classic in styling, one black, one white. They were already inexpensive enough but I found a 40% discount code I could use as a first-time buyer. I got them both for $13. That black blouse and the gingham skirt are going to be smashing together.

I have some shirt fabric in an online cart but I’m not read to pull the trigger yet. They’ll replace the too-small ones I bought on clearance a few years ago that do not fit at all now. Stretchy knit fitted tops are my go-to. I also have some sweater fabric in there to make myself a nice cowl neck.

All of these pieces should be easily swappable for nice, professional outfits. I can wear them to work, to conferences and casually. All told, I shouldn’t spend more than $150 to replace my wardrobe, and replace it well. Here’s hoping, anyway.

**If you want to try thredup, here’s a referral link I’d love for you to use: http://www.thredup.com/r/F3ITO7. You get $10, I get $10! Everybody wins!

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How I stopped worrying so much about my weight and came to love heavy lifting

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For many, many years, I, like many people, hated exercise. I also wasn’t too keen on my body. I saw exercise mainly as a tool for body modification, but one which left me generally tired, frustrated, and easily thwarted. I am 5’ tall. I am genetically predisposed to big ol’ legs, and I saw these as a penance rather than a gem. When I was 28, I lost something like 30 pounds so that I was a mere 117 through strict food control, limited booze, and walking. So.much.walking. I did this after seeing a doctor at the university where I was a grad student for an indigestion-and-tightness feeling. Her advice? Lose weight. (didn’t help, btw.)

run, Jen, run!
A blurry, young me, in one of my very few action shots.

Man, if I had a nickel for every time I heard or felt that impulse to drop pounds. BMI is too high. Clothes are too tight. Self-love was not part of the equation, ever, even though I went to a feminist university for undergrad and was a believer in the rhetoric. Knowing something in your brain and your gut are two different things. I was a chubby youngster, and even as my weight went up and down over the years, that kid’s voice tended to be the loudest in my head.

Magazines, websites and TV pitch cardio to women as the be-all end-all of exercise, because it’s trumpeted as the best, fastest way to lose weight. The equation is thus simple: women should primarily exercise to take up less space. Thus, run, use the elliptical, or in my case as a young person, get down with those awful Cindy Crawford workout videos. Do not do so for reasons of personal accomplishment, unless that accomplishment is to become smaller. In which case, good for you.

When I see photos of myself at 117 pounds, I’m kind of floored by how scrawny I was. I am forty pounds heavier now. I am not always good at accepting that. But my god, I am strong.

I started lifting heavy weights a few years ago at the university gym. It took a lot of swallowed pride to put on my gym clothes and be vulnerable—gasp—in front of my students. But the gym was free, and I had a book—The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess—I’d taken out of the library and eventually ordered on Amazon. I watched videos to get an idea of good form. And then I tried. I used the barbell, the plates, the dumbbells. Within a year, I could lift my (then-smaller) bodyweight. And I loved it.

That’s evidently the trick with exercise: Find something you love, and you won’t mind doing it (as much—I do still have those days where I don’t want to go to the gym). And for me, I hated cardio. It generally left me bored and feeling bad about myself. But lifting? It’s always a challenge. Successes are exciting—new personal bests!—and failures are motivating. Don’t get it today? Get it later. It’s a very different motivation than “yay I made it through half an hour on the treadmill,” which is something I don’t find even remotely motivating. At all. Even better, it allowed me to eat more (I wrestled with guilt cycles about counting highly-restricted calories) because you have to eat to lift and make gains.

It’s the best exercise ever.

I no longer work out at the university gym. When I was on sabbatical, I started working out elsewhere so as not to get sucked into university stuff. Now I just prefer my other gym; it’s the one “crazy” annual expense in my budget. I also spring for a trainer.

I can lift 200 pounds off the floor.
I can carry all the groceries in one trip.
I can move my own furniture.

My bones are strong as a consequence of resistance work, which bodes well for me in the future.

And while I use a lot of serious gym weights, you can do a lot with your own body and stuff you can find—google and see for yourself.

The traditional ways of knowing you’re doing well, health-wise, don’t quite work for me, and that’s taken getting used to. My pants are always becoming too small (I’ve stopped buying any at full price and hit up thrift shops) because my booty is huge. I have great quads—sure, they’re huge, but they support my whole body and let me do pretty much whatever I want. My shoulders are broad—these are great for filling out shirts, sure, but also help stabilize my growing arms.

Exercise is important—it can help stabilize mood (it keeps me from killing people), improve bodily function, ward off disease, and promote community. But don’t exercise for some mythological state of smallness, or because you feel you have to for reasons tied to the awful covers of “Women’s Health,” a misnomer if I ever heard one. Do it for you. Find something you like, and to hell with the rest of it. Find workouts that challenge you, that hold your interest. For me, that’s heavy lifting.

Being strong kicks ass. Being big kicks ass. It’s all infinitely better than spending your life seeking smallness. If you’re looking to feel good, carry all your own stuff, and rival Beyonce’s thighs for strength, you should give heavy lifting a go.

We’ll talk about all of this more later, when I interview my trainer. He’s ALL about empowering women in the gym, so I adore him. Just wait until I ask him about the pink dumbbells.

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