Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dress for Success: A Sartorial Conundrum

When I was a sucker and teaching teenagers every day, I was very careful about what I wore.  Sure, there was the need to look professional, to appear older, to not have the administration grimace at my "artsy-ness."  But, the real reason to carefully craft what I wore were the 120 teenagers who would be staring at me all day -- 240 adolescent eyeballs on me within a six hour time period.  Here were some of my rules:

  • Anything that was too revealing of my personality was out.  That meant that some colorful rings were acceptable and some were not.  Big translucent yellow bubble ring?  Out, as Heidi would say.  Carved plastic green flower ring?  That was fine.  These two rings might sound comparable, except for the fact that the green flower ring didn't really represent who I was.  The oversized yellow one, on the other hand?  That's who I would be if I was reincarnated as a ring.  Therefore, it was like naked me as a ring.  This went for belts, too.  The slightly funky white ones were okay, but definitely no color allowed.
  • Things that made it look like you were trying too hard (and therefore possibly failing) were out.  For example, the couple of times that I wore nail polish were mistakes.  (Perhaps if I had actually had my nails done, that might have been okay -- but this was my shoddy don't-look-too-close polish job, and it wasn't pretty.  Just waiting for some girl in the front row to raise one side of her upper lip.)
  • Forget anything that could even possibly for one second be considered sexy.  Now, I know plenty of teachers wear plenty of this stuff -- ranging from totally appropriate to totally not, but I wore no skirts, no v-necks or scoop-necks, and nothing too tight.  Feeling in any way attractive around teenage boys?  No thanks.  I preferred to feel like a librarian (the non-sexy kind from the movies, because I know plenty of sexy librarians in real life.)
  • All bets were off when it came to my watches.  There was no way around this one.  My "conservative" watch -- my red calculator watch -- would receive comments when students noticed it was a calculator.  But I made the mistake one day of wearing my weird yellow one with dots and ticks as the time markers.  That took about a half hour of class time to explain.
  • Pray that you never  had on the same outfit as the students.  This was more of  a problem at Walter Payton, where many students shopped at Urban Outfitters (as I found out the first time I shopped at the one three blocks from school).  Luckily, in the suburbs, the uniform for the girls were leggings, Uggs, a North Face fleece, and a t-shirt (usually a men's white v-neck undershirt tee -- emphasis on the "v").  I let them have this outfit.
Of course, I recognize the paradox in this: although, in theory, you should want the students to look at you and pay attention to you (your words, of course, not the floral pattern on your shirt), most of the time, most students were not paying any attention to anything that wasn't themselves.  What ring I was wearing?  Please, if I was naked with my hair on fire, half of them wouldn't notice.  

I also recognize that it was both a challenge and a blessing to have a different wardrobe for school.  In some ways, marking the difference between work and non-work (ala Mr. Rogers) is a good thing.  But, there is definitely a fine line between dressing professionally and dressing in a way that conceals your personality.

Fast forward to being unemployed in a city where I know no one / see no one:

These days,  I have the opposite problem.  I have rid myself of the teenagers staring at me or ignoring me.   I could wear my brightest belts with my biggest rings and not even my cat would notice.  But that's also the problem: not even my cat would notice, and she is one of two living beings I see every day.  What's the point of wearing anything besides a potato sack? 

Conceivably, at least until I get a job, I could wear my pajamas every day.  I could adopt the who-cares attitude and put no effort into what I wear.  But, where's the fun in that?  Instead, and partly out of boredom, I've started to dress a little weirder than I did in Chicago -- such as wearing my socks pulled up to my knees, a look I contemplated but never executed before now.  And I'm starting to realize the possibilities here.  Since I am essentially an outsider and a weirdo in Durham ("a loner, Dottie, a rebel"), I might as well do it up.  Why not start wearing crazy hats or jump suits or dye my hair a different color every week?   In fact, right now, I'm realizing that the outfit I have on is too boring.  Gotta go find my pimp hat to go with it....


Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

You KNOW I understand this. We have long discussed work and non-work clothes, and clothing as expression of personality and creativity. I look very forward to the new Durham phase with full report!

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

PS Hilarious, as always. Love the detail, as always! Really enjoying the blog as a good dose of WT thought.