Friday, August 24, 2007

What Not To Wear

It is rare that I sit down with the intention of watching TV. For some reason, I had nothing that I had to do tonight so I reached for the remote. The first thing that I saw on the Guide was the Miss Teenage USA 2007 pageant. Now I know why I don't watch TV. The choices on the other zipty billion satellite channels we have were no better. I finally settled on What Not To Wear. This is rather ironic because frankly, I never really think about what not to wear. My philosophy is if it is comfortable, wear it.

Tonight's show happened to be a reunion show; eight women, who had previously been on the show, were back to see if they have been able to maintain their new fashion identity. The program began with highlights from each of their previous appearances. The longer I watched, the more amazed I became at the idea that people had come into these women's worlds and completely changed their sense of themselves. I was most surprised at the woman who was told that she could no longer wear her hooded sweatshirt while she was out (in the cold) walking her dogs. Do the dogs really care what she is wearing? Oh wait, we are concerned about what other people have to say about what we wear. Are we really so shallow that if we see a woman out on a Saturday morning walking her dogs in a sweatshirt that we will think no class, uninteresting, unattractive? Or what about the young special education teacher who said that she would rather put her energy into enriching the lives of eight disabled children in her classroom than be exhausted by the time she got to school from going through an extensive ritual of makeup and fashion choice. What is wrong with that? If I were the parent of one of her students, I would be grateful for someone who was more concerned with educating my child than whether or not she was accessorized properly.

Many years ago when I was feeling the effects of lupus but had not yet been diagnosed, I was seeing an internist who walked in to the exam room wearing what we now call business casual. He asked me if I was uncomfortable with a doctor who did not wear a white coat. This particular doctor was much like Dr. House (another show I watch) in his unrelenting search for answers but he was much more personable. I told him that I was much less concerned with what he wore than with what he said and did. I also said that I was not fond of doctors who hide behind their white coats and stethoscopes. Anyone can play dress-up.

It looked to me like all the women who were back on What Not To Wear were playing dress-up. Many of them did not look comfortable at all with the persona they were trying to pull off. What is the point? Why can't we just be who we truly are?

I am a jeans, loose shirt and Birkenstock girl. That translates to an old hippie. The older I get, the less able (or willing) I am to try to pull off the mature adult look as far as fashion is concerned. In fact, last winter when we went back east for my mother's funeral, I had it in my head that I really should wear a dress; needless to say, I did not have an appropriate one. I took my fashion conscious daughter shopping with me. After trying on many dresses, all of which fit in terms of size, Erin finally said to me that I just did not look right in a dress. She was right. I ended up with a navy blue suit - pants and blazer. That was about as grown up as I could handle and it was perfectly fine for the funeral. I must say, however, that I have not worn it since.

I am lucky that I teach in a place where dress is not a big deal. This may be the benefit of teaching in the arts. It is perfectly acceptable to wear jeans and Birkenstocks in our department, at least it always has been. Hopefully that will not change. I think that the students recognize confidence and comfort in their instructors not by how they dress but by how they engage with their students. I don't need the tweed jacket to earn the respect of my students any more than that doctor twenty years ago needed a white coat to earn my respect. If I am worthy of their respect I will get it regardless of what I wear. And if I am not, I will not get it, regardless of how I dress. We are back to that don't judge a book by its cover thing.

So, as I get ready for the first day of school on Monday, I could wear my blue suit. Yeah right. I will make sure that my "good" jeans are clean and that my shirt is not too wrinkled. And, I have new Birkenstocks. I am ready. Hopefully the opinions of me that are formed by my students are based on what I show them of my inside, not the outside.

Having said that, over the summer I overheard one of my former students asking a current student if I still wore all the cool-colored hand knit socks. I can live with being the awesome theory teacher who wears the cool socks.