That Time I Put Liz Claiborne Labels in my Target Shoes. {and a fun announcement}

accessories

For some reason, it’s always the extra-large, salmon-colored, v-neck sweater from my dad’s closet that stands out the most. Adolescent me was known to raid the wardrobes of everyone in the household in my crazed attempt to put together a new outfit for school.

Desperate times called for desperate sweaters.

I’d been buying most of my own clothes since I was about twelve years old, at which point I begin raking in the cash from all those $2.50 an hour babysitting gigs. My teenage years — the stage that a girl really, really cares about her image — were rather lean for my family. My dad was a church-planting pastor in the midwest and my mom stayed at home with us until the youngest of us four kids started school, at which point she went back to work as a teacher.

We were not in any way poor; we simply didn’t have much “extra.” Don’t for a moment feel sorry for me. I honestly couldn’t be more grateful. Those years wove themselves into the person I am — resourceful, creative, and spurred on by scarcity rather than shut down by it. Besides, we were rich in all the ways that really mattered.

I may have been shy, insecure, and embarrassingly small for my age but my love of beauty — pretty things, lovely clothes, beautiful colors — was larger than life. My family will tell you it’s just how I’m wired. I started playing dress-up as a toddler and I’ve never really stopped.

football scarf

Fashion Note #1: Scarves are an easy & timeless accessory. Also? One should always dress for success, even if you’re just playing Lucy to your Charlie Brown brother.

ball head

Fashion Note #2: A deflated rubber ball can work as a stylish cap. And it points attention away from the fact that your well-intentioned mom gave you a boy haircut.

Young Marian studied and memorized everything like it was her job from the outfits the twenty-something ladies wore to church with their perfectly matched pumps and endless array of twist-a-beads, to what the fashionable girls wore to school and the back-to-school editions of Seventeen magazine. I saved up my hard-earned dollars for Benetton tees, the tiniest Coach purse they sold, and a Liz Claiborne wallet.

When you’re that age, you simply want to fit in and while I could never really do that — at least in my estimation of things — I resolved to die trying.

Which is why I’d end up in my dad’s closet snatching a very large man’s sweater off the hanger and draping it over my petite frame, grabbing the paisley silk scarf from my mom’s dress coat and tying it around my waist as a belt, and slipping on my Target flats with the Liz Claiborne labels I’d carefully adhered to the insoles.

Wait, what was that you just wrote Marian? Are you telling the world you put designer stickers in your Target shoes?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. I created my own knock-off. Talk about shopping the house. And really, I can’t believe I’ve never told you this because it’s totally one of my best stories ever. So go grab a cup of coffee and settle in.

tractor outfit

Fashion Note #3: When choosing contrasting colors, go with the same level of boldness for all the hues. In the words of Clinton & Stacy, “It doesn’t have to match. It just has to go.” And in the words of 5-year-old me, “You are the boss of your outfits & accessories.”

The Story That Beats All

I was probably in seventh or eighth grade and we had a Target in our city. Now this was decades before Target was the awesomeness that it is now, decades before famous designers were lining up to create their own limited lines for the shopping proletariat. Those early Targets were scarce, uncool, and suffered from bad lighting.

Remember, this was the 80s, when department stores ruled the day and you were nobody without Guess jeans and tiny embroidered alligators or polo players on your collared shirts.

Somehow I’d discovered Target and felt that if you looked with a squinty, objective eye, some of their stuff could qualify as legit. So I bought a pair of woven leather, cream colored, pointy-toed loafers from the Target shoe department. Y’all they were so cute. I wish I still had them.

There was only one problem. They were from Target. And this mattered because all the girls in class would flip their flats on and off their heels while their legs were crossed and then everyone knew what designer shoes you were wearing. Or not wearing.

So I did what any resourceful, image-obsessed girl would do. I raided my mother’s closet and found her gorgeous, burgundy Liz Claiborne pumps, the one splurge my darling mom had probably enjoyed in years. And which the dog promptly chewed up. {But that’s a story for another time.} Anyway, because the chewed-up shoes had become unwearable, I decided to harvest them for labels.

Lucky for me, Liz Claiborne had embroidered, adhesive labels in her fancy shoes at that time. Such luck! I simply peeled them from the carnage of the chewed-up pumps and gave them new life in my Target flats. Those rectangular designer labels fit perfectly over the no-name discount labels and no one was the wiser.

Until now, 27 years later, when I tell the whole world.

If thrift stores had been a big thing back then, I would have cleaned up. But they weren’t and so I learned how to shop clearance racks like a boss and pillage the family closets. Though I never felt like I looked the part, my family tells me I left for school every day looking put together and on trend. I’m quite sure they were biased but still, I will forever love my mom and dad for complimenting me all the time on my knack for making something cute out of nothing much.

I didn’t see it as a gift; I saw it as survival. But in retrospect, my parents were actually on to something. I wish I’d actually acknowledged my knack for hacks as the resourcefulness that it was.

pattern mixing

Fashion Note #4: Practice pattern mixing until you can do it in your sleep.

I know it was hard for them to not be able to buy everything my teenage heart desired but they gave me so much more. They surprised me with the occasional mega-splurge, like a pair of Calvin Klein jeans folded up at the edge of my bed one morning. And my mom, whose Southern roots meant that she always wanted her girls to have a new Easter dress, prayed with me in the mall parking lot before we’d go in to shop. She would ask God to provide, even though our means were limited. And God always did.

Years later, I’ve been known to do the same with my daughter. I’d call that a legacy, even if it’s about something as superficial as the clothes we wear.

And that’s why I’ve never written about any of this here on the blog — because it seemed superficial.

Except that it’s not.

Every single person on the planet has to put on something every day — whether it’s a loin cloth or a designer gown. For most of us, it’s something in between. Thank goodness. Because I don’t know the first thing about accessorizing loin cloths.

But I do know a thing or two about mixing up your closet with creativity and resourcefulness because I’ve been doing it my whole life. I love combining new pieces, accessorizing, hunting through cast-offs and coming out with something amazing.

If I’d really been paying attention, I’d have realized long ago that this isn’t superficial at all. My real-life friends ask me for help and I love to do it. They’ve even prompted me to write about it on the blog or to go into business doing closet makeovers. I’ve always just brushed it off because:

a) This is fashion we’re talking about and I’m a “serious writer.”

b) I’m not a professional.

c) Outfits don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

But when it’s something we all have to do every day? When it communicates so much about our personalities? When it paralyzes us from even trying because we’re not naturally good at this whole fashion thing? When it can easily costs lots of money that we don’t actually have?

Well, that sounds like it’s something that really matters and for a host of good reasons.

So I’ve started listening to what others say and taking to heart the clues from my past and my present — my friends, my sister, my husband, my parents’ affirmation all those years ago, the chatty girl with blue hair at the Deal Mart who looked me up and down on an everyday Thursday and asked me if I was a stylist, my daughter’s friends who say, Oh my gosh, Mrs. Vischer, I like, LOVE that outfit so. much. {Insert TBH and dramatic teenage voice emoji.}

Maybe my little world has been trying to tell me something all these years and I’ve been too busy with my important, meaningful, serious work. And also too embarrassed to reveal all my “secrets” because they are dumb and superficial and too thrifty for the average person.

Well, times…they are a changing.

formal wear

Fashion Note #5: A Study in Contrasts. Juxtapose formal wear with “natural” elements like a plastic split-rail fence and fake grass platform.

Now before you worry that I’m about to become a fashion blogger, I’m not. I don’t even read fashion blogs. And besides, most of the real fashion out there isn’t that “real” to me. I’m a mom who looks cute approximately two days a week when I actually have to get out of my minivan and talk with other adults in public places.

Also, fashion isn’t my number one thing. I plan to keep writing the real about motherhood, faith, school choices, books, and the possibility of everyday redemption. That’s where my heart beats strong. Try as I might, I’ll never be a niche blogger. But you’ll always find the same theme here and it’s honest dish about real life — how the epic and the everyday frustrations, failures, and funnies are all tinged with hope, possibility, and redemption.

I believe that with all my heart because it’s the story of my life, the story that continues to unfold every day.

And I’m realizing that everyday redemption can even extend to our closets and how much fun would that be for all of you real women who show up here? Not to mention the fun I’ll have as the hostess.

I’ve got some super fun things in store for you.

giant watch

Fashion Notes #6: When an accessory is taller than you, it’s time to choose something a bit more understated.

One last thing before I conclude this post that has somehow become a memoir.

I’m sweating here. I’ve put off writing this post for weeks. I’ve been waiting for the brave to show up and guess what? I’m still waiting. But if we all waited until we weren’t afraid to begin, then no one would ever get on stage or write that book or say “I do.” So many of the best endeavors begin when we’re still shaking in our boots. I’m learning that the shaking is actually a good indication of meaningful, authentic work.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post that I was terrified to publish. I almost didn’t. Turns out that more people read that post than any other post in the 31-day series. Experiences like that give me courage to lean into the fear and the unknown and say yes anyway — even over something as silly as an announcement about a new fashion niche on one’s blog.

I’ve got more to say in my next post when I reveal some of the inspiration behind this new endeavor. {And introduce you to a couple of my muses who have inspired me with their bravery, creativity, and permission.} And I’m going to tell you a bit more about what’s in it for you.

/////

Your turn. Because friends, I so need some feedback here. Where are you on this issue of your wardrobe? Do you feel clueless or stuck? Have you given up all hope? Could you use some inspiration and practical tips from a real person? Do you have a closet full of nothing to wear? Do you want to learn thriftier ways?

This shopgirl wants to meet you where you are.

Tell me everything.

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Comments

  1. says

    Yes, yes, yes!!! I’m so excited about this!!! And to answer your question, I feel stuck in my wardrobe. Losing weight (slowly) but I don’t want to spend a lot of money on the in-between sizes but still want to feel cute. Would love to be braver in my accessories. I love shoes and will always have enough of those, but the rest of my outfit is often…eh – at best. Give me some inspiration!

    Also, I’m absolutely laughed out loud at your captions!!!

    • Marian says

      Kindel, I’m here for you. We’ll get you properly accessorized in no time. Also, look for an e-mail today because I need some advice about techy stuff.

  2. says

    SO EXCITED! I love your blog and your writing – and have always loved how put together and adorable you look. This is awesome!

    Now that I do that ‘running’ thing, my body has changed a lot. Dressing professionally as a high school teacher (the kids are vicious critics) is at times perplexing. Add in a busy schedule, a reluctance to iron, and a teacher budget … I need all the help I can get.

    So looking forward to what you’ve got in store!

    • Marian says

      Yes, students are the toughest critics! {Ask me how I know. *wink} These will be good issues to address.: ease, budget-conscious, no-iron, etc. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Renee Royal says

    I loved hearing the story of those designer flats! When we moved to TX we packed only what would fit in our cars and so everything was essential to me. I’m so glad because it forced me to weed out a lot of extra stuff, especially in my closet. (also, those years of pregnancy / breastfeeding caused me to hold onto things because of all the different sizes and needs ) I keep my closet pretty paired down now and have learned I prefer it that way (and it’s easier to do in a temperate climate) but would love to know what your wardrobe essentials / must haves are. Much love to you Marian. I know how brave and tender it feels to step out with what feels superficial in the midst of grieving and learning a new normal without Susan. THanks for sharing your gift with us today; praying for grace in this season.

    • Marian says

      Renee, you are so sensitive to the backdrop of my life. Thank you for that. Yes, it has felt superficial and silly and pointless to go this direction in light of the last couple of weeks. And then I remind myself of the post before this one about living through all of our ordinary endeavors in our ordinary days with more heart and gratitude. Love and miss you friend!

    • Marian says

      Only if you tell me all of yours because you are the style maven in ALL THINGS. And that’s not just flattery my friend. I want to sit at your feet. {And go thrifting with you. And have deep conversation over lattes.} Miss you!

  4. says

    This sounds like fun! And no, it doesn’t sound superficial. It sounds more like our-lives-are-made-up-of-everyday-things. I’d love for you to tackle my wardrobe!

    One thing’s sure to me. As long as I’ve known you, I’ve known you to be trustworthy with big and small things. So I’d say this subject is safe in your hands.

    • Marian says

      Richella, you are a picture of grace and class. I don’t feel worthy to touch your wardrobe. {But it would be fun to see what we could mix up.}

      Also, I’ve now made 4 batches of your famous pumpkin bread this fall. Best. recipe. ever. Hugs to you!

  5. Cindy says

    To answer your questions…Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes. I love to see what other people are putting together…especially how to “layer” clothes effectively. So looking forward to your next adventures!!!

  6. says

    i have so much to say in response to this post but for now i will just start with – OH.MY.GOSH. I had that exact same giant watch clock!!! {and i have given up on ever being a niche blogger too : )}

  7. says

    there was a church-run thrift store in our little town. i used to comb all 3 racks for liz claiborne and GAP items. i once bought a black wool (knee length) coat for $1.75, wore it to school, and the next week 2 other girls (whose parents could take them to the mall every Saturday) were wearing black coats like mine. i bought a black wool hat for .10 and a black & green plaid jumper for $1.00, added an old black silk scarf that i found in our attic… and voila! i was the best dressed freshman at South Adams HS. we weren’t supposed to wear hats, but the teachers thought i was cute and original, so they let me get away with it. i also kept a mug and tea bags in my locker to drink at lunch, so there’s that.
    putting together outfits has been an obsession of mine for a LONG TIME. i always shopped at the cheerleaders’ annual rummage – nevermind that they’d recognize their castoffs on me. once i bartered with a friend – she cut off and hemmed liz claiborne corduroy pants into knee length shorts, and i gave her 3 pair of (used) jeans that were no longer zipping up on me.
    a few years ago my husband gave me $$ for a new dress. as it turned out, it wasn’t flattering on me, so i cut it down to a skirt. i wore that with boots and tights for a while, then realized it made my butt look big, so my daughter and i hacked it down to a square, and she sewed it into a stuffed critter – an UGLY DOLL. :) (those are a thing)
    so – yeah, i love fashion, making something out of nothing, and repurposing. keep writing! i’ll always remember your iwu sweatshirt that had the cool paisley/floral letters embroidered on the front! that was the best!

  8. Carol Milstead says

    Hey! I knew you way back then and always wondered how they could afford all that style! Come to my closet, Marian!!!

    • Marian says

      Carol, you are so funny! That’s very sweet of you. I’ll come to your closet anytime. : ) Loved seeing your name in the comments section!

  9. says

    Hi Marian!

    I have been known to cry whilst trying to find clothes to wear for the day. {Ok, sometimes it’s because everything is in the clothes hamper…and it’s wrinkled past hope or covered in baby, um, fluids.} I don’t hate my clothes, but I feel like there are gaps in my wardrobe. I can very easily dress down {hello yoga pants} and I have lots of dress/work attire that’s a little more dressed up. The downfall to dress down: I already look like I’m still a teenager {though I am weeeeeeeeeellllllllll past those days}, so I do want to look like the grown-up I am {ha!}. On the other hand, I am no longer working full-time and don’t want to hit Target in my dress pants and heels. I have a few in-between go-to outfits and I want to figure out what pieces I can add to my closet so that I can utilize what I already have.

    In addition, I am constantly second guessing myself about accessories – namely necklaces. You have an eye for perfectly pairing necklaces with outfits without looking stuffy or overdone – share your tips, please!

    OH – and…I’m just under 3 months post-partum and nursing. Have fun with that.

    Thanks! Love your post!

    • Marian says

      Girl, we are gonna hook you up. : ) Be patient, but I have lots of practical ideas and tips coming for you. Thank you SO much for that super awesome, specific, soul-baring feedback!!!

  10. Sheila says

    Yes superficial, but also not, because getting dressed is how we show up for our day. As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, I know I feel more like a professional at my job (and I am) when I present myself as such. Understanding some basic fashion principles actually frees me up to get ready quickly (without changing 5 times), and move on with my day feeling put together.

    I’d love to see your tips for accessorizing, as well as touching on the current season’s trends in a flattering, age-appropriate, not-breaking-the-bank kinda way. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this as well, as the mood takes you there!

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