Friday, January 16, 2009

that funny looking kid who smelled even funnier

Dear Amber,

I totally dropped the ball on our epistolary blogging with end-of-year projects, the holidays, and now carpal tunnel. (Update: new $80 Microsoft Wireless Ergonomic 7000 is worth it, even if the keys are stiff, and I am thinking of getting those wrist splint things.)

Anyway, I have no idea what we were talking about. So I'm switching subjects. I was thinking of offering my own thoughts on "game," but then I realized I have nothing original to say and too little game/experience to offer any insight anyway. Also, wouldn't want to touch that with a ten foot pole.

Instead, today I talk to you about fashion, in contravention of our feminist ideals to disregard the beauty industrial complex and social constructions of feminity and beauty as created by the patriarchy (cough). I basically have a uniform of unbranded fleece jacket or peacoat, jeans, and whatever sneakers I feel like wearing that day. A few times a week I dress it up with dresses or skirts with tights (colored or herringbone knit) and riding boots or mary janes (I still walk to/from school). It's not that adventurous a wardrobe, and I'm limited by my lack of funds.

But I remember days of being more adventurous, and at least individual. Of course, that was because I was even poorer than I am now. When I was a kid, my mom shopped at K-Mart or made my clothes from cheap bolts of fabric. Girl, I had bright blue elastic-waisted pants that gathered at the ankles printed with ice cream cones. I also wore shoes with velcro strips until the age of nine. I remember getting a pair of much-coveted LA Gears or Keds and wearing them every day even when they got tight (such is my nostalgia that I have a pair each of "cool" redesigned LA Gears and Keds kicks). I wore shorts over tights in the winter. I wore discarded t-shirts from my brothers, and so would wear leggings (ugh, I was poor, what is Lindsay Lohan's excuse) with big t-shirts that said "Boston Sucks" in bright green. It took me a while to learn that was a reference to the Celtics. It was just a t-shirt to me. I am glad to be past these years, because no kid wants to wear ice cream pants or weird slogan t-shirts. It just screams poverty, and even then, I pined for the banality of Americana basics: khakis, t-shirts, cardigans. Instead I wore weird clothes, and wore them two days in a row (my mom said that they weren't dirty and so I wore clothes two days in a row before they went into the laundry) and bathed every other day (my mom said I would get sick if oftener). Man, I was the poor kid in funny clothes that repeated and I probably smelled weird. I am glad not to be there anymore. Things improved in junior high and high school, at least the bathing and clothes repeating thing (my hardy ability to survive baths and me getting a sense of independence and me doing my own laundry). But I was still odd. I was/am a small person who stopped growing at the age of 14 and 5'2", and so I was wearing Kids-R-Us well into high school--at the very least, sophomore year. This is why the early sexualization of little girls' clothing, and my nieces' low rise jeans, bewilder me.

Fast forward to college: things improved, at least I started shopping at Gap and Old Navy on sale (hell, I still do). My late bloominess in college made it difficult to keep on wearing kids clothes, although I still do have two mackintosh jackets from Gap Girls (the XL pants, alas, have given way to the womanly hips, and no way can I fit an XL or even XXL shirt now). Know what's great? Boys clothes. I have a sailing jacket from Old Navy and a fleece jacket from Gap Boys. I also, as a size 7 shoe woman, wear size 6 kids shoes.

And with that look I arrived at law school in one of the most looks-conscious, high-maintenance cities in the country. I wore wide-legged red pants, kids clothes, loved big brooches (I so was the trendsetter before Michelle Obama!) and tied scarves around my neck or as headbands (I so was the trendsetter before that show I never watch, Gossip Girl!). I wore chunky heeled mary janes and lots of jewelry. It took me till third year to grow out my hair, get some bootcut jeans, force myself to wear heels (dude, girls were wearing stilettos with their backpacks and Seven jeans), and limit myself to the ubitquitous big hoop earrings. I fit in, but I looked really boring, even if I looked "prettier."

So, my question to you my stylish and feminist friend: nevermind the question of who we dress for or for whom do we amp up the sex appeal--how do you balance individualism with fitting in? What do you think your exterior says about your interior? This is a fairly broad question, but fashion is as good an example as any. In my new city, fitting in is much less looks-conscious: a fleece, jeans, and sneakers and I'm just like the rest, and there's not even a brand-consciousness here (there's an entire culture of outdoorsiness, coming here is what made me learn about other brands from which to buy my performance gear). I stand out if I dress up. In my old city, I stood out because I looked weird. I like fitting in and not being asked here, whether I have a special date later, and there, not being asked "oh, you shop at Gap Kids?"

But I kind of miss being weird. I'm not talking about weird knitted hat and dreds different (not cool if you are white/Asian, people). Just the sparkly magpie bizarro joy I brought to my every day. RIght now I'm wearing a black sheath dress and a teal cardigan and my makeup is light and natural (no more retro red lips!), and I look great and womanly and adult. I also feel like a tool. But I guess I've decided, in my adulthood, that I'd rather fit in and look "normal" than to have yet another aspect of my identity (and really, are clothes so central) questioned. There's other ways I articulate my individualism. I am losing them, but I am sure they exist.