Can Kids Count On Us?

Like it or not, how you look does affect how you feel about yourself. An attractive appearance is not going to miraculously solve all your divorce-related problems, but it can help you feel better. And it doesn't have to cost a fortune --all it takes is a little determination and know-how.

By Diana Shepherd
Updated: September 26, 2014
Health and Well Being

When you're going through a divorce, your self-esteem can be at an all-time low. Stress and strong emotions can cause you to eat and sleep poorly, unintentionally lose or gain weight, and generally lack the energy and motivation to pay attention to personal grooming. "I feel terrible, so I might as well look terrible," you think. Your ex isn't around to complain about how you look in that red sweatsuit, and your kid's going to love you whether or not you wash your hair today, so what's the big deal?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with spending a lazy Saturday in your PJs from time to time, and there's no earthly reason why a woman should have to wear makeup or spend an hour styling her hair in order to go grocery shopping. The problem arises when chronic self-neglect starts to cost you -- everything from a promotion at work to the respect of friends and colleagues to the possibility of a new relationship.

Whether it's human nature or societal conditioning, people -- and this includes you -- will judge you on your appearance. You can boost your self-esteem by taking pride in rather than being ashamed of how you look. I'm not suggesting that you become obsessed with your looks, spending hours a day and large sums of money to look your "absolute best." You shouldn't try to look like a model unless you are one (and they generally have to be bulimic or work out four hours every day of their lives in order to look like that. Who needs that grief?!). Once you've acquired "The Basics" -- flattering hairstyle, clothes, and a positive body image to go with them -- an attractive appearance takes relatively little effort. Here's how.

The kindest cut
A really good haircut is the determining factor for how your hair looks. Forget those expensive bottles of designer hair products -- unless you hair is cut well and in a style that flatters you, you're going to experience frequent "bad hair days."

So your first assignment is to find a good stylist you can trust. He or she will take into consideration your type of hair (curly, straight, limp, fly-away, etc.) the shape of your face (round, oval, heart-shaped, thin, etc.), and your lifestyle (indoor or outdoor job, amount of time you're willing and able to devote to styling your hair on a daily basis, etc.) before suggesting a style. Feel free to clip pictures of styles you like from magazines and ask the stylist to be honest about whether or not they will work for you. Here are some tips for finding a great stylist.

  • Ask your friends who they use. Of course, only ask friends with good haircuts, and preferably those with similar hair -- a stylist who's great with straight hair may be hopeless with curly hair and vice-versa.
  • If you can, make an appointment with the salon owner. He or she will probably have the most experience and the incentive to please you.
  • Ask the stylist these questions: How long have you been working? How long have you been with this salon? Have you taken any courses in new techniques for cutting/coloring/perming (whichever applies to your needs)?
  • Arrive with your hair "au naturel." Don't curl, straighten, or apply styling products to your hair. The stylist needs to see and feel what it really looks like in order to evaluate your hair.
  • Tell the stylist how much time you can spend on your hair every day. If you're a busy single parent with a demanding job as well as kids, you need "wash-and-wear hair" -- don't choose a style that's going to take 45 minutes to arrange. Also, if you can't afford to have your hair cut every six weeks, stay away from short styles. A good medium-length cut will look good as it's growing out, so you can get away with four haircuts a year.
  • Some people like to save a few bucks by having their hair cut but not dried at the salon. The flaw in this plan is that you can't evaluate a cut unless you see the final result. After the stylist dries your hair, if you don't like the style, speak up then and there. Tell him or her what you don't like, and ask him or her to fix it.
  • Ask the stylist to explain what and how she or he is doing so you can learn how to achieve the same result at home. Are there any special techniques (like blow-drying hair upside-down), brushes, or styling products you'll need to create this 'do?

Once you have a great cut, take care of your hair by avoiding excessive blow-drying, damp combing, or curling -- all of which can damage your hair.

Choose a shampoo and conditioner based on how your hair looks after you use it, and whether or not you like the smell. Expensive is not necessarily better when it comes to hair products. About once a month or so, you should use a "clarifying" shampoo to rid your hair of excess conditioner buildup. And if you swim regularly in a pool, you may want to use a shampoo specially formulated to remove chlorine and other minerals from time to time.

Most shampoos are 70-80% water, 10% detergent, and 10% other ingredients (such as fragrance). A word about "vitamin-enriched" shampoos: since your hair is dead once it leaves your scalp, it's a waste of money to "feed" vitamins etc. to something that isn't alive. There are vitamin and mineral supplements you can take to improve the appearance of hair, skin, and nails -- look for one containing vitamins A, B6, B12, C, E, Beta Carotene, and Biotin -- but you swallow them rather than rubbing them on your hair. Conditioners are meant to fill in the missing pieces of cuticle that have broken off because of processing (everything from brushing to perming).

Now that your hair's under control, let's move on to your wardrobe.

Out of the closet
If you spend 15 minutes standing in front of your closet every morning, you either have too many clothes, the wrong kind of clothes, or a mixture of the two.

I'm lucky enough to have a close friend who has been the editor of such prestigious magazines as Toronto Life Fashion and Marie Claire, and she went through my closets one day and told me what to keep, toss, and what I needed to buy. That was ten years ago, and some of the purchases I made with her guidance are still in frequent use (or have been replaced with similar items if they started to show excessive wear). And before starting this magazine, I spent five years working for a bridal magazine that featured a large section devoted to non-bridal fashion and beauty. Here are some of the best secrets I've learned from fashion-industry professionals over the years.

The first step is to organize your closet. This will require a chunk of time (two to three hours) and a couple of large boxes that you'll fill with clothes to go to Goodwill, a women's shelter, or your little sister. You're going to have to be ruthless here: the fact you've kept a bridesmaid's dress for 15 years and that you have happy memories of wearing it that one time 15 years ago aren't good enough reasons to keep it any longer. As you place each item in the box, think of how much use someone will get from your castoffs -- it'll make the process much less painful for you hoarders. If something is too small for you, think about how committed you are to losing the weight that would enable you to wear it. "Commitment" here means you're already taking action to lose weight, not just thinking about it. If something is too big for you, decide whether it's worth getting it tailored to fit. If something is too young for you (I'm sorry, but highschool fashions are just plain embarrassing when worn by women in their thirties and forties), give it away. If you bought an expensive mistake (an article of clothing you never wear because you don't like it or it makes you look like a house), give it away -- or sell it.

You may be able to recoup some of your losses on costly mistakes by taking them to a consignment store. These stores will display and try to sell your clothes, taking a cut of the sale as commission.

Unless you have empty closet space all over your home (as if!), the bottom line is that the only clothes that should be hanging in your closet are ones that fit you, look good on you, and that you love.

The same rules apply to footwear: too small, big, age-inappropriate, or uncomfortable shoes have to go. If your absolute favorite pair is damaged, ask a shoemaker if he can repair them (replace a sole or heel, for instance). If not, throw them out.

After you've pared down your wardrobe -- and you may have to repeat this process two or three times before you're truly finished -- the next step is to choose your Basic Color, which will be black, brown, or navy. You can have more than one Basic Color, but you'll need all the same items in each color you choose. This will get pricey, so I suggest you choose one color to start with.

A wardrobe that works
Unless you work for Outward Bound, you'll need clothes that can work at the office and for evenings out as well as casual-wear. Buy the best quality you can afford, because these items are meant to last for years -- if you wear a $200 jacket 600 times over five years, its "cost per wearing" will be much less than a $30 jacket you wear 20 times then toss because it looks threadbare or has lost its shape). If you have the time, energy, and experience to judge the good, the bad, and the ugly, you can find some great buys at warehouse and end-of-season sales. There's a lot of junk at these places, however, so you'll have to develop an eye for quality and know what you're looking for before making any purchases. Consider only buying clothes you can return until you get the hang of it. Here are five shopping rules that should save you time, money, and aggravation:

  • Shopping Rule #1: don't buy clothes that are much too small or too big for you, no matter how much they've been marked down, who the designer is, or how much weight you intend to lose or gain. They'll look awful on you, or they'll hang in your closet reminding you of the New Year's resolution you failed to keep until you donate them to Goodwill.
  • Shopping Rule #2: don't buy anything you don't love (or at least really, really like). You just won't wear it, or if you do, you'll feel unhappy and badly-dressed.
  • Shopping Rule #3: make a list of what you need, rearrange this list in order of priority, then buy only those items on the list (one at a time if you can't afford the whole shootin' match right now). Keep this list in your purse to remind you not to buy the fuschia print when what you really need is a crisp white shirt.
  • Shopping Rule #4: never shop at the last minute. You'll spend too much and probably end up with a clothing "lemon."
  • Shopping Rule #5: take a friend along (this is mandatory if you're going to a warehouse sale). Choose a friend whose taste you admire, and give her or him permission to be absolutely honest about whether something makes you look like the Michelin Man. Your friend can also look for different sizes while you stay in the dressing room.

The Basics
The Basics are the clothes you'll wear every day. You should love them, they should be comfortable and easy-care, and you should feel confident that you look great wearing them. If you don't know which styles flatter your particular body type, pick up a book such as Presenting Yourself: A Personal Image Guide by Mary Spillane (see "Recommended Reading," below, for more information about this and other helpful titles). For a list of what you absolutely need to have in your closet, please see "Women's Basics" (below) or "Men's Basics" (below). Of course, you'll also have many other articles of clothing to suit your personal tastes and lifestyle, but these Basics should form the foundation of your wardrobe. Here are a few words about the items on the lists:

  • Your jacket should be very plain (stay away from this season's "hot" new styles), single-breasted with a plain collar, and made from a mid-weight fabric that will take you through at least three of the four seasons.
  • Your pants should be comfortable, but not sloppy. Choose a washable fabric that holds its shape (check out the wrinkle-free, tailored pants that you can find at most department stores).
  • You can wear the crisp white cotton shirt to work with your suit (women can wear it with a skirt), or with jeans for a casual but classy look. Make sure it's made of good-quality, washable cotton, and that the style is simple for easy ironing.

If you're struggling with a weight problem, you should know that wearing clothes that are either too loose or too tight will not improve your appearance. Again, buy clothes that fit you now, and look for articles that are tailored (this doesn't mean skin-tight) rather than sloppy.

You look marvelous!
You need to be realistic about what an attractive appearance can do for you. It won't make you happy, or successful in life or in love. What it can do is give you a little extra self-confidence, which might be the boost you need to get into action somewhere you've been stopped -- whether that's looking for a new job or a new relationship.

Since separation and divorce is such a challenging experience, anything you can do to lower your stress (drug and alcohol abuse aside) is a good thing. By using these tips, you can roll out of bed in the morning, spend less than a minute in front of your closet, minimal time in front of the bathroom mirror, and emerge to face the day confident that you look your best.

Recommended Reading

The Body Image Workbook: An 8-Step Program for Learning to Like your Looks
By Thomas F. Cash, Ph.D.
(Raincoast Books, 1997)
A poor body image can seriously undermine your quality of life. This workbook offers both men and women a step-by-step program to help change self-defeating attitudes and improve self image. A pioneer in the psychology of personal appearance, Dr. Cash can teach you how to accept your body -- and yourself.

30 Days to a Simpler Life
By Connie Cox and Cris Evat
(Plume Paperbacks, 1998)
This deceptively simple step-by-step, day-by-day method for saving time, energy, and money -- and all it takes is 15 minutes a day! If you're having problems paring down your closet or moving around in your bedroom, this is the book for you. You'll learn how to: organize every room in your house (including the closets); have a garage sale; prepare quick and healthy meals; and much more.

Dress Casually for Success... For Men
By Mark Weber
(McGraw-Hill, 1997)
You clothes convey your image -- what do your clothes say about you? This entertaining guide shows you how to dress down without sacrificing authority and style. There are lots of useful photos, easy-to-use charts, and quick references for "Fashion Do's and Dont's."

Paisley goes with Nothing: A Man's Guide to Style
By Hal Rubenstein
(Doubleday, 1995)
"Your socks should never be funnier than you are." "Don't wear an ascot unless you've been there."Combining wit, insight, and common sense, this book offers survival tactics for the modern world -- everything from how to dress to how to behave. The advice is great, and the delivery is very funny -- what could be better?

Presenting Yourself: A Personal Image Guide for Women
Presenting Yourself: A Personal Image Guide for Men

By Mary Spillane
(Piatkus Publishing, 1993)
A leading image consultant shows you how to look your best and to present a confident, successful image at all times. You'll learn how to: instantly recognize clothes that will work with your body shape; choose colors and styles that flatter you; build a coordinated wardrobe; and present yourself in public.

Women's Basics

  • a jacket in your Basic Color (black, brown, or navy)
  • two skirts (one long, one short) in your Basic Color
  • a pair of pants in your Basic Color
  • a white cotton shirt (or two)
  • a silky blouse
  • a simple all-purpose dress in your Basic Color (dress it up with faux pearls for a night out, or wear it under a jacket at work)
  • two turtlenecks or long-sleeved T-shirts, one white and one in your Basic Color
  • a couple of plain, round-necked cotton T-shirts in white
  • one pair of flat shoes in your Basic Color
  • one pair of medium-heel (an inch and a half to two inches) pumps in your Basic Color
  • one good purse in your Basic Color
  • one good leather belt in your Basic Color
  • pantyhose and socks in your Basic Color, and skin-toned pantyhose
  • jeans, sweaters, shorts, sneakers, swimsuits, sportswear etc. to suit your needs and lifestyle
  • two vests: one in your Basic Color, and one in a color you love and/or a print.

The lengths of the skirts will depend on your body type and where you're going to be wearing them. If you're buying them primarily for work, one above the knee and one below the knee will probably be best. If you go out frequently to evening functions, your long skirt should be 3/4 or ankle length. Again, both these skirts should be plain, well-cut, and the style should flatter your body type.

You'll also need one silky (perhaps real silk) blouse for evening wear or dressy events. Most silk or silky fabrics can be hand-washed without a problem; think twice about a blouse that absolutely requires dry-cleaning. For me, it's a waste of time and money to be lugging shirts to the dry-cleaner on a regular basis, so I usually pass on anything I can't wash myself.

A word about undergarments: if you've never done it, now's the time to visit a specialty boutique and have an experienced salesperson help you find a bra that really fits you. I thought all bras were monstrously uncomfortable until a knowledgeable sales assistant showed me that I was wearing the wrong style and size (these are very common mistakes). And as for panties, I suggest you buy one pair a size larger than you normally would (most panties are sized much smaller than regular clothes). Take them home and wear them, and if they're comfortable (and don't "ride up" or bind your legs or tummy), go back and buy another six pairs in white, black, and skin-tone. You can also buy extra panties in a color you love; if hot-pink makes you feel happy and brave, by all means buy some hot-pink panties!


Men are from Champs, Women are from Saks

Divorce Magazine Publisher Dan Couvrette offers tips and insights to our male readers.

Now may be the time to renovate -- your look and your closet. Start by throwing out those sneakers you've had in your closet for years (your children and any visitors to your home will appreciate your thoughtfulness). Toss anything that has holes in it or smells bad after two washings.

Here's the truth about the male wardrobe: for the most part, we dress in suits because we have to (at work) and because it might make us look respectable enough to get a date (preferably not at work). Ask any man if he would prefer to wear a suit or a pair of jeans, and nine out of ten will choose jeans. For the most part, we get dressed only because it's unacceptable to walk around in public in a T-shirt and underwear. Seize this opportunity to upgrade your look -- whatever that might be. Since you have to get dressed anyway, you might as well be wearing something that looks good to prospective employers or girlfriends. First, you need the Absolute Basics. After that, you can branch off into one of three subcategories: The Cowboy, The Sports Guy, or The GQ Man.

Men's Absolute Basics

  • a two or three-piece suit in your Basic Color (black, brown, or navy)
  • a pair of wrinkle-free pants in your Basic Color
  • a white dress shirt (to wear with the suit)
  • a white cotton shirt (to wear with wrinkle-free pants or jeans)
  • two turtlenecks or long-sleeved T-shirts, one white and one in your Basic Color
  • a couple of plain, round-necked cotton T-shirts in white
  • jeans, sweaters, shorts, sneakers, swimsuits, sportswear etc. to suit your needs and lifestyle
  • one pair of dress shoes in your Basic Color
  • one good leather belt in your Basic Color
  • a tie (choose one that goes with your suit. Unless you make cartoons for a living, don't wear novelty ties. Ever.)

The Cowboy

  • a decent pair of cowboy boots, preferably black leather. Don't buy boots made out of an endangered species: it's bad for the animal, and won't be popular with the ladies.
  • a good leather belt, no wider than 1 1/2 inches. The buckle should be smallish and tasteful -- avoid rodeo scenes or panoramics of the Rockies, for instance.
  • a pair of jeans that fit. You probably don't have a pair of jeans that fit because you're buying the same size as when you were in highschool. Jeans should fit around your waist, so measure your waist (don't suck it in), and then try on several different pairs in the correct size until you find a pair that make your butt look great (ask a lady-friend to assess this). Avoid the "Plummer Look" in jeanswear.
  • a cotton or silk shirt. Unless you are actually a cowboy, don't wear cowboy shirts. Ditto for the hat.

Sports Guy

You already know how to do this. One caveat, however -- no man over the age of 23 should wear a Maple Leafs jersey unless he:
1) plays for the Leafs
2) is so handsome that it doesn't matter what he wears
3) doesn't want to attract women.

GQ Man

Pick up a copy of GQ. Do you look like the men featured in the pages? Good -- you already know what to do! If not, there isn't space in this article to explain it. Sorry.

A Word about Personal Grooming

As you age, hair sometimes starts growing in unexpected (and unwelcome) places, and stops growing where you'd like it to be (on your head, for instance). Take a long hard look in the mirror. Is there any hair visibly growing out of your nose or ears? Clip it. Do you only have one long, continuous eyebrow? Consider plucking or shaving the part above your nose to create the illusion of having two.

If you're balding, lose the ponytail and do not, under any circumstances, start combing it up from the sides and back! You have more self-respect than that! Instead, go for a short cut, or look into hair replacement if your baldness really bothers you.

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May 01, 2006

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