When life truly sucks and you’ve lost all vision of who you used to be and don’t have a clue about who you are now, creating outfits can be the answer. This is something I know a little somethin’ about. Personally, putting a great outfit together has helped me face scary second opinion appointments. Professionally, I’ve helped clients find their identity and discover happy places again through the right choice of clothes and accessories. I’ve seen firsthand how powerful and whole getting dressed can make us feel.
Yet I’ve never heard a story about coming home to oneself that is as moving as the true life story Alice Retka shared with me while I was in Minnesota. It all started with a letter.
A letter with an unexpected reference to this blog
I read the return address: Alice Retka from Minnesota. I opened it up and soon learned how we were connected. In a beautifully written letter, she wrote about the things that had helped her get through the worst year of her life.
She tells us right off that she’d made it through a rough year of cancer treatments with the help of wise words from a friend. Her friend said:
You will have highs and lows while you recover. Mountains and valleys. Some of those valleys are going to be broad. Very broad. They can be dark and lonely. You have to find things to carry you through tough times. One thing that helped me was an old country song, Gonna Find Me a Bluebird. You will find the things to help you. Start looking.
What came next was the list of things that helped Alice including a quilt her aunt made, peppermint lip balm, Luminosity brain games, three seasons of Poldark. Then Alice wrote, “I could get lost in a fashion blog for women over 50 (BrendaKinsel.com) and a PBS show about small towns in Wisconsin (Around the Corner with John McGivern.) If I had a bucket list it would include coffee in Perham with Brenda Kinsel and ice cream in any town with John McGivern.”
If I had a bucket list it would include coffee in Perham with Brenda Kinsel…
Meeting Alice for coffee
Moved by Alice’s courageous journey and humbled by the mention of this blog, I pulled out a notecard, wrote to Alice, and included these details:
I’m coming to Minnesota at the end of June. Dad doesn’t live in Perham anymore; he’s moved to Fergus Falls. I can see on the map that it’s about three hours away from where you live. If there’s any chance of getting together for coffee, I’d love that. Maybe meet halfway?
Meant to meet Alice
With some pretty darn good circumstances at play, Alice was able to meet me in Fergus Falls. We had coffee at Cally’s Coffee and Cafe. I guess you could say this meeting was a line item on my a bucket list, one I hadn’t verbalized yet—meeting a woman who read my blog and benefited from it greatly at a time when she needed those benefits the most. For a writer and a fellow cancer survivor, it doesn’t get any better than this.
How putting outfits together helped during a dark time
In February of 2018, Alice was diagnosed with rectal cancer. She underwent five rounds of chemo, then surgery, more chemo, and another surgery in December. Adding to all of this was the death of two family members within weeks. She lost forty pounds, nothing fit, and if she’d felt like shopping she wouldn’t have known where to go.
That’s when her sister stepped in. Ellen Weyandt is ten years older than Alice and lives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, about an hour from Alice’s home. She told Alice about my blog and announced, “Let’s pull some outfits together like Brenda does.” She came with Wardrobe Charts and coached her through the process of putting outfits together from what she had in her closet.
At this time Alice felt so adrift from all she knew about herself—her health, her appearance, her strength, confidence, and interests in life. (Can you relate to a time when you felt this way?)
Putting outfits together triggered Alice’s love of projects
Here’s something you need to know about Alice: She loves projects. She loves creative problem solving, and learning about her style and getting dressed in a way that was pleasing to her was a project she could ultimately get into.
With Ellen’s support and Alice’s love of reading (she’s done all kinds of library work including fundraising for years), she dove deep into the archives of this blog and learned more and more. She told me over coffee, “You named things for me—a third piece, a Beauty Bundle, a column of color.”
Alice shared with me what she learned about herself and how she applied it to her style recipe. Being a lover of words, she chose three “P” words to guide her in her outfit choices. They are: put together, practical, and personal. Let’s see how that plays out in her Fergus Falls outfit.
The Anatomy of Alice’s outfit
The minute I walked into Cally’s Coffee and Cafe, I figured out who Alice was. She was the put together woman sitting at a table with books in front of her. (Those books turned out to be for me!)
It always feels like an intimate moment when I learn about someone’s style. A few words can say so much about a person. This style-reveal opens a door for love to flow through. I believe when we do that style work, we’re giving ourselves unconditional love and allowing others to love us.
Alice told me I could share with you details about her look.
Let’s start with her first P word, put together. She said, “It’s how I want to feel when I go out into the world.” I was struck by how her put together look brought instant attention to her face. Her white tank top and layered white shirt were so fresh.
Another P is for practical. There isn’t a single clothing item that was demanding her attention or distracting. Her three pieces—tank, shirt as a jacket, and gingham pants—are all well-behaved. The pull-on pant from TJMaxx is easy to wear. There are no buttons, zippers or ties to deal with. She still has sensitivity around her surgery scars so comfortable pants are practical.
I loved how Alice’s shoes brought a bit of party to her outfit. They shimmer in gold. It’s still tonal and continues the near column of color she has going on. She said she likes to add a little quirky to her outfit.
Alice’s personal accessories
Alice wears accessories that are personal to her and have stories or connections to her. She likes vintage. Her handbag is made from drapery fabric from the ’40s.
Her necklace was made by her friend Kim Wendlandt who has a small shop called the Dancing Goat in New London, MN. Everything is made in the studio by Kim and her daughters. This pendant has an antique key and a crystal from a chandelier. Alice likes it for summer because it’s so light.
(If it catches your fancy, you can call Kim at (320)-905-0702 and inquire about one for yourself.)
If I’m remembering correctly, the wide cuff is made from a vintage silver tray. It was given to her by a friend. I love the added texture from the narrower cuff. They make a great statement.
Can you see how her accessories resonate with Alice’s love of vintage and really, her love of stories? Everything has a story to it.
A gift to us all
Alice describes the benefits she received from this project of focusing on herself and her wardrobe. She said, “You made me want to get up and dressed and face the world every day.” That’s what your outfits love to do. They love to support us as through the ups and downs of life.
To Alice: Thank you for sending me that letter. Thank you for suggesting getting together for coffee. Thank you for sharing your story with me. Thank your sister Ellen for sparking your curiosity and creativity. I hope we’ll meet again!
To all of you: I know you join me in supporting Alice in our thoughts as she continues to gain strength and recover for her multiple surgeries. I’m just so grateful for all of you readers and how we come together here. Thank you for reading, sharing, and keeping this community growing.
Do you have your own stories about the power of getting dressed? Please share!