Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Of Jumpers and Tennies

Whether you are a Fashionista or not, you have to admit that we women of the harvest do have style! This week I want to introduce you to a couple of blogs I have recently discovered. The first is called What to Wear Wednesdays by the author of a book on my shelf titled Good Girls Don’t Have to Dress Bad.
Another is by a young, chic college student who reminds me of our own Yellow Dress Girl, Sarah. This Sarah’s blog is called Wearing it on My Sleeves and is full of fabulous thrift store finds she has made over to suit her. All I can say is that she would go nuts over the treasures in most missionary closets.
With that in mind, I have a trivial question for you. Everyone wants to know…. What is in your closet and why?
We’re not talking about skeletons in your closet or anything serious like that (unless of course there is something urgent you feel like getting off your chest, and then we’ll all politely listen), but simply your wardrobe.
‘Fess up.
What is the oldest item of clothing you still wear?
When did you get it, and
what’s the story behind it?
My daughters laughed over a photo of a missionary friend at a birthday party fifteen years ago. The woman was wearing a red dress identical to the sun-faded pink dress she still wears today. The kids thought this hilarious.
It wasn’t so funny when a lady in the US commented on my favorite Coldwater Creek jacket, saying she used to have the same one. The emphasis was on “used to” and I was embarrassed. However, I still wear that same blazer, and six more years have passed. Why? I like it, it still fits, and it’s comfortable.
I have many theories on why we women of the harvest don’t care so much about what we wear. Mostly it boils down to finances, lack of thrift stores overseas, and cultural restraints. What is acceptable and modest in one place does not cut it in a different setting. Mostly, though, I think we are far enough outside of mainstream USA and Hollywood that we simply don’t care to play the game any more.
Back in 1988, my sister and her children came to visit us in Guatemala. I’ll never forget the look on my dh’s face as we saw Marsha’s attire when she got off the plane. She was wearing a drop-waist jumper-like dress (ew!) and (are you ready for this?) tennies with bobby socks! Anyone living in the US at that particular time would have thought nothing of it; in fact she was quite stylish by American standards. We, however, had never seen such a combination in our corner of the world.
What cracks me up is the number of missionaries we see today dressed just like my sister in 1988. Why do they do that? I suppose it’s comfortable and they like it.
IRL* No kidding, I’m typing this while wearing a cozy cardigan I got from Land’s End at least ten years ago.


  1. I have a lot of clothes that are over 10 years old. Especially clothes that don't get worn very often, like "church clothes". I still have a skirt bought second-hand, I cannot remember when I bought it, but it was before I graduated from university seventeen years ago.

    I think women of the harvest also have their eyes on things that are more permanent than fashion. Maybe that is why many of us don't quite fit the world's definition of fashionable. Why should I spend lots of money and time on making myself more beautiful when there are people out there who need Jesus?

  2. Jamie Jo, I love reading your blog!!

    Okay, If wearing clothes 10 years old is "bad fashion"... then I am in serious big trouble!! ;) I just read a blog that referred to "mom jeans" as a disgusting choice for any woman (those are the 'sit at your belly button kind'). Most of my jeans are of that sort. Hmmm...
    I do have a friend that swears up and down she will keep me in current fashions--- but she hasn't yet helped me--- nor does she have the money to fork out to make me fashionable. Hmmm...
    So, if someone would just give me a boat-load of cash and a personal shopper---I wouldn't mind getting some new clothes! :) Any offers?

  3. My clothes aren't that old. I was trying to think if I still have any clothes from college that I still wear (10 years ago) and I'm not sure that I do. Of course, it doesn't help that two kids later I am two sizes bigger. (Actually one size bigger. I'm working on it and having some success!)

    I think it depends on what your style is, too. My mom (also a missionary!) is very "Lands' End"-type style. So she has clothes that are probably 20 or 25 years old, and I wouldn't think that they are "out of style." Of course, they aren't really "in style" either, but I don't think that matters. I think as long as you are wearing classic or simple clothes, you won't ever really be completely dated!

    My clothes wear out a lot faster here, too, so I end up having to replace them more often. The shirt I'm wearing right now is only a year old but already has holes in it and is faded by the sun. So, there ya go :-)

  4. I think my oldest clothes are my "Sunday" clothes. Since we have a house church, we don't really dress up . . . ever. So, my "Sunday" clothes have become "home-assignment" clothes. It doesn't help that I buy most of my clothes at thrift shops and clearance racks, so they are usually out of style to begin with! =) The year we left for the field (8 years ago) my DSIL took me shopping for some nice clothes. I'm still wearing them every time we go back to the States at our churches. I'm sure our supporters think I don't have any other dresses at all. (I don't!)

    I remember in college, a fellow MK complimenting me on my dress one Sunday. I replied, "I got it in a missionary barrel." He lit up, "My suit is too!" His girlfriend (now wife) just rolled her eyes, "Only MK's would be proud of missionary barrel clothes." =)

  5. No time for many personal responses to each of you, but thanks for playing along. I see I have hit upon a truth or two.

    It's true that it's the dressy clothes that tend to last forever, at least for some of us, since we seldom EVER dress up except when we are in the states, and even there churches are getting more and more casual.

    Here we have only one season, which is spring/summer (and either wet or dry varieties). Therefore favorite clothes do wear out quickly. For me it's the warm clothes that last since I wear them a lot less.

    Some readers who live in certain European cities may find that "missionary barrel" clothes just don't cut it, but for others, it is a matter of pride how well we can dress for less. Haha.

    It does help when we pick classic styles that don't show their age.

    Like I say, we DO have style. It's just different than mainstream America.

  6. Great post on Missionary Barrel Apparel, JJ!

    My dh teases me that I'm not a good home school mama, because I don't wear "the uniform" (jumper, bobby socks, white tennis shoes and carry a large canvas bag with a curriculum logo on it). LOL! My friends in ru and ua would have dragged me to the market and dressed me in different clothes before letting me wear that!

    Our recent move caused me to leave so many clothes, that I only brought my newest clothes. I don't have much either, so it's not hard to decide what to wear. The oldest skirt, though, is 4 years old and is too nice to wear all the time. (and I would have worn it this summer, if I had remembered to keep my sandals that I wore with it.

    We have secondhand markets & shops here, so we have gotten quite a few things for the kids there. Tons of name brands and good quality clothes for a fraction of the price. Finding quality shoes is a problem here, but clothing is great!

  7. I guess I don't fit the mold here. :) Living in the tropics, you wear the same clothes year round and they wear out after a few years so when we come back to the US, I literally HAVE to start over. And I don't mind that a bit because honestly people do judge a book by it's cover and I want to be relevant to the women in my community. Don't shoot me, please. :) I love the Lord Jesus and His work as much as any of you, I promise you! :)
    Sometimes I do wonder though, why do missionary women try so hard to fit into our host culture, changing our dress often and yet, try so little to fit into our sending culture? If dress matters in our host culture, why doesn't it matter in our sending culture? Not trying to be divisive, just genuinely curious.
    All His blessings to each one who seeks to "be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit..." I Peter 3:4 I'm on the quest with you!

  8. Can someone enlighten me on the "Missionary Barrel"? I'm not American, I presume that is a phrase from your country.

  9. Hey, Hey! Missionary Barrel is from when everything got shipped in barrels and churches in the States would ship out barrels of old clothes for missionaries to give away. Instead they often chose the cream of the crop for themselves which wasn't the highest of fashion!

    I try hard to buy some clothes for me in my country so I don't look too American, but finding good prices and good quality is hard on a limited budget. I end up splurging at Good Will and sales in the States on furloughs to stock up for the lean years on the field.

    Oldest thing in my closet is a classic black party dress that I bought about 15 years ago in Fortaleza, Brazil. It's a classic! Long and A-line, no sleeves. Fav thing - striped cotton pj pants by Fruit of the Loom!

  10. Missionary Barrel Apparel. I love it! Thanks for the word history lesson, Michele. I always think of the Haley Mills movie Pollyanna when I think of missionary barrels.

    Shiloh, I am sure you are not alone, which only proves once again that we are diverse in our diversity. Truly it has taken me 25 years to get why missionaries seem to not care about appearance, though personally I do still try to look my best as effortlessly and inexpensively as possible.

    With internet, I can keep up on what´s considered completely passe, and also I can take advantage of huge sales online (as long as I can figure out a shipping address.) Right now I am waiting for a Lands End swimsuit that was super cheap with free shipping. However it arrived too late for our recent team to bring down. Now what to do?

  11. How fun to see you mention my book on here (Good Girls Don't Have to Dress Bad) I'd love to join the conversation and just say that the most important thing about choosing clothes for yourself is first and foremost, to understand that you are beautiful, no matter your size and shape. The problem with dressing today is that most women (from research I know this)have never been taught how to dress for their particular body shape (ever changing shape) and coloring...why is it important to dress nice? Because fashion meets faith the minute you decide what to wear each morning....our clothes should never be a distraction and honestly, sometimes they are! If we're wearing clothes that are out of style, too big, too small, or immodest, then our clothes become a focal point instead of our inner beauty...our outsides represent who we are on the inside! Just some food for thought for you fabulous women! Glad to meet you all! Shari Braendel

  12. So if Missionary Barrel is history, why do people still say they got things from a "missionary barrel"?

  13. Wow! Thanks for visiting this blog, Shari. You should know that at the Women of the Harvest retreats, these ladies get a free color analysis as part of the pampering offered. They could take that plus your book and go to town (or the thrift store) and find just what would best suit them.

    Wendy, I have no idea what is the answer to your question. It's just a fun phrase to say.

  14. An added explanation of "the barrel": Some missionaries (cough, cough) still store some of their things in barrels, the ones they used to ship their belongings in when they first came to the field. So once in awhile they dig down in that barrel to see if there are some more clothes to wear, ha. Just don't put mothballs in the barrel or those clothes will then have the official missionary barrel smell! I'm not kidding.
    That said, my oldest item is probably a black & white striped t-shirt material top. Not too old, though, only 22 yrs. Is that too old? Not if it's comfy and still fits. I can at least wear it around the house. :) In storage in the States my oldest item would be my wedding dress which is now 37 yrs old and 2 of our daghters wore it for their weddings because they liked the 70's style. Yes!

  15. jamie jo, you did it again... the blog made me smile and the discussion/comments have been a blast to read, too. LOVE this community!

  16. Me, too, Stephanie. I love this community and all the fun comments.

    Rena, wedding dresses don't count! But it goes to prove that retro fashions always come around. In fact my daughter has a striped top that sounds identical to your old one. Btw, thanks for the added lesson about the missionary barrel.

  17. I really don't know the oldest item of clothing I have since many are still in storage in the States. (I am so bad about getting rid of clothes.)

    I think the oldest item of clothing I have with me overseas is a white sleeveless top and matching cardigan that my aunt bought me in 1999 in Taiwan.

    My struggle here is that few clothes from the U.S. are appropriate for the Middle East. Everything needs to be long and modest. However, if I try to buy clothes that are sold locally, they are either not my size or bad material. So, after almost four years, I have worn out almost all my long skirts that I bought from the U.S. (all old) What should I do?

  18. Last time I was home (20 months ago) long skirts were really in in Australia. I don't know about the US.

  19. For whatever it´s worth, long full skirts are available here in Mexico. Just saying, if you want to come visit....

    White tops never go out of style. Good choice.

  20. Missionary Barrel... we still say it because it means something to us. It brings back memories and makes us smile - either from comic relief or a grimace of shared pain.

    My oldest, still wearing, piece of clothing is a fleece hoodie that I got second hand (yes, from the barrel) in highschool. Now, twenty years later, it still looks great, and still looks in style, and while large on me, is still comfortable. I've worn it as a teen, as a pregnant mom, and now my son even borrows it at times. It is... endless in fashion.. :) Or, it is just one of those things being plain burgandy and a nice quality, that will always be around.

    Check back in twenty years - I'll still be wearing it!

    But there is a balance between dressing to impress and not caring at all. Between spending money and being cautious. It is just up to all of us to find that balance for ourselves. We should fit in and not stick out and look dorky... but how we do that is another thing. I was blessed by two women in my home church who are my size who let me raid their closet (with help) and borrow their clothes while I am home. I can dress well, not spend money, and be confident in what I am wearing. One even has the same bra size as me, and used to bless me when I lived "over there" by sending me bras occasionally. I try to return the favor by freely lending my clothes when I can.


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