The Zoe Report: My Post-Divorce Wardrobe Helped Me Channel My Inner Child


Thank you The Zoe Report! What an honor to have my article, “My Post-Divorce Wardrobe Helped Me Heal My Inner Child,” go live during OSCARS weekend! Thank you Angela Melero for the incredible opportunity and superb edits.

My Post-Divorce Wardrobe Helped Me Channel My Inner Child

There have been many points in my life in which I have had to begin again. Even though I have changed careers and cities multiple times with success, this time I felt broken and unsure about the next steps. After 18 months of adventure, an odyssey across Asia that was meant to be a shared dream with my husband of five years unraveled into a nightmare — and divorce.

My partner and I were both lifelong travelers: I had previously worked for Club Med and Princess Cruises and he had been in the Peace Corps. After meeting online, we spent a year backpacking together and came home engaged and ready to put down roots. Despite a beautiful wedding and promises to cherish and respect, we found ourselves fighting frequently. I thought that if we were back on the road, things would get better. Sadly, even amidst a beautiful exotic landscape in Thailand, he was still constantly angry and all of that aggravation was focused on me. That is, until I left abruptly, calling an end to my epic trip and marriage.

At 47 years old, feeling adrift in a sea of hopelessness, I realized I had to return to the United States alone. The key components to my old life in California had been dismantled before departure — I had quit my job as a teacher at an elementary school in Los Angeles, sold my car, and handed my condo keys to a new tenant.

I literally had to start from scratch — in more ways than one.

Upon returning to California, I was in a state of shock and reeling from the breakup. After wearing the same few T-shirts from my backpack for months, I thought I would leap at the opportunity to reimagine my existing wardrobe and find fresh ways to wear the pieces that had served me for years. But when I tried to get dressed to go out, I felt frozen. I was not sure what to wear or if anything even looked good on me anymore. After hearing so many times from my ex that I looked ugly, fat, and old, choosing clothes felt impossible as I was insecure from the constant criticism. While some things fit me properly, in my mind nothing looked good on me. I hated anything that reminded me of him and his critiques. I felt stuck somewhere in the space between my old constantly-criticized self and my undiscovered single one.

However, I managed to get two new jobs upon my return: writing for USA Today and teaching at Nickelodeon. These new gigs meant I needed a new car… and something to wear to work. But the latter meant I would have to unlearn some dressing habits and behaviors I had developed in my toxic marriage.

You see, after I got married I stopped wearing short skirts or overly revealing tops. At first, it had seemed like a small thing to comply with my husband’s preferences as a way to tone down his jealousy. However, as time went on, his controlling nature expanded beyond my wardrobe to everything from my hair and weight to even the friends I spent time with. He also hated when I bought anything new because he claimed that money should be saved for our next trip. Splurging on the occasional going-out dress or trendy pair of jeans was just not a luxury I partook in. And while regret can certainly consume you in times like this, I knew it was a futile thing. I can’t change the past or the decisions I made in my marriage. I needed to focus on my future and make different choices — starting with my clothes.

In my quest for reinvention, I recall a conversation I had with a fellow teacher, Sarah, before I left for my trip. I just loved her clothes. My uniform for school was typically casual streetwear from an athletic store while she often opted for breezy long skirts and vibrant tops in fun color palettes that felt so fresh and youthful, but also professional enough for the classroom. I learned that much of her clothes actually came from Limited Too, a popular clothing retailer for tween girls (that has since shuttered). While this may seem like an odd sartorial choice for an adult woman, I was intrigued to see if I could channel the same youthful energy, without a controlling partner to hold me back. I journeyed to Justice, a similar yet more current version of Limited Too, dragging my friend, Amy, into the mall to help me shop. When she first discovered my shopping mission, she looked at me aghast and said, “Are you kidding me? I buy clothes for my 8-year-old niece in here!”

Luckily, she humored me while I combed through the racks and skimmed through the fun bright clothes with sparkles. When we first arrived, the rainbow of colors seemed overtly overwhelming and childish, but I refused to be deterred. I gravitated toward items with hearts and messages of love and joy. You see, my pre-divorce wardrobe was void of such color and exuberance, but I was ready to let carefree dressing re-enter the chat, even if it meant starting my journey at a tween store. Yes, I was concerned about what people would say about my kiddy clothes but there was also a defiant voice telling me I needed to stop giving other people real estate in my head. If I liked how I looked and felt comfortable and joyful in my skin, that needed to be enough.

Similar to the shopping sprees of my youth, this unconventional errand was a giggly good time. The clothes were playful and while I knew my ex would have said they were ridiculous, he no longer had a vote. My inner kid was finally smiling again — big, authentic smiles. Changing my clothing was a way to impress upon myself and others that I was fully in control again.

At the end of it all, I settled on a shirt with a butterfly emblem on it, as it reminded me of a symbol I had loved since I was a child. Caterpillars crawl on branches but after metamorphosis, they can fly — I like that. When I went to check out, the woman at the register asked me, “How old is your daughter?” I replied, “These are for me!” She seemed a bit flustered that I was in a tween store shopping for myself at my advanced age, but quickly recovered and said, “Enjoy your new clothes.” In the end, I bought an armful of items and my face hurt from smiling so much.

“Changing my clothing was a way to impress upon myself and others that I was fully in control again.”

This experience reminded me that life doesn’t need to be so serious — it can have more ease and joy. Fast-forward 10 years later and I still have a goofy, impish sequin T-shirt collection, but I also have a more grown-up closet full of jewel-toned V-neck designer dresses that show off my hourglass figure without shame or insecurity.

I’ve also since written a memoir, Brave-ish: One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty, and for speaking engagements promoting the book, I find myself reaching for sleek pantsuits that feel both of-the-moment and timeless. For formal events and the occasional red carpet (my podcast was recently honored at the National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards in Los Angeles), I love a dramatic floor-length gown — especially one with a high slit — and glittery heels for an old Hollywood glamour moment.

I no longer needed to concern myself with anyone’s disapproval. I feel comfortable in my skin and clothes again. I know what looks good on me and I let go of my worries and the repercussions of someone else’s whims.

While the imbalance in my relationship had made me question my choices, I found my way again. I took the time to rediscover what I liked and started over to save myself. My road has been unconventional and sometimes so are my shopping choices. But they’re mine all the same.

After Lisa Niver’s divorce, she went through a full style transformation: “When I tried to get dressed to go out, I felt frozen. After hearing so many times from my ex that I looked ugly, fat, and old, choosing clothes felt impossible as I was insecure from the constant criticism.” ⁠ @lisaniver details her experience building a post-divorce wardrobe, and how a shopping spree at Justice led to rediscovering her independence. ⁠

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Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel. On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times. Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.

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