Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wearing Nice Clothes

Many many many years ago, Big Steve picked me up for the trip down to campus.  He'd done it before and would do it again and each morning would sound exactly the same. "Hi Thanks for driving I love this music" which was always true and always made me happy.  Big Steve's second career is managing a venue in a college town; if ever a person were made for a job this is it. 

But this morning was different.  This morning I was dressed to the nines.  I remember the outfit to this day: navy polished cotton trousers topped with a subtly patterned see-through voile long sleeved blouse, left open to reveal the cream colored shell (do you remember that particular article of clothing?) underneath.  I had a belt and matching shoes and trouser socks and my earrings were powerful and perfect.  I'd blown out my hair.  I was impressive.  At least to myself.

But Big Steve was not impressed.   "Why are you smiling?" What are you wearing?"  No fashion plate himself, apparently my dress up clothes had freaked him out in a way I'd not ever seen before.  I laughed and told him about the interview or the presentation or the something or other for which I was attired, concluding with "I'm smiling because I like how I look in nice clothes.  I feel better."

Apparently this was just more than he could bear.  This was 1975.  Fewer and fewer of us were left in the tie-die and denim overalls and flannel shirt brigade with the passing of every year.  Jobs were in short supply and sacrifices were going to be made; the Golden Gopher cut off his pony tail and moved to Gary, Indiana to take the job which was offered to him.  We were all feeling fragile and wondering how to pay the bills.  Dressing up might have seemed frivolous to him, but to me it made a statement.  I did feel better when I wore nice clothes.  The clothes themselves were imbued with pretty, I thought.  My posture was better and my hair was shinier when the clothes were good.  I knew it for a fact.  I repeated it to him as a fact.  

And if ever there were a boy-meets-girl moment this was it.  His stunned face quickly turned to disdain as he sputtered "Listen to what you are saying!"  Full of moral certitude and outrage, he was trying to deflate my bubble of beauty... and for a moment he almost had me.  Didn't I take pride in my appearance every denim-ed day?  Did I need the outer trappings in order to feel good?  Where were my hippie-dippy values?  Had I succumbed to the ever encroaching disco-ites?   

But then I  remembered that I was right and he was clueless and unaware of how stunning I felt because, after all, he was a guy and he had that poor broken chromosome which left him tottering on just one leg, while we, lucky females had two legs to stand on.... one for the facts and the other for the feelings.

So I laughed and I said of course I felt good and it was nice to have a different look and that as long as I had to be considerate of the appropriateness of my outfit to the event I was attending I might as well have some fun with it.  And, no, it didn't mean that I needed the clothes to fulfill my sense of self.  It didn't mean that the clothes were going to define me, though they might get me through the front door.  

That was the point, really.  Just like that old Head and Shoulders commercial, you only get one chance to make a first impression.  My natural charm and personality could take over once I got the audience, but sometimes it was necessary to be just a little bit more superficial than my social work colleagues wanted to be.  I recognized it for what it was, and I was comfortable with it.  For a while, I got to play dress up.... and I loved it.  I was 8 years old and at home in my attic wearing the pink satin can-can costume with the ostrich plumed hat, or the soft folds of Pandora's toga and I looked great.  

Do clothes make the man?  Maybe, maybe not.  But that morning, they certainly made this woman.


  1. ...after all, he was a guy and he had that poor broken chromosome which left him tottering on just one leg, while we, lucky females had two legs to stand on.... one for the facts and the other for the feelings.

    Oh jeez. You keep cranking out observations like this (sharp and cutting and my gosh how cleverly phrased) and you'll put the rest of us out of business!

    The Missus and I have a Christmas tradition which we've honored every year for, um, 17 years now. We call it our "Christmas date": on December 23, we get dressed up and go out for dinner at a restaurant where we don't normally eat. (WHICH restaurant it is varies from year to year, but the criteria are the same: you don't feel like an overdressed fool by "wearing nice clothes," and it's just a liiiiiitle too pricey to eat there more than once a year -- maybe twice. Oh, and the other gimmick is: I pick the restaurant, and will not tell The Missus which it is. En route, as she guesses, I take all sorts of meandering detours. Ha!)

    Anyhow, last Thursday we're getting dressed to go out. I put on a bright white shirt (Oxford of course), khaki slacks, docksiders, and a blue blazer. When The Missus came out from the bedroom she regarded me with appreciation and said, "You look so nice in those pants. I really wish you'd wear them more often." "Yeah," I said, "but see, the point is that I really don't care how I look."

    This was exactly the wrong thing to say, and I realized it immediately because of the shocked and wounded look on her face: essentially, I'd just said to her Who cares what YOU like? This is about ME. So I backtracked, clumsily, and she brushed it off, awkwardly, and we proceeded on out and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

    But I obviously am still thinking about it. I totter on that single leg, yes, but sometimes I become all too aware how wobbly and precarious the posture is.

  2. JES, I think that The Missus was looking at the gestalt of the situation, rather than the actual clothing on your legs. Wearing things that make you look good reflect on her, it's true, but it also shows that you respect and admire her and want to make her proud. It's okay for you not to care most of the time, but admitting it might be a mistake :)

    And thanks, once again, for the compliment. You really do inspire me,y'know.


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