Monday, February 28, 2011

On clothes making the person?

This image was sent to me by three different people my freshman year of college - they wanted to know if I had really pieced my face. This girl isn't me, but I used to look like her. I guess. Without the face piercings. Or the spiked hair. Blue, yes, but spiked, no.
I have never been what one would call conservative, clothing-wise. I guess I've always been more of a Claudia than a Mary Anne, if you follow me. Actually, I was probably more of a Stacy, because I am pretty sure I never owned red Doc Martins that I wore with red suspenders and earrings made out of feathers and newspaper, like good ol' Claud did. ANYWAY, I was into punk and shit through most of high school, so there were a lot of ripped clothes, safety pins, thrift-store t-shirts, and so on. I also had blue hair, on and off, through most of high school and college.

I went to a very conservative, small, suburban liberal arts college in upstate New York. I was the only girl on my floor with short hair. I'm not exaggerating. I went to school with some of the preppiest of the preps - to redeem myself in the metaphor arena, I was the lone greaser in a school of Socs. I was pretty lonely there my freshman year, but I worked really effing hard to get people to see me for who I was, so I didn't stop dying my hair or thrift-store-shopping, and by the end of the year I had made some awesome friendships. To be frank, it didn't hurt that I'm quite smart, because that meant that any time kids who were judging on me got assigned to work with me, I carried more than my fair share. One of the highlights of my college career was at the English Major banquet, right before graduation, where the head of the department described his trepidation at seeing me - five feet tall, Chuck Taylor hi-tops, blue hair, and knitting in lecture, and expecting me to be a slacker, but how quickly and soundly I proved him wrong.

Then I started student teaching, and to make things easier on myself I dyed my hair brown. I dressed in button-down shirts and sweaters and khakis. I was a little tired, honestly, of having to work harder than my peers to prove myself. I knew that the immediate reaction to my appearance was to assume that I wasn't going to work as hard or I'd be mouthy or I wouldn't be "a serious student" or whatever. So, I changed my appearance, but not my personality, and I passed as a "normal."

When I finished my student teaching, I was offered a job teaching. I graduated from college when I was 21, and I was going to be teaching seniors. Two of my students were 18. In an effort to maintain an appropriate distance, I kept the conservative thing going. I also found teaching physically exhausting, so I spent more time sleeping and less time going out to shows. Over the three years I spent teaching, I found myself fading. I liked the job itself - the working with students part - but I really had a lot of problems with the district and the school I was in, and I was pretty unhappy. This manifested itself in my totally unenthusiastic modes of dress. Khakis. Neutrals. Flats (a necessity for standing all day, but did I always have to wear plain brown or black?).

When I started the job I have now, one of the first people I met is my work-best-friend, who has several visible tattoos. In my third month, I asked my boss if it would be a problem if I dyed my hair blue. She looked at me weird for a minute, then asked me why she would care what color my hair was. I dyed it blue that weekend. And for the first time in four years, I felt like myself again, sartorially speaking.

I feel more comfortable when I'm dressed in interesting clothes. In the time since I started dying my hair again, I've also started investing more time in how I dress. I like fun clothes. I like putting things together in new ways. I read a whole bunch of fashion blogs. And I feel more confident when I dress in a way that makes me feel good. I've noticed that I dress less punk these days, even in my off-time, but that might just be my embracing of slightly more grown-up styles (I mean, isn't it a little sad to see a forty-year-old balding punk guy, wearing the same ratty leather jacket he's had for twenty years?). But even the slightly-less-loud versions feel like me. I really like being back in a good place, appearance-wise.

How do you describe your personal style? Have you ever changed your style to fit in? How did it go? Any punks reading this?


  1. I guess my teaching experience is the opposite of yours sartorially. I work at a fashion college, and much of my time is spent in the library with all of the amazing books on fashion and designers. It has definitely inspired me. I've always loved shopping, but now I really love putting clothes together.

  2. Dang, your experience sounds more invigorating than mine! Most of my colleagues were middle-aged or the kind of lady who thinks a snowflake-print sweater and a denim jumper is cutting edge.

    Wait. The students who perpetrated those crimes on the English language you posted yesterday were COLLEGE STUDENTS?