My Story of Clothing Deprivation

Last week, we focused on the idea that many people struggle with clothing deprivation. We explored the possible causes as well as the impact it can have on your quality of life. This week, I want to share my own clothing story with you. Please note that parts of my experience may be triggering if you’d had your own encounters with abandonment and poverty.

My Childhood Experience With Clothing Deprivation

I had a Dickensian childhood. As a young girl, I was passed from relative to relative without any sense of structure or routine. I was also sick for years: I had polio during the polio epidemic and then kidney disease that resulted in the removal of one kidney and two surgeries on the other. It was during my extended hospital stay for polio that I first met my mother. 

When I left the hospital, I went to live with my father and stepmother in the projects in Sacramento. This time was the worst of my life. We were poor, and my stepmother was evil. The neglect and deprivation were horrible. Now that I knew my mother, I visited her on the weekends. She took me shopping and bought me some cute dresses and shoes but never let me take them home. In other words, it was important that I looked good when I was with her, not for my own self-confidence or well-being. 

I remember one particular Christmas with my father and stepmother. I came downstairs on Christmas morning to find a decorated tree and beautifully-wrapped gift for me, both brought by a charity. I opened the present to find a beautiful, gray fuzzy coat, two sizes too big. The next day, my stepmother returned it for cash. 

This experience had a lasting impression on me: Not surprisingly, my daughters always had warm jackets, coats, hats, and gloves. When I started processing it with my therapist, I realized that I often bought coats for my loved ones. One year, I bought my cleaning lady a warm, wool coat for Christmas, as she always seemed cold to me. Fortunately, I have since learned to buy lovely shawls, coats, hats, and gloves for myself -- an important lesson in self-love! 

Associating Guilt and Embarrassment With Clothes

Soon after this holiday season, I went to live with my aunt and uncle. There, I had a nice home and luxuries like hot chocolate and cereal each night before bedtime. When it came to clothing, she provided for me. She traced my feet for sizing and brought clothes and shoes home to me. We never shopped together “just for fun,” and it felt like it wasn’t OK to want to look nice. 

By age 12 or 13, I began earning money from babysitting jobs. I saved every penny and took the bus to town on Saturdays. I would find inspiration in nicer stores and then go to less expensive ones to create a similar look. I never had enough to buy a complete outfit, but it was a step closer for me. 

I was married as a teenager and able to buy my own clothes. I felt guilty wearing them around my aunt though. She knew that we didn’t have much money and thus a limited budget for something as frivolous as a nice wardrobe. She never said anything, but I felt her judgment. 

Before credit cards were available, you could buy things on store credit. I accumulated large bills buying clothes for myself and my daughters. Still, I didn’t know how to thoughtfully curate my closet. I ended up with a lot of orphan items that never got worn because I couldn’t put a complete outfit together.

During my second marriage, my husband took care of our bank accounts. As a college teacher, he didn’t make a lot of money, but he handled our finances well. I generally felt confident in the way I dressed. However, I remember having one fancy dress that I wore to the symphony each month. I started to feel self-conscious, running into the same people and always wearing the same dress. 

Learning to Build a Wardrobe

In my next phase of life, I moved to San Francisco and worked in Corporate America. For the first time, I was on my own and making good money. I compulsively shopped without really knowing how to shop. I’d even go without groceries to have money for new clothes.

Once I decided to leave Corporate America, I signed up for a Career Exploration Class at San Francisco City College. My goal for this class was to explore ways to support myself while going back to school, particularly to see if I saw a future as a therapist. During this time, I became interested in running my own business and founded the Financial Recovery™ Institute. I also found Debtor’s Anonymous and a good therapist.

I soon met Brenda Kinsel, an image consultant. Once I started my company, I hired her. I remember our first shopping trip like it was yesterday, even though it was 33 years ago. We were in a little boutique on Sacramento Street in San Francisco. I followed her around the store as she selected pants, jackets, tops, and belts and then had everything taken to a large dressing room. Brenda did all the leg work, getting different sizes for me or grabbing a new top to pair with a jacket I liked. I loved when she would stand back, take a thoughtful gaze at me, and tell me how good I looked. Afterwards, I just sat and cried. It was truly the best experience I’ve ever had!


Don’t miss my first post in this series: The Impact of Clothing Deprivation. Stay tuned for my third post: How to Refresh Your Wardrobe. I’ll share how to build a wardrobe that you love so that you truly look forward to getting up and getting dressed every day of the week. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the impact of clothing deprivation and the power of building a suitable wardrobe, particularly for business, I’ll be speaking on this topic during the upcoming Mind Over Money Summit. Sign up here!


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