Jeanette Johnson grew up in a frugal, deeply Christian home in Kansas where "you wore something until you had holes in it,” she recalls.
As a college grad, Johnson was so sparing that she wouldn’t even buy herself the warm jacket she needed to brave winters in Boston, despite earning a good living and having the means.
The turning point was a humiliating airport run-in with an ex, which left her ashamed of her threadbare wardrobe and questioning her choices.
Johnson gave herself a modest monthly clothing budget, and discovered her second calling. “I started to have so much fun with fashion—I became the person at work everyone was complimenting.”
Johnson launched her blog, J’s Everyday Fashion, in 2010, and her following grew quickly.
But she was conflicted. How could she espouse Christian values of modesty and humility while parading around the Internet in splashy outfits?
"Jesus and style are like oil and water,” she writes in her forthcoming book, J’s Everyday Fashion & Faith: Personal Style With Purpose. "Or at least that’s what I grew up believing.”
Seven years later, Johnson, 33, is still blogging, earning a living primarily through sponsored posts from retailers including JC Penney, Macy’s, Kohls, thredUP, and Everlane. In the book, which comes out in October, she makes a case for how Christianity—she currently belongs to a non-denominational church—can co-exist with personal style. We asked her for a preview.
Tell me about your upbringing.
Growing up in a conservative household, I felt fashion was off limits. My dad was very frugal. It was constantly turn off the lights. Don't waste water. I was an only child, but no one ever had new clothes. We never went on vacation. I went to a very charismatic church and I was going six times a week and was very zealous. It was all about helping others and being a good steward of money and not thinking about outward appearances, which was very healthy, but I went a little too far and didn't realize that there could be joy and love for fashion. It was buried beneath all those things I learned in high school.
What was your fashion epiphany?
I my early 20s, I was working in non-profit marketing making a great salary. I had found a really inexpensive apartment I was sharing with two other women from church. I had no bills. I had tons of room in my budget to spend on fashion, but I just tried not to buy anything ever. Which is a terrible, terrible strategy. I was having a hard time at work not being dressed properly and being very cold.
I literally was wearing a Teletubbies t-shirt when I ran into my ex boyfriend and his girlfriend at the airport because it was a free t-shirt I got at work. I felt completely embarrassed. How did I come to this decision? What was I thinking? I was wearing leftover scraps and that's not a good feeling at all.
At my job, I had a really wonderful boss who was really into fashion. She wore a beautiful Hermes bracelet and wore Prada. She wasn't head-to-toe new designers everyday, she was careful and thoughtful and added things she really loved to her closet over time. We talked for hours about fashion. She had an appreciation of fashion as an art form. It wasn't about vanity or being a shopaholic, it was freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, I needed everything, so I set a clothing budget of $250 a month. It was so freeing. Within the safe space of the budget, I started to have so much fun with it. My friends said why not start a blog? So I did.
When and how did the blog start becoming profitable?
I wound up being laid off from my job during the height of the recession. I was newly single, had to support myself completely and couldn’t find a job, but my blog was doing really well and had a ton of people reading it.
I had a million page views per month and started putting blog posts on Facebook. I had 50,000 Facebook fans who were seeing every post. Within a year I was making five times as much as I’d been making as a marketing manager in Boston, It mostly from affiliate commissions from shopping content and also from a banner ad network I joined.
Why was blogging so hard for you as a Christian?
For me, I really struggled for years with just being honestly embarrassed that I was doing fashion as a career. The guilt clouded the joy of all of it. Especially if I was in a church setting, I felt I needed to reassure everyone that I still loved Jesus and it’s OK.
It really came to a head when I had a speaking engagement at a church and I realized I’m not as comfortable with this as I thought so I wrote a blog post, “How I Balance Fashion and Faith.” Two days after it went up, a publisher asked me to write a book about it. It’s a terrifying subject and it’s been torturing me. But within a couple of weeks I realized this is a fantastic idea.
I think it’s terrifying because faith and fashion are two things that are so deep in my soul and I cherish them both so much. People see them as two things that can’t co-exist and I think they can. I forced myself to sit down and look at scripture and interview people. It was eye opening and healing. I feel like I finally found my voice.
Are there any modesty lines you won’t cross?
If something is low cut, I might wear a longer hem line. Or, I’ll wear shorter shorts and be more covered up on top. But modesty isn’t something I’ve had a huge concern with. We live in Florida where it’s very hot. My concerns are more about money.
I believe in re-wearing things for as long as you possibly can and wearing them over and over again.
What percentage of your audience follows you because you’re Christian?
The blog post I wrote last February was the first time I had ever addressed it, other than including Bible verses on Easter. I wasn’t hiding it, but it wasn’t on topic. The blog was meant to be a fun place for fashion. You don’t need a Bible verse with your outfit of the day.
Would you like to you have a fashion ministry?
I’d love to have some kind of program to implement what’s in the book. Christian denominations are all so different. You have so many churches that dress in elaborate Sunday outfits, but my church in the Northeast was very conservative.
There is definitely a freedom that needs to take place in a lot of Christian churches— to feel free to be yourself and to dress how you’d like to. The Bible verses that I use in the book are used to shame women and get them to be quiet in every way shape and form. Controlling fashion is a piece of that.
Are there people who think it’s immodest to make a living taking photos of yourself?
I have this struggle in my head every time. At the end of the day, to some people, posting any photo of yourself is over the top vanity, and I can’t fault them for it.
I tend to smile in my photos every time and I want to be warm and inviting and I want everyone to feel welcome. I will also post fashion fails. This is reality. None of us are gallavanting down the road with the perfect 10 outfits every day of the week. If I waited until I had a perfect 10 outfit I’d never be posting. For me it doesn’t feel like peacocking because I don’t think I’m the cat’s pajamas by any stretch.
What does your frugal dad say?
He’s been very supportive the whole time. He likes to read the blog and he sends me very fathering contents, like “I love those colors” and “I hope those shoes aren’t hurting your feet” and “I hope you’re not cold.”
How would you feel running into your ex-boyfriend now?
It’s not about impressing him. It’s about feeling good about yourself.