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Outward expression…


A few times on my blog, I’ve mentioned how lost I feel when I’m shopping for clothes.  It’s a little embarrassing, because, as an “artsy person” I’m supposed to be good at that.  I used to be good at it.  I used to be fearless with my berets and blue nail polish and mary janes.  I used to scour magazines for the latest fashions and trends in clothing and then I would hang out at the mall for hours, trying things on, picking through sales racks, putting together outfits.  Then I started working in the corporate world.  A pair of striped corduroys I was fond of became known as the “seizure pants” at the office and I knew I needed to calm down and grow up my wardrobe.  I traded in my platforms for pumps and school girl skirts for suits and sweater sets.

Every once in a while, a pair of black and white wing-tips would sneak in, a messy hair style or some untucked shirt-tails, but I had the “business casual” dress code pretty much nailed.

 Then I stopped working.  Then I had kids.  Then I gained weight.  Then trying on jeans was torture.  Then I didn’t have money for clothes or time to shop.  Then it wasn’t fun.

 I went shopping when I had to and bought things that weren’t the worst thing I tried on.

Then I lost 35 lbs.  Then my business started to grow and I had a little spending money for new clothes.  Then I started to enjoy trying on clothes.  But even then, as I shopped, I didn’t know what I was shopping for.  I just bought clothes that I could wear around the house, to paint in, to the playground and a couple of nice things for church.

Then my business took off and I gained 30 lbs. back and was so busy that I wore my hair in a bandana most days.  Ill-fitting, paint splatter sweatpants became my security blanket.  My job became the excuse for the holes in the sleeves, the year-round crocks and the faded, baggy sweatshirts.  I would laugh about it and say I didn’t care…but I did.  Of course, I did.  It was just easier.

Then I was asked to be on the Nate Berkus Show and be in BHG and Women’s Day and Flea Market Style Magazine.  It was my dream…and my nightmare.  They didn’t just want to film and photograph my house.  They wanted to film and photograph me.  A panic ensued.  I went shopping to find the “perfect outfit”, only to come home with a few things I felt mediocre about.

I had to give myself a few pep talks.  Remind myself to celebrate and stop being so hard on myself.  To be content in all things.

In Spring of 2012, I drove myself to the ER in the middle of the night with acute chest pain.   A few days later, my gallbladder had to be removed.  A few months later, I woke up to how unhealthy I had become.  The baggy, paint-splattered sweats was just a symptom…an outward expression of my self-image.  The heart of the matter was that I wasn’t taking good care of myself.  I drastically changed my diet, I started setting limits, I started saying no more often, I started striving for balance, I started exercising and I started losing weight.

I cut my hair and retired the bandanas.

I got rid of all of the ill-fitting, paint splattered clothes…

…which was hard and liberating at the same time.

For about a year now, I’ve been waiting to hit my goal weight and then I’ll do some serious clothes shopping.  Then I’ll accept the services Ella, a personal stylist local to me, offered.  Until then I’ll just wear jeans and t-shirts and freak out every time there’s a special event.

No.  That won’t do.  Photo shoots and events and workshops and book signings are happening more often.  I’m ready to drop the “mom excuse” and the “too busy with my business excuse” and the “I’m not at my goal weight excuse”.  I’m ready for my clothes to be an outward expression of my creativity, success as an entrepreneur and evidence that I am not hiding in the shadow of my house.

So, I took a step and made an appointment with Ella of Start Close In.

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We’ve exchanged some e-mails about my styles, my likes and dislikes, my expectations, my budget and my goals.

She’s been working on some pin boards for me based on those e-mails and then came out this morning to go through my closet.

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I decided I would just wear sweats and a t-shirt when I answered the door.  That’s my uniform and I might as well make her face it head on!  Now, honestly, as I was waiting for her to arrive, I started to fear that the meeting would be a total disaster.  She would pick and nag and roll her eyes and rub her temples at what a fashion mess I was.  There was none of that.  At all.  Ever.  Ella immediately set me at ease by asking me to pick out my favorite piece of clothing.  I went right to the black and white polkadot shirt with the tie in the front.

“Oh yeah, I like that one, too!”, Ella assured me.

She instructed me to put it on with skinny jeans and boots, as I would wear it.  From there, she started to pull out other pieces that would work with that shirt.  She then started piecing together other pieces from my closet and creating outfits for me to try on.

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She started where I was comfortable.  Grays, blacks, white, jeans, boots, layers, scarves.  She showed me how to add that extra element to take an outfit from nice to that-girl-is-really-put-together.

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Outfits started to take shape all over the room…

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I was actually ready to get rid of a lot of clothes, since a lot of them are too big on me and on the frumpy side, but she showed me how to rework them by rolling up the sleeves and, in the case of this cardigan, had me put it on backwards, which looked surprisingly cool and not at all like I was wearing a cardigan backwards.

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 She even worked with my chucks, which made her very endearing to me.

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…and she put together pieces I hadn’t worn in weeks, months, maybe even years in a couple of cases.

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 …and gave me permission to wear a sparkly necklace with a sparkly tank.

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She started freaking me out when she cinched things at the waist and made me tuck things in.  I also found I’ve been wearing my skirts at the wrong place on my waist!  Who knew?  She paired a floral boutique skirt I was going to get rid of with a white prairie-style shirt from the GAP and made me pull the skirt up to the smallest point on my waist and then tuck in the shirt.  I was pink-faced and flustered, but I was obedient.  I wasn’t sure at first, but then I realized it looked so flattering and like a super-cute dress.  We paired it with boots, lacy boot socks, a vintage chunky red necklace that belonged to my grandmother and a vintage apron a reader custom embroidered for me…

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I have a photo shoot coming up on Wednesday and this outfit is the winner for the shoot…

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By the end of the session, Ella had pulled out all of the clothes from my closet.  We got rid of the ones that weren’t flattering or I wasn’t in love with and she put everything back in my closet, sorted by outfit.

She also made a list of the clothing we talked about to round out my wardrobe…some poly-cotton blend dressy t-shirts in bright colors, a classic white button-up shirt, some fun shoes, a few colorful pieces of jewelry and some skirts.

She introduced me to ModCloth and I immediately bought this pair of shoes

The Best of Times Heel in Black


In a few weeks, we’re going to hit the mall together, so I can try on some new clothes and learn how to shop for clothes with purpose.   When she left, I felt energized and excited about stepping out of my comfort zone a bit.

Here are some of my favorite things I learned today…

  • I had some thin scarves that I never wore.  She twisted two together to make a thicker scarf and it looked amazing.
  • I can wear a necklace and a scarf at the same time.  Mind blowing.
  •  I have a waist and Ella even suspects I’m still buying clothes a size too big.
  • She pulled out jewelry that I haven’t touched for years and showed me creative ways to mix and match pieces.
  • Rolling up sleeves or a pant leg will show off a skinny part of my body, highlighting my weight loss
  • I should let cardigans fall open, showing the line of my waist inside.
  • Ella introduced me to lip stain and I can’t wait to go buy a few tubes.

When I first thought about working with a stylist, I was a little resistant to it, because it sounded so fancy and uppity.  But, I had the opportunity, so I went for it.  Ella’s approach was so down-to-earth, though.  She’s a big fan of TJ Maxx and Target and Kohl’s.  She wanted to work with everything I had before even mentioning buying something new.  In fact, her entire philosophy is about working with EXTRA-ordinary women…not celebrities and big wigs.  Just regular women who need a little (or a lot of help.)  I was looking up her pricing, so I could share it with you and was surprised to see that for the month of October, she is offering “Personal Pricing.”  You can set your prices for her services, so it works with your budget.

She lives in the DC metro area, but she can go through your closet with you through Skype and help you shop through Pinterest, so if you’re interested in working with Ella as a personal stylist, you can contact her through her blog, Start Close In.

I’ll keep you posted on the shopping trips and the outfits!  You can see what she did with my closet and some of the looks she created for me on Ella’s Instagram.

I didn’t realize this post was going to be so long or so emotional for me to write!  It just sort of came out as the words formed in my head and I started to type.  For me, this entire experience isn’t just about the clothes.

It’s about an outward expression of what’s inside.


 Disclosure: This is not a paid promotional post.  Ella and I wanted to work together and she didn’t ask for anything in return.  I’m writing this post because I want to.

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  1. Virginia says:

    What a fun and inspiring post! You look amazing and it was courageous of you to share your journey! I love the idea of re-purposing things that you already have and looking outside of the box (what a great way to save $$). Keep us posted on your shopping trip! Can’t wait to see what you come back with! Thanks for always being so real and inspiring! <3

  2. Great post! Love your look. Very much along the lines of what I like. You are looking fabulous by the way. I’m enjoying ModCloth. Thanks for sharing.

  3. kelly arent {copper roof interiors} says:

    Love this post Marian….one of my favs!!! I love Ella’s site…she’s awesome!! Have fun with this and thanks for sharing!! You Rock!!

  4. Love this post. I could have been written about me as far as my fashion sense is these days. I think I might buy my clothes too big as well. I hate the feel of tight clothes and always felt I look slimmer in looser clothes. I think the opposite is true. You look fab and give me inspiration to go over my own wardrobe.

  5. You look AMAZING, my friend. So proud of you and for you!!! can’t wait to see you again!

  6. Nancy says:

    Thank you so much for the inspiration. I had to attend a dinner that I didn’t really care how I looked for. Pulled out a basic dress. Boring! Pulled out a skirt and tights(and the rest of the necessary clothing items of course) and a fancy necklace I’ve never worn and went for it!

  7. Jill Hilbricb says:

    Great post, I think a lot of us can relate! I love how she shopped your closet and used what you already had, it also means that you still have good taste! That knowledge would boost my confidence a bit, if I were you! Love, love the new shoes you’re ordering! Can’t wait to read about the shopping trip!

  8. You look mah-va-lous!!!!…You certainly have that sparkle in your eyes!!!…You go Marian!…

  9. Every woman should have the possibility to get this fantastic help! Just the fact that Ella looked at what you already had, instead of getting you buy all new…..! GRAT!
    and I love to see you in the White outfit with the apron!

  10. Kathy Staples says:

    Phenomenal. Inspirational and so totally on target with me its just a little scary. Thanks, i needed that!

  11. Ellen Slipcover Queen says:

    ….. you have really inspired me!! Thank you. And I lovelovelove the outfit you chose for the photo shoot.

  12. Nikki says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience! This was encouraging and uplifting at the same time!!! Please continue to post about this awesome expedition that you’re on.

  13. Karen Wheeler says:

    WOW! You look amazing. I love the pensive photo of you in black & white. You are showing facets of MMS that have perhaps only been hinted at before. We grow and change, grow and change; we think we have the clothes thing nailed, then suddenly it isn’t AGAIN! But your stylist is a great idea! We keep forgetting that each of us has something amazing to offer. Cannot wait to check out Ella’s site!

  14. Sharon Abel says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about shopping – I share many of the same feelings about clothes and body image. I’ve found a lot of inspiration from the blog You Look Fab (YLF) and since it arrives daily in my inbox I never have to spend a dime on fashion magazines. We recently moved from the Toronto area to a small town and I miss seeing what (fashionable) people are actually wearing out there. You Look Fab has really helped in that regard.

    Love your blog ! And sign up for YLF – here’s the link:


  15. Really beautifull!

  16. Kim Graft says:


    I am sitting here with tear filled eyes and a heavy heart because I felt as though you just wrote my life history regarding my struggles with fashion which always have revolved around weight and still does. I love love love layered looks and scarves and boots with great tights or awesome socks just above the top of the boot and something just a little off the beaten path including Chuck Taylors as well. Of course County Living is not asking for a photo shoot but when I walk out of my home I want to feel amazing and because of my weight (sz 12-14) and much more importantly my inability to actually shop and put the outfits together and find my style, I just wear my paint splattered sweats and old t-shirts (I’m a MMS wannabe). I have enough clothing to get by because why buy anything else if it is not what I love anyways? So I purchase mediocre clothing and let it be. so sad….maybe I will be inspired to put myself out there with a Stylist.

  17. Great and fun blogpost Marian. Proud of you!

  18. Nancy says:

    Thank you for your inspiration in seeking and going after the Wow factor. I just sent an email to Ella asking for her help as I also need direction in going that extra mile or two. I’m hopeful that she can do for me what she has done for you…that same feel-good feeling is what I need. Your smile definitely captures that and more!

  19. So happy for you Marian! I will get there some day. First things first! But in the meantime…thanks for making me feel normal! How exciting…I love that you are taking time for YOU! Wonderful!

  20. You are always so inspiring and Ella was the icing on the cake today. Thank you both for
    all the fashion hints.

  21. Thanks for featuring the my apron! I love how you pulled the outfit together. So cute!

  22. Patricia says:

    I am so proud of you! As I was reading your post, I found that I was smiling. Smiling because you have come so far and I am so happy for you that you are finally recognizing that you DESERVE this prettying-up. Go for it! Frame that beautiful, sweet face that we all know and love with some jewels and pretty clothes! Celebrate your success! YOU DESERVE IT!

  23. Amanda Dawdy says:


    I really enjoyed this post. It was completely entertaining. I enjoyed the tips about the cardigans. Girl you look great! Keep up all you hard work both personally and mustard seed wise. You are a great inspiration!!!


  24. Marian,
    As a wife to a disabled husband, mom to 7 and care taker of my mom…i usually only wear comfort, and since I never know when I will have a few mins to paint (started my own business in Feb). my clothes usually have paint on them.
    Due to my husband’s 20 yers of disability I shop the local thrift shops…..and I have some GREAT outfits….but I have ALOT more things….that I get becuase it is cheap and some what fits.
    BUT, Thanks to your posts….I have begun cleaning out my closet. I went through 1/2 of it yesterday, after reading your post. I tried on several things…and wasn’t in LOVE with the way they fit…so I put them in a bag…and the things I never wore went into a bag. I am left with WAY too many clothes, still. But, the process has begun.
    SO..I am thinking I need to put together some outfits to help me sort through a bit more.
    Can you share a bit more about that process…..I noticed you have all the stuff grouped together on a hanger…is this how you organized it to make help you make decisions on what to keep or what you needed to buy?
    I am in ohio, and am also wondering if you only went through clothes for this season, fall/winter?
    Thank You for Sharing, and Inspiring.
    Deb Claytor

  25. …how completely wonderful! I am thrilled, you an expert in your field, used an expert in her field!
    Love that you could tweak things you already had!
    Fabulous blog entry and I appreciate your honesty!

  26. Annette H says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty in sharing your struggles. I’m at the very beginning of a health turn around and admire when we women can help one another along by sharing our own trials. It helps so much to know we are not alone in our struggles!

    What a blessed opportunity to have a stylist come in to help you! It looks to me like you already had the makings of a great wardrobe, you just needed a new perspective on how to use what you had. :) (The same would NOT be true of my closet! lol)

    Thanks again for sharing… Annette

  27. I sometimes feel a little lost when shopping too. I find pulling together outfits inspired by my clothing pinterest board helps, as well as being intentional about trying new pieces together. That and having a few good friends who you can talk clothing together with. I love the pieces you guys put together and I love that it looks like it was a fun get together with a girl friend. So smart starting with your closet first, then shopping together for any holes. Thanks so much for sharing.

  28. My friends and I have and so much fun clothes shopping at Goodwill. The first Saturday of the month is half price. You would not believe the name brand clothes you can find that still have the tags on. Meeting early for breakfast and then heading to Goodwill is a fun “girls morning out” and we are home by lunch. Last week I went to Goodwill to look for a clock for my Sunday School class and came out with a pair of brown leather Liz Claiborne pumps for $4. I know – it took my awhile too before I would actually even go down the shoe aisle! They did not have the tags but looked brand new. Our girl time together makes clothes shopping more interesting and fun. Especially when we reveal our great outfits to each other and brag about how little we paid for them.

  29. mommaof4&adog says:

    Marion, you look beautiful!! I am going to check out those Instagram pics. Love your style, right down to the Chucks! I have the same phobia of clothes shopping. I feel much more confident digging through piles of dusty old antiques and cast off finds than racks of clothing, shopping for jeans makes me want to curl up in a fetal position, but Pinterest has been a life saver for my wardrobe. My funds are limited as is my desire to go to the mall, but a few mix and match items from Marshall’s and TJMaxx have been a big help. Thank you for sharing your experience and for being so transparent and honest. You are a huge encouragement! God bless!

  30. mommaof4&adog says:

    I also can’t forget Ella’s brilliance and smart practicality!! After watching those makeover shows that make shopping for new clothes seem so impossible and impractical without actually going on their show for help, Ella, thank you for showing us that being stylish is only as far away as our own closets!! Ella, do you want to come visit Florida and help me with MY wardrobe???=0) Amazing!

  31. Elizabeth A says:

    Marian, I too have taken back my health over the last year and I know it is hard to get that spunk back. Glad to see you are enjoying the new you and dressing the body you have been working so hard for.

  32. Laura Strack says:

    You look amazing! Love all the outfits she put together for you. It is crazy to think she uses things that might be 2-3 years old. Just goes to show that some fashions are traditional and very classic. I suspect she is going to be one busy lady!

  33. Oh goodness, this is amazing! What a cool service to have! I love reading about people that I can relate to and how they take care of themselves. It inspires me to take better care of myself. Thanks!

  34. This makes me really happy. Every woman deserves to realize and accentuate how beautiful they really are. You shine just as bright as your furniture and interiors now. You reflect what you make, and it is so very lovely.

  35. Tania Russell says:

    Marion, the honesty and vulnerability you shared was really touching. I think that many women battle with negative body images and also feel intimidated by fashion and think they can only look cute if they are super skinny. Furthermore, admitting this and asking for help is even scarier–as women, we’re supposed to know how to put ourselves together, right? And it’s hard to let the security blanket of those frumpy baggy clothes go. I think you verbalized what many women don’t even know how to confront, and they probably think they’re the only ones facing these challenges. Bravo. Wonderful piece. Thank you.

  36. Dianne says:

    That was amazing! She is really good! Clothes are my worst thing: to shop for or to put together. I would much rather remodel, redecorate, paint, shop for the house, anything but clothes.

    I think everyone wants an Ella! I sure do. . .

    Happy you are doing so well and have more balance in your life!

  37. Maye Magner says:

    Miss Mustard Seed,

    I think some solid color or small print wrap dresses would look great on you. The boots are super for you but try a small heel at times. It gives you confidence. The vintage necklaces and such are nice when worn with figure flattering attire. Stay away from loose fit but if you do choose that get some nice belts and cinch. You have great hair and I think a bit longer works for you. Keep up the good work. Don’t be afraid of make-up either. You have gorgeous skin and eyes that you can show off. You are a successful woman and have alot of fans including me!

    Kind regards,

  38. Thank you God for Marian. Tomorrow is my b-day, I think I will gift myself permission to live my life like I deserve and not putting myself below last, and I will take my inspiration from you Marian. As always, I appreciate you and your openness, this is the final push that I have needed. All my love to you.

  39. Debbie says:

    First I must say I read your blog almost weekly and love it so. I have lost 30 pounds as well.
    It started as a diet but more came off due to extreme stress of ailing parents and in-laws.
    I too never bought the right size and I really have no idea what I am doing to dress for
    today’s hipper image. I worked in banking for 16 years and wore the conservative suits and
    typical heels. I thoroughly enjoy your journey and writing about your feelings. You have
    motivated me to take a good look at my closet and shed the items that no longer work.

  40. Pamela Fairchild says:

    thanks for the post Marian…It was very inspirational not to mention emotional from you….I want to say even though I don’t know you…I feel like I do….you are an inspiration in that you did jump out of the comfort zone of sweats and paint clothes…for that…I give you tons of credit….I too paint a lot with items handmade and signs…and I find I spend quite a lot of time in those sweats and sweatshirts that are chalked full of paint and stain….you really forget how to dress outside of that arena….I loved reading how you stepped out of that box and allowed yourself to grow.

  41. Wow… so inspiring. Thank you for letting us into your REAL, RAW emotions. I now, want to clean out my closet and do the same thing.

    Thank you for being so honest.

    ~ Lisa ~

  42. Melissa K says:

    So, I saw you at Wegman’s today and I just wanted to say that your outfit looked great! Loved the green t-shirt, black & white scarf combo. You’ve really made me consider using Jessica’s services. Do you think she’d come to Mechanicsburg?

  43. Amber jackson says:

    WOW!! Thank you for sharing this post, its exactly what I needed to read today after leaving the house in my pajamas for the third day in a row… Oh my, I even has a closet and dressers full of beautiful clothes that I am struggling putting together. Love the outfit idea, I think I start trying this with the clothes that I have. Thanks for sharing again. LOVE

  44. Kirsten says:

    YAY! Fun post! If you ever need help with hair and make-up ideas, I’m far away but I’m more than happy to share my favs as well as ideas. I’m a hair stylist and also do makeup. Know that a Christian sister is more than happy to share ideas if you’d like ;0)

    Love in Jesus,


  45. Kirsten says:

    Oh yeah…and I was also a personal trainer too if you need any ideas there ;0)


  46. So they say confession is good for the soul. I am almost in tears after reading this but I am in the exact same place. And I don’t know what to do about it and I so wish I knew an Ella. I am afraid that if I go to someone they will try to re-invent me like my Mom and daughter do with fashion. I hate tailored preppy clothes. They love me in Talbots. gag
    Next time we are together ( which I am hoping is going to be rather soon) we are talking!! And your job is to slap me around a bit and get me motivated to get myself back together and lookin on the outside like I feel on the inside. K?

  47. Barbara Bussey says:

    Oh what fresh, talented eyes can do!

  48. Cool you look marvelous darling. Sometimes I think I should have done that. With 38 years in retail. So many style show presentation and workshops on how to dress. Why did I not get in to this biz

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