I went to school for fashion, but mostly studied costume design. It has always fascinated me, this question of what to wear. In fashion, it’s all about trends and what color is on point for the season (one year in college, the color was military green, because we were in Iraq and it was on everyone’s minds, and yes, there is a governing body of fashion people who decide this). In costume, it’s not just what fits the time period- if you’re staging a play in the 40s, of course you want the shoulders- but it’s also about the why. Why would this character choose to wear this outfit? There’s socioeconomic- are they rich, poor, etc- but what else does a costume show? Are they a dreamer? Are they the villain in this piece? Are they pretending to be the villain but secretly the hero? You can show all that with a costume. Our minds are subtly attuned to respond to certain colors and silhouettes and other visual cues, whether we’ve studied fashion or not.
This makes getting dressed every day a study in psychology for the average costume designer (or maybe just me). There is a fantastic bit in an episode of Mad Men (and seriously, Janie Bryant gets all the accolades for her conscious choices in costuming) where Peggy asks before a presentation, “This is a suit, and it has a skirt, and it has gray in it, which is what men wear. And this is a dress, and it’s pretty, but, I might be sweating, and not just because it’s July.” (Season 7 Episode 7) And then decides to wear something completely different, which is so fabulous in its own way.
Off and on for most of my life, I’ve been deciding what to wear based on what someone will perceive. I have a meeting today, and every man over the age of 40 perceives me as a child, so how do I wear something that makes me look professional and authoritative? I’m trying to convince the 10 odd students who work for me that really, I am their employer, what do I wear to relate to them but also make it clear that I’m in charge? And in other circumstances, when I’ve worked any number of sales jobs, it’s a uniform, it’s a polo with the company logo, it’s a pair of pants (I hate pants), it’s some kind of casual but professional top with nice pants (seriously I hate pants), and most recently it’s waitress drag, as I call it, black slacks and a button down.
But as I move into the next phase of my life, what do I wear the rest of the time? What do I wear when I’m not at work? In most cases, that’s easy, I almost never leave the house except for work. I’m working at home (tank top and leggings) or in the garden (tank top and MAYBE jeans but probably leggings) and don’t think much about it. But on the few occasions I go out- who am I anymore? What do I wear?
In the glorious (and yet terrible for financial reasons) two-ish years I worked completely for myself, I found I was adopting what I think of as faire style, or what I wear when I’m “off-duty” at the Renaissance Festival. If we get together to hang out, I want to look good, but I mostly want to be comfortable and not wear something that will show mud. There’s often a lot of mud. This is a very similar style, in a lot of ways, to the ladies of a wagenplatz in Germany I photographed many years ago. I was impressed by their sense of style- a combination of comfort and consideration and relaxed joy in what they were wearing. I was trying to find a link just now but have failed, so far, and will have to dig a bit more. But they were gorgeous- and completely themselves- and yet completely outside what one would consider a “normal” approach to getting dressed in the morning. The months I was there I seem to remember doing a lot of tshirt (mostly from the flea market) modification, to make these outfits. It’s not that you don’t care about what you’re wearing, you do (and I really believe pretty much everyone does, even when they protest otherwise), it’s that you want it to be just so- maybe free, maybe tailored to fit, maybe you took a pair of scissors and some safety pins to it- whatever was needed to make you comfortable, and feel a part of your own skin.
At faire, and at home, I want to wear something that will get me through the weekend, because I don’t want to have to pack ten changes of clothes. A lot of black, a lot of comfy, loungy sweaters (usually with holes in, because who cares), leggings, maybe a skirt. I love what I call tshirt dresses, namely, dresses made out of tshirt material that are long enough to wear as a dress over leggings, and are slouchy and comfy but can be cut in interesting styles and paired with a cardigan for a generally pleasing affect. I also love sturdy shoes.
It’s my look- but not one which usually manifests on say, a trip to the farmers market in town on a Saturday. For too long I think I’ve been separating me (tshirts, skirts, and boots) from what I feel like I’m expected to wear. Not that I don’t like to dress up to meet my friend out for a drink, but I’m still in this gray area in regards to what I wear. The vast majority of my wardrobe is things I’ve bought for work, but wouldn’t necessarily ever wear on my own (fitted jeans). And so it’s a challenge, making that decision of what to wear (or not). I’m looking at my closet right now and thinking, ok, all these things I bought for work- do I keep them? Do I make space for things I actually love? What if I have to get another job, and have to buy them all over again? Money is always tight- having to buy clothes for a new job can really be a deal breaker.
For me, the decision of what to wear is absolutely a question of who I am. Who am I today? I’m in this cycle of trying to make ends meet, getting way too many jobs and working literally all the time, and then scaling back and trying to make ends meet again. It’s a holding pattern, until something else changes. How do you dress for a holding pattern?
In the meantime, I’m in one of the respite periods again, and I look forward to my “normal” wardrobe, or leggings-tshirts-skirts in comfy materials. I look forward to working from home in my “normal” as long as everything is covered and I can get my work done attire.
I’ve also just realized I don’t have a picture of that, because how often do we take pictures of ourselves in our “normal” clothes? Something that needs to change, I think.
What do you wear as your “uniform”? How much do you think about your choices when you get dressed in the morning?