See, my school clothes were my costume, and the second I could stop pretending to be a put-together mature adult, it was imperative that I change back to my real self via my real clothes. This is not to say that I disliked my school clothes -- they were fine, for school clothes. But, I needed to keep the two identities separate, and the clothes were the medium for my transition.
For those long four years, I thought that this was a hating-school thing. I fantasized about a future far-off job where I could wear my crazy-colored sneakers and my sweatshirts and track jackets to work. I wondered what it would be like to live in a world where the work me and the non-work me were seamlessly merged into one.
Now, I'm not so sure. Two weeks into my new non-teaching job, I'm realizing that the changing-of-the-clothes has not stopped. The second I get home, I still need to take off my rings, switch out the pants, and take off the button down shirt. True, I might keep on the long sleeve shirt I was wearing underneath or even keep on the black socks, depending on how lazy I'm feeling. The cooties factor of my work clothes has definitely decreased now that I'm not breathing in the same air as teenagers and school administrators.
And now, as I ponder my fantasy of wearing my bright yellow Brazilian track jacket with matching bright yellow Mr. Happy shoes to work, I'm realizing that Mr. Rogers and Clark Kent were on to something. Granted, both men did have good reason to change their clothes: Clark Kent couldn't walk around all day in his Superman get-up, and Mr. Rogers had to change into his bum cardigan to comfortably check out the Neighborhood of Make Believe. But, maybe their wardrobe changes also helped them transition into their taking-care-of-business psyches.
As for me, having a clothing distinction between my work self and my normal self has become a concrete way for me to mark the distinction between the two. I still need to pretend to be a put-together rational adult at work, while I can spiral into a whiny self-centered kid who starts sentences with "dude" at home. (It's possible that some members of the house in which I live might wish that I would leave on my work clothes/adult identity a little longer, but this request has never been made official.)
When I ponder the deeper meaning of this work self v. real self distinction for too long (that would be right about now, for example), I'm soon wrapped up in the dilemma of how separate these two identities should be in the first place. Should I aspire to have one unified identity -- where work self is real self? Will I never fully a) either have a "career" or b) really like my job until there is no distinction? (Assuming that the only way to truly love your job is to get paid for doing your passion.)
But then I find myself at the what-am-I-doing-with-my-life question, and no one wants to think about that for too long. After all, even Tom Hanks in "Big" had to wear a suit to go to work and play with toys.
So, for now, I think I'm okay with my 5:30 p.m. phone booth wardrobe change. Then again, maybe the self that does my laundry will feel differently.