November 22, 2009
In reflecting on the clothes I wore 10 to 15 years ago, I am thinking of my life in 1994. I had just finished a consulting job that involved legislative lobbying, so I had worn a suit part of the time for that work, a conservative gray suit. I also had a part-time job at a financial research firm for which I wore casual clothes, like dockers, a plain color and collared shirt and usually a sweater. A friend had gotten me the latter job part time as I had just been divorced and I was on hard times regarding income. I did not like it and left after two months.
By June of that year, my consulting work had ended. I was unemployed and seeking work as an environmental consultant or as an instructor in teaching college courses in environmental science which I had done a couple of times during the period 1991 through 1993. I liked teaching and wanted to do that the most, so dressed for interviewing with colleges. I usually wore khaki Dockers, a blue blazer, a blue button down shirt and modest tie to interview for teaching positions. I had read about blue being a very favorable color for first interviews in a book titled "What Color is Your Parachute," by Willam Boyles, I think I have the author right, and I liked blue anyway. I also wore the same outfit interviewing for agency and consulting firm jobs.
That summer I had several let downs in consulting firm job applications but had sent a number of resumes out to colleges. I was at a low point for the late summer and spent days going to parks and coffee shops to read and write in a journal. The days were lonely as most people I knew were working. I dressed simply in khakis, a collared shirt and an old sports coat, trying to keep my identity as an intellectual, continuing teacher aspirant, and a reader and writer. I would go to a park with a lawn chair, book and journal bag, and my dog and sit for hours at a time reading and writing. I was broke and living on a credit card, but keep a routine and appearance like a working person.
One job fell through that had looked really promising and I sank in spirit in late July. My hair started to thin out, I began to face looking older and less attractive. The clothes then became even more of a prop. A high point came a month later. I visited my sister in Colorado, landed a teaching job here in the Twin Cities, for fall of 1994, one class in environmental studies, and began to grab onto my work as my chance to build a new life at that time. While visiting my sister, I went to Rocky Mountain National Park and took lots of pictures for my classroom presentations, bought new books in my field at the University of Colorado bookstore, and came back lifted up in spirits. My sister bought me some new clothes. I and was able to gain ground wih my teaching that fall even though there were some bumps with students over environmental issues and some wrestles I was having about best teaching practices. But, everything built steadily, I enjoyed good relations with the school and they gave me more classes. Other schools contacted me and I got full-time teaching a year later as an adjunct instructor at four different schools. I developed a uniform of khaki dockers and three sports coats which I wore out but kept wearing. I took them to a tailor for mending and made do with them as long as I could. Each year my sister gave me and still does give me clothes, usually a sports jacket and shirts at Christmas time. I was and still am the poorest person in my family and the least economically successful and use clothes in part to counter that. I may be poor but will look good and boost my feelings and esteem by not looking like I am poor.
I have been remarried since 2003, after dating my wife for 6 years before that. She is a very thrifty shopper and buys my clothes at rock bottom prices and has even called me on the phone to alert me to sales. I had a beloved green wool sports jacket my sister had given me, which my wife eventually told me I had to stop wearing for work, as she said it was just getting too worn out. However, she then found a great Land's End sports coat similar to it, made in China, that was on sale for $20. I bought two of them after we talked by phone and I had pulled into Har mar Mall to check out a Land's End there. I don't know who said it but I remember hearing a phrase that "clothes don't make a man, but they don't hurt either."
My other get up, in my wife's words is the "outback" look, with cargo pants, polar fleece, field vest, 6 gadgets on my belt (cell phone, digital camera, digital voice recorder, Swiss Army Knife, Wave Leatherman all-purpose tool in one), with a Fedora wide brim hat that i have had since fall 1995 when I started teaching full-time. I wear all the belt gadgets and the Fedora whether I am teaching in the classroom or in then field. Add to this memory sticks on a neck lanyard and pocket journals and I am in my instructor mode. Maybe these are all external props that are a buttress against a later life identity crisis or at least on-going growth and development. I am probably like most people, a perpetual work in progress, on the long journey of life, and have my foibles, but life is still rewarding and it is taking the journey that is the most important part, so if clothes can help us, if they are fun, and it is not excessive, why not.
My wife also has educated me on thrift stores and there are a number of them on the East Side of St. Paul. We go there to buy toys for our grandchildren and some of our clothes. I have found some great sports coats for prices ranging from $7.50 to $19.95, some of them beautiful wool tweads made from imported Scottish wool. I imagine sometimes the person who must have had the coat that I buy at the thrift stores. Was it a fellow who passed on, or a kid who outgrew the coat, or didn't like the style any more? Then I think of how I will want my clothes disposed of when I am gone. I am thinking that it would only be fair if I gave them back to an thrift store or a church rummage sale when thatb time comes. Hopefully, that will be a ways off into the future and I will enjoy them for now.
My students are all casual. I am there with them. If I were full-time as a student, I would, and have dressed in comfortable clothes, leaning towards the "outback" and geoscience look. I think clothes are a lot of fun, and even if one does not have much money and can only afford a few things, it is a okay way to express oneself and their individuality. Every once and a while one of my students will dress very nicely for class, wear a cool hat, have an outrageous shirt, or newly dyed hair color. Its good to see them do this and I think that dressing nicely and having a style makes it fun for others. I really like to have my wife dress nicely and she is a phenomenal bargin hunter and can do this without going broke.
I have seen pictures of Africa and the people there who live in small rural villages, where they work hard and do much physical work, yet the women dress beautifully and in bright colored clothes. At the church my wife and I currently attend, there are many Africans from places like Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. They dress in beautiful tradition African robes and clothes for our sunday services. I can't help but think that it is a universal human desire to dress as well as one can and to present oneself as a visual gift in part to others, and at church for God. Yes, life is much more than the visual, but often the inner and outer person are a true interplay, one's appearance, and the personhood they have. Beauty can be both within and without in the same person and everyone has clothes and style that are their favorites, that they find joy in wearing as part of expressing themselves and being with others.
Thank you for letting me share this with you. I look forward to reading you entry and thank you for taking a moment to read mine. Best to you and a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones. And have some fun wearing your holiday clothes!