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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dress To Suppress

At the age of 38, I have come to the conclusion that I have no one to impress on a daily basis.  Unless I am looking to advance in my career or I am mandated by certain mores such as company dress code or acceptable for the event, I will dress mostly for comfort.  Now, granted, being a t-shirt designer, after work and on the weekends I’m liable to be wearing a tee I love or designed, which has a message or is used for marketing purposes.  In any case, the my morning goes like this.

I get up, shower, and then put on clothes that satisfy the following criteria: did I wear that shirt last week, and is it comfortable for the weather  Beyond that, I don’t put a lot of thought into the manner or style of dress.   However, if you were to ask the me that was 25 years  my junior, you’d get a vastly different answer.    There was no comfort involved.  It was dress to suppress.

Now, what does that mean?

Well, in the case of eight to ten year old me, I wore a good deal of hand me downs.    Being the youngest of three, by seven years, I was subjected to wearing the clothes my brother had from a previous decade.   Factor in that my parents didn’t have a huge bank account, I wore the same clothes for multiple years while they fit.

But at some point, I wised up.  I went to my mother and thanked her for my impeccable fashion sense but asked if my older brother could take me clothes shopping before the first day of 7th grade.   In my town, you had K-6 (Grade School) in one building, 7-9 (Junior High) in another, and then 10-12 (High School) in yet another.   You see, the division in schools also determine the threat level to one’s psyche from their classmates.  In grade school, you could get away with wearing sweat pants, a ¾ sleeve baseball tee, and Sears’ brand Velcro running shoes without drawing attention.  However, in sixth grade the natives begin to take notice and you prepare yourself for the inevitable catty comments about how you dress and how you look to your peers.   So, I decided to keep that from happening and turned in my running shoes for Nike high tops, just so I could keep up with the pack.   Then, in the summer before Junior High, I went on that all important clothes shopping trip to the mall with my older and infinitely cooler brother.  I came back with Ocean Pacific and Shah Safari shirts, Bugle Boys and Dockers pants, a pair of Chuck Taylors and assorted shirts from 80s mega trendy stores like Chess King and Just Pants (I’m kidding).

That first day of school was all about blending in and not sticking out.  It wasn’t about the clothes drawing attention.   It was about disguising myself to look like the enemy.  That way I could infiltrate their ranks and they could see me, not what I wore.   In those days, if your parents got your clothes at stores like Gabriel Bros. or Montgomery Ward, you were an easy target.  The cool people could zone in on you like a geek seeking missile, claws bared, ready to attack your fashion.  It was survival of the fittest.

By when you reach High School, the claws retract somewhat.   The rules are more relaxed.  In Junior High, the bodies and minds of teenagers go completely nuts.  All the instability of hormones and growing fight your ability to be comfortable in your own skin, so you lash out at others as a way to justify your own metamorphoses from ugly caterpillar to butterfly.   In High School, you stop focusing on how to take others out of the race and work to getting to the finish line first with flare.  It’s called preparation for college.  Soon, you start to compare acceptance letters to schools like you did with shoes or earrings, years before.  It’s not about how you dress, it’s about how you will succeed in your post High School career.  Still, I did do my best to keep up and went the route of the Boyz II Men, Olive Garden waiter route with jeans, white button down shirts, and ties.  Some days loafers, some days sneakers.     But I never got called out by the worst offenders from Junior High when it came to my clothes.   I mean I caught a glimpse of it in sixth grade with my clothing.  In Junior High, there was that one disastrous pair of blood Red Pro Keds high tops that nearly destroyed me.  Luckily, the poorest of the poor kids had on Moon Boots and the geek seeking missiles locked onto him instead.

Funny how, when you get to college, all of that goes out the window and you end up wearing pajamas to class or sweats with a ball cap, and you’re just fine.  Sometimes you wonder if uniforms in the education system help to tone down bullying or other harassment of not so cool kids in those years.    My argument for that is to a kid going through all the agony of adolescence, their clothes should be a coat of arms for their individuality.  I wouldn’t bow to inappropriate or obscene clothing, but as a form of expression and a way to help that transition, clothes do make the man they will become.  Why suppress that?

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