I can’t believe I’m writing you this letter; I’m not usually this forthcoming. But there are some very important things I want to speak to your heart today, although it’s probably not what you are expecting.
Fifteen years ago this letter would’ve taken a very different tone. I was raised to be frugal, to waste nothing and to want not, to prioritize those in need before myself. Your $10,000 purse would’ve seemed superfluous to me, and I would’ve immediately written you off as shallow. When I was young I thought I knew it all, but time and experience have been a valiant instructor and what once seemed like a black and white case now seems ever-so-gray, with vast oceans in between. When I look at you now, I see:
My dear friend Amanda who inherited her grandmother’s Louis Vuitton purse. She misses her nana, and doesn’t want the purse go to waste, so she carried it to church the other day. And there were glances and whispers passed between members of her congregation who were no doubt experiencing some of those same feelings I described above.
A popular blogger whose success has made her millions, but whose guilt prevents her from dressing how she really wants. She purchased several thousand dollars of designer goods from a friend’s store recently, apologizing that she couldn’t post to social media, because it would upset her readers. “When I post anything over $200, people attack me,” she told my friend.
A successful businesswoman named Harriett who grew up poor and whose hard work earned her a salary she never dreamed of. And after decades of all work and no play, and millions donated to charity, she finally splurged on the one special gift she always wanted for herself: a designer purse.
I see these people when I see you, and I recognize:
I don’t know your heart. Unless your heart has magically morphed itself into the leather and metal object that swings from your arm, I can only see your purse. And so… it’s just not for me to judge.
I don't know your circumstances. What if your purse was a gift, or the result of diligent work? What if you donated a million to charity and only took $10,000 for yourself? How do I know under what pretenses or for what purpose you purchased it, or with what spirit you carry it? And so… it’s just not for me to judge.
There's already so much pressure. The world is full of hard edges and a maze of demands when it comes to a woman’s appearance. One extreme tries to entice us to sell our soul to obtain that $10,000 purse (or the plastic surgery, or the new outfit), but the other extreme is just as bad (shaming and cajoling you for buying it), and I prefer not to participate in either. What I’ve learned over the years is that one extreme doesn’t heal the other. You’ll never fix what you want to fix by repeating the same mistake. And there's so much healthy gray area to explore in between. And so… it’s just not for me to judge.
There’s another person I see in that photo that I haven’t mentioned yet, though: me.
I didn't have the money to buy your purse then, so looking back I wonder how much my feelings were about not being able to have it? I've chosen a road less traveled with the financial blessings of my adulthood; I just don't covet or buy designer things even though I can afford them now. Would I have made the same decisions then, though? I can't say for sure. Under different circumstances, maybe I would have or will someday purchase the same purse you did. And so... it's just not for me to judge.
I know what being judged feels like. And I discovered that no matter how responsible you are with clothes, no matter how budget-friendly, how much more $ you donate to charity, how much you stick to your values, you’ll still receive backlash. I've received hundreds of comments over the years: clothes horse, addicted to shopping, vain, narcissistic, not abiding by your faith. No clothing budget will ever be small enough, no purse cheap enough. There is no end to the rabbit hole. And so… it’s just not for me to judge.
I felt guilty about clothes for years, so maybe you feel a little guilty about your purse, too? If so, I want to reach out and hug you and tell you not to listen to the noise. I want to shout YOU DO YOU, girl. I know that guilt. And I know grace is the answer, because most of us are already guilting ourselves to some extent. And so… it’s just not for me to judge.
In closing, I want to propose a partnership among women. To stop the guilt and the shame about fashion altogether - from ourselves and from others, whether you’re wearing a $10,000 purse or a $10 purse. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you certainly can’t judge a girl by her purse.
Fashion is serious business in many ways. Dress codes, social cues, nonverbal communication, the environment, finances, the workplace and body image are all so important. But at the end of the day, fashion is also meant to be marvelously fun. So my hope for all women, myself included, is to find a place of confidence and self-assurance that allows personal style to be authentically our own, unaffected by those around us, and ultimately, a source of great joy, with no strings attached. The world is your fashion oyster. And I hope you enjoy every last ounce of it.
[[ This post is adapted from an excerpt in my book. Head to Amazon for more. ]]