When I was a little girl, I desperately wanted to be a nun or a student at the Immaculate Heart Catholic School for Girls. Not to be closer to a heavenly father; to be closer to a uniform.
TLC sang about wanting "no scrubs." Well, I do.
I want to be one of the parents I see at preschool pick-up with the classic watch, simple shoes, chic haircut and same old, same old scrubs. I am faded blue with envy at the prospect of being done with the daily drain of selecting clothes.
My dad wore a navy button-down shirt with his name stitched over the pocket and matching Dickie pants from a uniform store. He wore that for 30 years. No wasted time selecting, tailoring, dry cleaning or otherwise burning calories over his work wardrobe. On the other hand, he also had to rebuild alternators, generators and starters and eat lunch off a truck -- not the hipster grilled cheese and artisanal donuts trucks they have today, the old school kind offering sketchy cartons of milk you'd have to fish out of even sketchier melting ice.
Steve Jobs wore a uniform. The black turtleneck and New Balance sneakers screamed, "Hello! Mastermind genius here. No need to prove it to you."
Einstein wore a uniform.
The khaki pants and sweaters were his way of skipping hours and weeks of accrued time spent on clothing selection. Of course, he had important things to do, but maybe he would have found that elusive unified field theory if only he hadn't even had to bother dressing at all.
Me, I'm not shifting any paradigms. But for the love of all that is holy, including nuns and their kick-ass habits, I'm worn out.
Choosing outfits, I now realize, was rarely a joyful personal expression and it certainly isn't now. Let me compare being stylish to social dancing, something I gave up in my 30s when I suddenly woke up and realized several things: I'm horribly inhibited, I hate dancing at parties unless I'm three Jamesons into any occasion, and no kittens drown if I don't dance with my girlfriends at a cramped house party just because one of them got dumped and needs to prove she still knows all the words to "White Lines."
When I came to and realized I could embrace my social phobia and tell every Conga line no, gracias, it was deeper than just not dancing. I could stop uncomfortably bobbing my head to music that wasn't my own.
I opted out. And I've never looked back.
Obviously, opting out of clothing is tricky. And I should say here I absolutely care about how I look and want every, single one of you to think I'm pretty. I just want to end society's long reign of terror over 20 minutes of my life every morning. And since I had my second son a year ago, there's the added pressure of figuring out how not to look first trimester-y.
As most moms know, after a couple of kids, your wardrobe selection is less about which Frye boots look hot with knit knee socks like they show you on the Urban Outfitters website and more about how to hide the parts of your body that don't look quite right and maybe never will. I must ask my self and my jeans (from tragically unhip Express), just how much stretch do you have? Because two percent just ain't cutting it right now. Any shirts must have a banded bottom, lest you congratulate me on my non-pregnancy, which is horrible for both of us.
The morning routine looks like this: A toddler imploring me to watch him run from the closet to the ottoman, where he flings himself at great speed, while a baby clings to me and rests on my hip, rendering one arm useless. It's in this environment that I resent having to scan the closet to get clothes on my body without which I can't leave the house and go to work. Oh, look, there's the cropped, clinging "Dillon High School Football" t-shirt from when I loved "Friday Night Lights." Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose, unless you mean my dignity.
There are shirts and dresses and blazers from every chapter and job and relationship and life moment, all of which are past. But still, a girl's gotta wear something.
I try on an Indian print silk top and stretchy bootcut jeans, putting down the baby for brief periods to button and zip. It doesn't look right, I assess, while also making sure my toddler isn't flinging himself off the ottoman and into the waiting room of the nearby Urgent Care.
It's not that I resent the kids for keeping me from the clothes; I resent the clothes for keeping me from focusing on my boys, for the few minutes I have with them before rushing out the door in whatever shoes are nearest to it.
See, most men have uniforms. I guess they're called suits. Or they rotate in some cargo pants and some dark jeans, some button-down oxfords and it's all good. They aren't tasked with presenting an identity to the world with their selections. They don't have to account much for changing styles and bodies. They get to think about real stuff.
They get to spend their money and time on real stuff.
How can I still look OK or appropriate enough to gain the acceptance from strangers and colleagues I so desperately and ridiculously need, while no longer wasting days at the mall, mornings in the closet, afternoons at the dry cleaner and hours on topshop.com?
Those Catholic schoolgirls I saw on the public bus during my high school years, I envied their sameness, the plaid skirts, the crisp shirts, the sneakers, their only choosing ground.
A 43-year-old Jewish mother of two doesn't look cute in that look and even Jesus would have to admit, the visual is creepy.
And while I am in the habit of questioning and second-guessing each decision I make in life, down to my ankle boots, an actual habit is a pretty big commitment to letting go of worldly possessions and vanity. The auto mechanic's monkey suit my dad rocked would only look like a sad grasp at ironic thrift store dressing and while the definition of who exactly can wear scrubs these days is as loose as the pants, it would be a stretch to suggest a television host in a second-tier market could pull it off. Though pulling them on and off would be so very sweet.
When I'm on-camera at my job, I wear a series of bright, tailored dresses that my bosses approve. I paid a really fashionable lady who does that for a living to shop for and alter those things. That part is fine, but for the rest of life, I'm hung up like last year's maternity romper.
As it stands, I've recently cut my dressing time in the mornings by narrowing down my choices to jeans in three Spandex-rich varieties, long-sleeved banded t-shirts and neutral clogs. I've also made great strides in the underpants department -- I hit the panty refresh, tossed out all existing pairs spanning the size gamut from honeymoon to plus-60-pounds pregnant and replaced the whole lot with 10 identical pairs in black, 10 in neutral. Look, until the Juicy Couture sweatsuit comes back, this is the best I can do.
It's really a question of identity, or at least that's how I've always perceived it. Who am I in this Clash t-shirt and Army surplus coat? Who am I in this argyle sweater vest? Who am I in this body size and shape and how do I fit in and how do I position myself in this world to avoid rejection by my peers? Silly stuff, yes. Primal, also yes. Add to this cauldron of vanity and identity the huge fact of motherhood and how that throws all the cards in the air and sure, looking into the closet becomes both Cathy Cartoon and Greek mythology.
If I could have all the time back that I spent in junior high and high school lamenting the fact that I could neither afford the clothes to look right, nor did I have the pluck or style of Molly Ringwald in "Pretty in Pink" to pull it off with my wages from Lombardi's Sporting Goods, if I could have those hours of torment back, I don't know. I only know that just like I don't have a knack for dancing, I don't have a knack for dressing.
And what I really don't have is a knack for not caring what anyone thinks, because if I did, you'd see me and think, "Oh, look, there's Dr. Strasser... she must have been on call last night. She looks tired." If you happened to need emergency medical attention, we would all need a nun.
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