A few months ago I found myself with an important work meeting on the horizon, and I thought it was possible that this was the sort of thing for which I might have to dress nicely.
My daily office environment is such that I don't have generally have to worry about this sort of thing. When I roll out of bed in the morning, I grab a pair of jeans that falls into the category of "clean enough", pair it with a t-shirt with a spaceship on it (fun fact: 28% of my t-shirts have spaceships on them; I ran the numbers), pull my hair into a pony tail, and I'm out the door.
Working with field scientists rocks.
Still, I'm 36 years old and it seems like I should probably own something that passes for proper business attire. I could see myself getting into a situation where this meeting would occur suddenly and if I were told at that point that dress would be formal, I could be standing there like a deer in headlights.
I believe I've mentioned before that I'm not uber comfortable with girl clothes, and that shopping is certainly not on my list of super powers. I can research though; I'm pretty good at that. So I summoned the collective brain power of the internet to aid me. (Translated: I typed "what do I wear to a work meeting?" into a google search. I found this blog belonging to a physicist who laid out in simple terms what a female scientist should wear to a work conference, which was close enough, and included descriptions, pictures, sources, and even some survey data. I should send her flowers.)
I made some online purchases, waited for boxes to arrive, and invited a friend over who is substantially more skilled in the social graces than I am myself. I learned how to wear scarf and how to roll my sleeves (apparently there's an ideal method; who knew?) and what to pair with what in which situations. My mom helped me pick out boots. Apparently my clunky Dr Martens aren't appropriate; all these things I'm learning...
So meeting got scheduled, dress was pronounced casual, which I nevertheless took to mean no spaceship t-shirts, and I turned to my newly acquired stock in the back of the closet.
And I freaked out.
I tried stuff on, took stuff off, picked something out, walked away, walked back, changed my mind. This went on for some time. Finally I told myself to stop it and go to bed to get some sleep in the few remaining hours before the impending meeting. And in bed, I stared at the ceiling and freaked out some more within the confines of my head. I haven't worried so much about what I was going to wear since prom, which was over half a lifetime ago at this point, and didn't turn out all that well anyway. I expect some of this anxiety was about the meeting in general; but in my head it all somehow got pinned on whether or not I was going to put the sweater with the slacks or the blazer. (I can't believe I own a blazer.) At three in the morning, sleepless, bleary-eyed and with only two hours remaining before I was due to be up and out in the world, I gave myself a serious talking to.
Alright, you don't do this. You never do this. This is ridiculous behavior for a grown up. For this thing coming up, you don't have to be pretty; you just have to be smart. So when the alarm buzzes, you're going to put on your old khaki pants, that maroon sweater that you've been hauling out for the past ten years whenever you're not sure if you're supposed to dress up or not, and some comfortable shoes. Throw any notion of accessorizing out the window where it belongs. Done. Chuck the professional girl crap into the very back of closet and hope that unlike Freddy and Jason, it stays buried.
And I fell right to sleep.
When my alarm woke me a few hours later, I followed my own stern advice. I put on my old but entirely serviceable, rather boyish clothes, and what was on the outside didn't cross my mind again all day. The meeting went well.
So I'm home now. Back in my comfortable one-size-too-big-for-me jeans and spaceship t-shirt (Millennium Falcon today, if you're interested) and I'm contemplating the whole ordeal.
Now everybody's different and I know there are a lot of folk out there who like dressing up, who would have seen this opportunity as fun and not stressful. I mean no disrespect to your point of view. If you think clothes are fun then go forth, man. I've got a lot of weird hobbies too.
But on the map that is my life, on the spot with the red dot that's labeled "You are here", I have to say that I can't help but look around and think the fashion industry, and the media machine that promotes it, is pretty dangerous. Poisonous even. Anytime you spend less time and energy worrying about what's in your head and more about what's hanging off the rest of you, I think you're heading the wrong fracking way.
Clothes don't make the man the woman the human. Maybe don't let them unmake you either.