Grown-up dress code
The other day it was raining pretty heavily, which prompted me to do what I usually do when it rains: wistfully think of my old umbrella.
I can’t remember what happened to that umbrella, but I know where it came from: My good friend Matt gave it to me because I was wandering around without an umbrella. “Here, take this,” he said.
Even then it had seen better days: The metal tips were poking through the fabric, which was faded and frayed, and I worried about accidentally stabbing someone.
I seldom remembered to take the umbrella with me when I left my apartment, but I found it moderately useful on those rare occasions when I did. It was nice to go for a walk and not be dripping wet by the end of it. Still, I never came to regard the umbrella as essential, and when it disappeared I didn’t replace it. It rarely rains all that hard, anyway. The other night, I went for a walk in the rain and managed to protect myself just fine by wearing a hooded sweatshirt.
I learned not to take the rain too seriously while working at camp.
Most of our activities involved running around outside, and keeping the kids dry when it rained was next to impossible. At some point, we stopped worrying about it — if necessary, the kids could go back to their cabins and change into dry clothes, and wasn’t camp about getting dirty and wet, anyway? Also, our camp director had an umbrella phobia, and if you opened one within a 10-foot radius of her, she would start screaming at you. In any case, I got into the habit of never carrying an umbrella.
I’m aware that my lack of an umbrella periodically makes me look like a failure at being a grown-up. Real grown-ups carry umbrellas. They don’t pull the hoods on their sweatshirts over their ears. I love my hooded sweatshirt, which is the most comfortable article of clothing that I own by far, but I’m very much aware that wearing it makes me look like a 12-year-old boy. So I mainly wear it around my apartment and on chilly walks.
I’ve always found being a real grown-up challenging, and dressing myself a particularly challenging aspect of adulthood.
Believe it or not, dressing myself is something I’ve gotten worse at over the years, rather than better. When I headed off to my first job in Birmingham, Ala., I had a whole suitcase full of dress suits for work, and crisp blazers, and nice shirts and slacks. I ironed my clothes every morning, and hung my shirts on a hanger. People dress nicely in the South and I was anxious to fit in.
Today, I toss my clothes in the closet and stuff them in drawers. I do own an iron, but I hardly ever use it — I’ve decided to subscribe to a friend’s belief that you don’t really need to iron your clothes because eventually wrinkled clothing will relax. Nor do I care all that much if my socks match, although I generally try to match my socks, because it seems like the right thing to do — they come in pairs, after all.
Why have I become so indifferent to my clothing?
Well, the biggest factor is probably the length of my employment at The Gazette — about 10 years. At this point, I doubt I could put on a fancy suit and trick anyone into thinking that I’m a real grown-up. Also, my attire isn’t exactly out of place here.
In this office, the fleece sweatshirt is an extremely popular article of clothing. And, trust me, whenever I see one of my fellow fleece-wearers in an unusually nice outfit, I don’t think, “Wow, what a competent go-getter!” I think, “What’s going on? Is someone special visiting the office?”
Should I ever get another job, I’ll retrieve my dressier outfits from the bottom of my closet (or perhaps buy some new ones, now that I think about it) and put on my sharp new employee act, before falling into a sartorial decline that will inevitably result in the frequent wearing of fleece sweatshirts and unmatched socks.
My resistance to nice clothes stems from childhood.
Growing up, I never liked wearing dresses or skirts and always protested wearing them to church. I remember asking my parents why, if God loves us just the way we are, I had to look nice for church. I thought this was a compelling argument but it failed to make a difference.
More people seem to be coming around to my point of view. Churchgoers today are far more casual than they used to be — to the point where even I’m a little shocked by the clothing people are willing to wear to church. I’m a big fan of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, but I’m not sure I need to see a David Ortiz or Tom Brady jersey in the pews on Christmas Eve.
Experience has taught me that clothing is rarely an accurate measure of a person’s value, or smarts. I know that whenever I try to look nice it’s a performance, and that as soon as I get home, I’m going to toss my clothes in the closet and put on jeans and, if it’s cold, my hooded sweatshirt.
Still, some people persist in believing that clothes are a good tool for judging people. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was criticized for wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and Wall Street analysts fretted over the bad impression he was making. “He’s actually showing investors he doesn’t care that much,” said one analyst, who gave Facebook a “buy” rating anyway.
My feeling is that Zuckerberg has done pretty well for himself, and that at least he didn’t play a role in crashing the economy, like suit-wearing creeps such as Angelo Mozilo.
In any case, I’m not going to shut down my Facebook page just because the CEO wears a hoodie. Meanwhile, it’s raining again, and I have to walk to my car.
But I know that I have dry clothes at home.
And that eventually the rain will stop.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at email@example.com.