When Fashion Meets Health Problems

Cool looks with loose pants #10292: harem pants + skateboard on the grass

I've alluded vaguely to chronic health problems in the past. Right now, the one I don't have under control is chronic hemorrhoids, which is difficult for me to talk about because it's so TMI. But the more it disrupts my life, the harder it is to conceal, so I've just started being more upfront about it. People are sometimes uncomfortable to hear it, but it definitely contextualizes things like: why I'm in too much pain to go to work sometimes (I've been working from home about once a week for the last few weeks). Why I'm curled into an awkward position on the couch. Why I cancel plans at the last minute.

I've been seeing doctors and trying to figure out solutions, but the longer it goes on without being resolved, the more my doctors are saying things like, "Well, that might just be something you have to do for the rest of your life." In the past, I looked forward to the day when I could get rid of my rubber donut, stop stirring Miralax into my orange juice in the morning, and make plans without the caveat of "if I'm not in pain that day," but it looks like that may not be a possibility. Like, ever.

This situation has affected what I can comfortable wear. "Constrained fashion choices" are a relatively minor side effect in the scheme of things, but I care about clothes, so it seems important to me. When I'm actually in so much pain that I'm home in bed, I wear loose, comfortable sleepwear: nightshirts and pajamas. The rest of the time, I'm either in a small amount of pain, or feeling fine but trying hard not to trigger any pain, and either way, the clothing effects are the same. I only wear skirts when it's warm enough to wear them bare-legged, since I can't wear tights or leggings for very long. I exclusively wear my looser fit pants, like trouser-leg slacks or boyfriend jeans. I own tighter pants, and I prefer them, from a fashion and body shape point of view. I like the loose-top-and-skinny jeans silhouette on me. But my skinny jeans have languished in my closet for months.

I recently read UnShopping by Debbie Roes, author of the Recovering Shopaholic blog. It's an ebook where she goes over her top tips for shopping less and smarter. Things like: use a list, wait before buying, etc. One thing she goes over a lot, especially with clothes, is to buy for your current actual lifestyle, not your imagined someday lifestyle. So, if you don't go to a lot of fancy parties, you don't need to buy buying fancy party clothes "just in case."

For me, this resonated a lot. It's looking more and more like "not worrying about hemorrhoids" is part of my imagined someday lifestyle, not my right now lifestyle. Although I've dealt with the issue on and off for over a year, I've not only kept clothes I can't wear right now, but I've bought new ones!

Here are the things I've bought this year that I currently don't feel comfortable wearing most of the time:
  • A pair of very tight skinny jeans. I knew when I put these on that they didn't have enough "give" for me to actually wear them (even my looser skinny jeans get worn so infrequently), but they looked so amazing that I could not bear to return them. This was over six months ago, and I've worn them exactly never.
  • A more stretchy/comfortable pair of skinny jeans which I actually have worn a fair amount on good days. But they still get passed over for my boyfriend jeans most of the time.
  • No less than three pairs of tights. I did wear one pair for a wedding, which was fine. Given that I can and do only wear tights for such constrained formal situations, though, I definitely don't need to own so many.
  • A wool fall skirt which I can only wear with tights or leggings. It's too warm to wear with bare legs in the summer. The sad thing is that I looked for a long time for "the perfect fall skirt" and I was so excited when I found it, but I only wore it to work once and came home in pain, unable to wait to peel off the tights.
  • Three billowy t-shirts and one tunic-style top that really only look good with skinny jeans.

The total for all these mostly-unwearable clothes is close to $200.

I justified these in a number of ways. I said to myself, "This pain issue really should be resolved soon." (So far, "should" hasn't happened.) Or, "I'll only wear it on good days." The thing is, all my good days have the potential to turn into bad days if I don't do everything right. I don't actually like to risk my chances for tomorrow being a good day, even to look amazing for one day. In practice, I don't usually keep those "my ass looks fantastic" jeans on for more than an hour or so because I start to get uncomfortable or nervous. It's just easier for me to wear the comfy pants every day, even on my good days. Even though I don't think I look my best in them, and there are certain tops I can't wear with them.

It might be time to change my fashion preferences to meet my body's needs, rather than waiting for the reverse to happen.

My New Year's Resolution, therefore, is to not buy any clothes I can't wear, which includes skinny, slim-fit or tight pants; tights or leggings; tops that only go with skinny pants; and skirts or dresses that require tights. If I do end up having some sort of procedure or surgery after which I don't experience any pain for 6 months, then I'll repeal this, but until then, complete ban on buying this type of clothing.

I will also remove the clothes I can't or won't wear from my working wardrobe. In this case, because of the possibility of a resolution and because I may need some items for short-term formal occasions (the tights!), I'll just move most things into a box instead of giving them away. But I think it will be easier for me not to be navigating around items I can't wear on a daily basis.

This leaves me with only one pair of jeans and two pairs of work pants I feel comfortable wearing (which happen to be nearly exactly the same shade of medium gray). So, I'm also prioritizing buying one pair of jeans and one pair of (not medium gray) slacks that I actually feel comfortable in. Not "close enough" or "only on good days," but things I can reach for any time. If and when my pain improves, these may no longer be my favorite items, but it's looking likely that I'll use them at least for a while to come. My pain situation is at least as likely to last as long as my size, fashion preferences, office dress code, and anything else we rely on being stable when we buy clothes.

I've accepted that "I can't wear" certain cuts or colors due to my body shape or complexion, and I've embraced the cuts and colors that do look good on me and built my wardrobe around them. This is another challenge to explore, rather than resist. What styles, trends, silhouettes, and outfit templates can I enjoy now, so that I feel my best wearing clothes that I find comfortable? The boyfriend jeans trend is a huge help, I just need to figure out what tops and accessories can make them look fashionable and not frumpy. Backing off from my love of loose-fit tops and wearing tighter, tailored tops and sweaters can mitigate the boxiness of loose pants. I just have to be extra careful to find tops that look good with my awkwardly large-busted/short-waisted torso. It's not impossible, but it's a higher difficulty level… and, given my interest in clothes, one I think I'm ready for.

What is your working wardrobe going to look like for the rest of the winter? Do you have any aspirational clothes to declutter or sequester?


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