keeping up appearances

I used to wear one pair of shoes (compare this to my casual estimate of the 75+ pairs of shoes I own now). Um, and notice I didn’t say I “owned” one pair of shoes–because when you have one pair of shoes you are WEARING them. I just felt no need to own more than one pair of reliable, suede brown rockport walking sandals. I wore them to work, I wore them with dresses, I wore them with jeans. I didn’t realize they were ugly at the time, I really LOVED these shoes.

I also used to wear X-large tshirts. I wasn’t a size X-large. I just liked wearing baggy tshirts because they were super comfy. I wore them with Gap classic jeans. (With the rockport sandals). My idea of fancy was a dress from Ann Taylor.

I dressed so plainly that at work, the CEO told my boss to sit me in the back, away from where I could be seen by visitors. Not that I was hideous or anything, I was just super nerdy in dress even though I was the most diligent and productive worker on staff. I had no idea that when my boss gave me “bonuses” in the form of gift certificates to Bloomingdale’s, they meant for me to smarten up my wardrobe. I just went to Bloomingdale’s and bought socks and bras with the gift certificate. I was probably too oblivious to notice their sighs when they never saw the nicer clothes materialize. (Later, my boss TOOK ME SHOPPING as a bonus…probably as a way to ensure I’d buy something to wear to the office! I still have the thing we bought–a beautiful, mandarin-collared cream white Ungaro jacket–of course it didn’t go with jeans or tshirts, so I didn’t wear IT either).

My mother-in-law is quite a fashionable lady and so is my husband. For years, I felt like a hobo next to them, at least when it came to dress. When I married my husband, they went on shopping sprees with me, buying me designer labels that I didn’t quite feel comfortable in. I felt like the clothes were either too tight, or I was swimming in them. I wasn’t ME! I felt like an impostor in a blue pin striped Escada suit and skirt–who was THAT? It felt so extreme. And the shoes! I think my mother-in-law bought me at least sixty pairs of designer shoes. They were beautiful, but they seemed outlandish, and most of them HURT. I think my pinky toe will never be the same again. But I loved the attention, and I wanted to fit in, and I got so much praise, I kept shopping and shopping and shopping. And eventually, I came to love the clothes and shoes, too.

I wonder if the world didn’t prize and praise us for our appearance…just how much time and energy would we invest in our clothes? Do we all, in the end, do it for the praise?
What do the clothes and shoes mean? I would be happy to just try them on, and admire them. Actually, that’s mostly what happens–I have a closetful of beautiful haute couture and such, and I end up wearing…like 8 things in my closet over and over.

But isn’t it okay to just not care, every once in awhile? I once said to my sister-in-law, who was fretting over her appearance as many teenagers do, “Just go as you are, who’s going to see you anyway at the grocery store?” My mother-in-law stepped in. “Oh you WILL see someone.”

I looked at her, wondering what the HELL she was talking about. Why would you dress up to go to the grocery store? “Once,” she continued, “I felt that way. But one day changed me forever. I was taking care of the baby all day and my husband came home and took us grocery shopping. I went out just as I was, with my hair in three ponytails, unshowered, with the weirdest outfit ever. Well!” she took a breath, “At the store we ran into my husband’s professor! After that, I have always dressed up to go out. See? You WILL RUN INTO someone.”

She set the paranoia in me. Since then, I rarely go out of the house without being well groomed. You never know, though oftentimes I wish I didn’t give such a shit.
I’d like to think she’s wrong, but she’s right. Everytime I do step out of the house in some sort of disarray, I inevitably run into someone I know at the grocery store or other earthly errand. The other day, i dropped in at Whole Foods, a bit sweaty and in my workout clothes after my workout. I was staring, zoned out at the skinniest eggplants I’d ever seen when someone from school said, “Hey Jade.” Oh boy.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “keeping up appearances

  1. Ha. You are talking about me!! One pair of shoes, one pair of sandals, a pair of sneakers, and snow boots. That is it. A pair of jeans, some XL stuff, that’s it. I have had various friends try to “groom” me occasionally, but it never sticks. I am impressed by people who have any sense of fashion, but I feel like it’s a missing gene, like being able to sing or something.

  2. I was thinking about this post as I drove around doing errands this morning. I saw one very stylishly dressed woman on a street corner. I was wearing my ususal pajama-ish pants and a big long sleeved shirt. I didn’t look like a total slob, but I also didn’t look very stylish. When I saw her, I thought of your post, and thought, there is a woman who gets dressed up Just In Case.

    And it plugged into all this weird emotional stuff in me! I realize that I have really strong (negative) feelings about people who Care What Other People Think. I LOVE it when people get dressed up or look nice for their OWN pleasure, because it feels good or makes them look happy, but when it’s because of other people, WOW my buttons get pushed. And then (this is turning into an online therapy session) I realized it’s because it’s all coming from this place of my birthmother being ashamed of getting pregnant and having me and never being able to tell anyone, even decades after such stigmga doesn’t mean anything. And I just hate hate hate it when people let other peoples’ opinions rule their actions, even as far as what they wear to the grocery store.

    Um, thanks for providing the stimulus for today’s armchair analysis!

  3. I have a somewhat schizophrenic attitude towards fashion. I’ve always loved it, and always will. I own far too many stilettos and have a real weakness for the impractical (not that I’m implying that stilettos are practical). But I always do my (planned) weekly grocery shopping in workout gear because it’s post yoga. Inevitably, I do run into someone I know, but hey, if Kate Hudson can run around in sweatpants and flip flops, so can I. Note: it’s one thing to channel Gwen Stefani in sweatpants and a boybeater, but another matter entirely to channel Britney Spears in her interpretation of the same outfit. The fit is everything. And if I’m in the middle of a cooking project and discover I’m missing and ingredient, I’ll pull cargo pants on over my boxers (my husband won’t let me go to the supermarket in pajama pants) and run out. The last time I did it, someone in the checkout line asked if I was a baker. I thought it was because I was buying a sack of sugar and a big bottle of Chambord. When I caught my reflection, I realized I was covered in flour. On my forehead, my nose, my chin and all over my baggy black t-shirt. But you know, I didn’t care. I just wanted to finish making my pie!

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