Our Creative Contemplative Mom on the Street Amy Rowe uses artful accessories and unusual combinations to express her unique sense of style while working as a pastor, seminarian, and graphic designer.
Amy's background in social work and international affairs carried her on adventures through five continents. She now stays closer to home, freelancing as a graphic designer and working as Executive Pastor at Incarnation Anglican Church, while also pursuing ordination to the priesthood and completing a seminary degree. She lives with her husband and two kids and lots and lots of books in a little house with a yellow mailbox in Arlington, VA.
Check out Amy's advice on cultivating a family culture of art in this post: How to Enjoy Art with Kids.
Which three words best describe your style? Ha! I don’t tend to think of myself as having much style. So I asked a few friends, and they came up with: Artsy Goodwill Lady-Pastor. [Editor's Note: This is one of my favorite style descriptions of all time.]
What are your favorite places to shop? Yard sales, estate sales (often have really fun grandma costume jewelry), thrift stores, and the Goodwill up the street from my house, where the employees know my name and give my kids dusty lollipops. I love digging through a lot of old 5-7-9 and Limited clothes to find something really cool and different…for, like, $4. I don’t particularly enjoy shopping and I find most new stores a bit overstimulating, but I can waste hours combing the racks in a big thrift store.
Who’s your favorite style icon? That’s a really tough question for me because I don’t really keep up with pop culture—although my husband is a closet celebrity-watcher and keeps me informed! Honestly, it’s probably someone like Claire Danes in the 1990s, when she was on My So-Called Life. That was basically how I dressed in the 90s and still tend to dress today: masculine plaid and denim and clunky shoes layered with softer, more feminine pieces in unexpected ways. Lots of pattern-on-pattern and interesting color combinations. Minimal attention to hair and makeup.
What’s your best style advice? I really like mixing styles that don’t normally go together, like a yard sale blouse that belonged to someone’s grandmother with a professional J. Crew pencil skirt I found at Goodwill. Or a handmade Burmese skirt from the thrift store with a crisp white button-up. (These are real outfits of mine. Maybe my advice is just thrift store + professional?) I think my graphic design background has given me a preference for combinations that are interesting to look at, a bit surprising, whimsical, and, well, pretty.
Sometimes I feel like my outfits are necessarily a bit boring because of my season of life. Mom clothes are pretty unexciting, and as a female pastor, I’m always walking this line of wanting to dress professionally (i.e., dull) enough to be taken seriously by men, but still wanting to feel like myself, which is more casual and creative and feminine. When I preach, I have the added complexity of needing a waistband or pocket to clip my microphone battery pack into, which means I can’t wear dresses (and I love dresses!). So I have to find ways of bringing femininity and creativity into my look without relying on my favorite vintage dresses.
All that to say, if/when my outfit feels a little boring, I like to add something unexpected. Often that’s an unusual cuff bracelet—I love these! And Goodwill always has lots of them from the 80s. Or a vintage scarf in my hair with an unusual pattern/color. I’m really partial to delicate florals from the 1950s/60s which contrast with pretty much everything else about my look. These little touches make me feel more like myself, even if nobody notices but me. And they have the added benefit of distracting from my unwashed hair or dark circles under my eyes.
What article of clothing would you not want to live without? Probably my Chacos sandals. They are clunky and not at all stylish. But they mean I can hike, bike, and catch frogs in the creek with my kids no matter what I’m wearing, all while giving my look a sort of outdoorsy, free-spirited vibe. (I’d wear them with or without the vibe, but the vibe is an appreciated side benefit.)
I used to think people who wore Chacos were a little nuts because they take their sandals so very seriously. They’re always posting photos of their feet with Chacos tan lines in exotic places like Angkor Wat or Kilimanjaro. And they are always sort of winking at one another in public, as though we’re all part of a secret society of the Owners of the Bestest, Outdoorsiest, Well-Traveledest, Most Interesting Sandals in the World. But over time, I’ve developed an odd affection toward my clunky, comfy, practical Chacos, and now I sort of get it. Sort of.
Which trend would you want to see make a comeback? For years I’ve been hoping overalls—my 90s staple item—would come back, and they finally have! I’m not a fan of the skinny overalls you see a lot now, but I love baggy overalls and am slowly rebuilding my collection.
What fashion/style did you love at the time, but now cringe when you see old photos? I used to tease my bangs and hairspray them so they stood up sort of like a giant cresting wave above my forehead. Why? I don’t know. I thought they were awesome. In hindsight, they were not.
What’s your best style secret? I think it is immediately apparent to all that I have no style secrets. My gray hairs and unmade-up face and bruised-up legs (from playing outside with kids) are on full display. But I do like unexpected touches, so I suppose that’s my style secret? [Ed. note: Yes! We all notice the latter rather than the former!]
Stilettos or flats? Ha! Definitely, definitely flats. Better yet, something a little unexpected like oxfords. Even better still, Chacos.
What’s your favorite way to spend time with your family? I absolutely love hiking with them. Our favorite kinds of hikes involve something a bit strenuous and adventurous, like scrambling over boulders or crossing streams on narrow fallen logs. My kids like to pack a field guide and binoculars and keep a running tally of all the wildlife they see, and their sense of wonder and discovery is really energizing.
Best advice you’ve received: That everything looks better in the morning. A Christiany way of saying this (since I’m a pastor) would be that God’s “mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23) or that “joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). It is so simple, yet I find it so comforting. No matter how much my life is falling apart today, if I can make it to bedtime, it will always look better in the morning. Always.
What’s your go-to family dinner? My husband and I are from Texas, so it’s always something Tex-Mex. I make pretty fantastic homemade tortillas that are so familiar now that they’re pretty fast, and anything tastes good in them.
What’s at the top of your travel bucket list? Oh gosh, everything! I love to travel and, unsurprisingly, I don’t exactly make the big bucks to make that possible. In my former life/job, I went to lots of places throughout Asia, but my family’s never been, so I’d love to take them around Southeast Asia. I am also fascinated by the history of early Islam and Christianity, so I’d really like to travel ancient Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa where so much of that history takes place. And there’s so much of Europe I’ve never seen, and I’ve always been particularly interested in Eastern Europe. I'm a slow decision maker and questions like this are hard for me to choose!
What’s been your best family vacation? Vieques, a little island in Puerto Rico. It has taken us a while to figure out that what we find most refreshing together is a good adventure (as opposed to, say, lounging by the pool or sunbathing on the beach). Vieques was the best way for us to do a beach vacation, because the beaches are only accessible by Jeep on these really wild backcountry roads, and many required a hike as well. Then, rather than lounging and sunbathing, we’d snorkel and catch sea urchins and scramble rocks and explore caves all day. The island isn’t super developed, so although it had the ease of a U.S. trip, it also had a bit of cross-cultural discovery in every meal or walk or trip to the grocery store. We’ve never had so much fun together or felt so relaxed at the end of a trip.
What’s your favorite show to binge watch? Since I’m a mom and a student and I work, I really don’t have much TV time. I definitely don’t have the time or emotional energy to invest in any new shows. So I tend to fall back on watching old favorites—ones that I don’t mind falling asleep after two minutes when I’m folding laundry or formatting footnotes or trying to get through some other mundane task. The Office, Parks & Rec, and Gilmore Girls are my standbys and I can quote most of them by heart.
What’s your favorite beach read? I’m embarrassed to admit it because it makes me sound like a pretentious snob, but I don’t really enjoy the kind of light reads that people normally like for the beach. I honestly just love serious literature and poetry and I find them relaxing at a deep soul level to read. That said, my go-tos for lighter reading are Wendell Berry poetry, good kid fiction (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) or older cookbooks (Joy of Cooking, the NYT Cookbook, etc). And although I like serious, hefty books, I rarely read nonfiction unless they make me for school.
What’s the best song to dance to when nobody’s watching? I am a terrible dancer but I love to dance. 1990s hip hop will always be my love language. But there was also a brief time when I worked as a second shooter for a wedding photographer (I’ve had so many strange jobs!) and I get a flood of happy memories when I hear the kinds of songs that wedding DJs always play. They remind me of the joy of weddings and of the sort of giddy exhaustion of finishing an all-day shoot and dancing (poorly) with strangers. Perhaps my favorite in this genre is the Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” Even my kids are like, “This song is stupid, can we turn it off?” No, children. This song IS stupid and we most definitely will NOT be turning it off until we have danced to it in full.
If you could spend a day with anyone from history, living or deceased, who would it be? This is really tough because I tend to find most people really fascinating and I want to talk to them all about everything! But to narrow it down, I think I’d choose Madeline L’Engle, who wrote A Wrinkle in Time and dozens and dozens of other books (fiction, nonfiction, poetry). Like me, she was an Anglican and a mom who worked in a church. She was the writer-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC. And she had an insatiable curiosity about absolutely everything in the world—from scripture to science to nature to art to humans. She’s been sort of an intellectual and spiritual mentor to me through her writing and I am pretty sure we could get into some deep conversations and perhaps even some wholesome mischief together.
What’s your favorite way to unwind at the end of a long day? Unwind at the end of a long day? You mean besides falling asleep in my school books when I can’t possibly keep my eyes open any longer? It might sound cheesy, but I love processing the day with my husband as we clean up the kitchen after the kids are in bed. He’s full of interesting ideas and offers perspective and challenge and helps me think through stuff. He’s also hilarious, which helps.
We love hearing Amy describe the satisfaction she experiences sifting through thrift store racks, hiking with her family, and reading poetry. It inspires us to make space in our lives for contemplation—or even, as she delightfully phrases it, some "wholesome mischief"!
Amy's look, with its unexpected flourishes, hints at her love of adventure, good conversation, and deep thinking. She demonstrates that it's possible to maintain creative expression, simplicity, and authenticity in the middle of intense and demanding seasons, both professional and personal.
Here's to developing an individual sense of style through adventures at home and abroad, in Chacos or otherwise!
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