Friday, November 23, 2012

A View From a Closet - From the 70's to Tactical Fashion.

Clothes make the man. Naked people
have little or no influence on society. 
― Mark Twain

Going into my first year of junior high, girls were not allowed to wear pants. Being the 70's, my classmates and I were allowed to wear an assortment of incredibly ugly clothing, including disco shirts, male jumpsuits (not just for prison anymore!) and the "let's dress alike in a creepy sort of way", his and hers outfits from the Sears catalog. But in our little town, our schools dictated that all young ladies wear dresses, even as most of the country had already relaxed the school dress code for girls to include pants.

Of course, being the era of the mini skirt, some of those dresses were pretty short and once even I had to kneel and have a female teacher measure the distance from floor to hem. It barely squeaked by but at least I wasn't sent home to explain to my Dad, how in Home Ec, I'd learned to change a hemline.

Finally, one Fall, as school started, the rules changed. The much anticipated day had come, where girls could wear pants (no jeans, that would be a few months off).

Except my Father said NO. There would be occasions where my wardrobe choice and my Dad collided (Daisy Duke shorts) but I never imagined that on that day, he would not allow me to dress like everyone else.   

So off I went, humiliated to be the only girl in the entire school wearing a dress.  No one actually said anything directly to my face as I was generally well liked. But I was not unaware of the many whispers and looks of pity from my friends as well as the looks of  contempt from the "popular girls".

We all know about "popular girls", for they don't change as they age, not content to merely overshadow others with their sex appeal and possessions, that brings with it popularity not earned, but to extinguish them with their scorn so that they are as inconsequential as they themselves, feel inside. Now I just pity them; back then it simply hurt.   At that age, no one really wants to be "different" and on that long day, I felt about as accepted as a Wolverine at a bunny convention.

I got through the day, waiting long after the last class was dismissed, everyone gone, so I could walk with my calm face into the empty halls, down into the schools entrance where I leaned against this big cooled vending machine that sold apples for 10 cents, leaning my face against the glass until the heat diminished. Then I walked home, head held high, but alone, under a sky the color of iron.

We all remember well the angst of such years, out of proportion, most certainly, to the actual severity of the events that took place, honed by hormones and need into something that stays with us for years until one day we just look back and say "was it really that big of a deal?"

On that day though, it was all you can think of.

I still recall that walk home, down a rural road at the edge of town,  past a sentient cow in a field, postulating life, not in the fact that it was breathing, but because it took the form of something that was breathing, even as it seemed to hurt to take breath in myself. I wanted nothing more than the day to be over, for that time when morning, afternoon and evening flowed back and drained the sky of light, leaving me in shadows where I could be invisible.

I  can smile now, thinking back.  But at the time, it was the end of the world; that simple social faux pas.

Dad didn't  understand the outcome of his actions, but apparently a brother did, one who attended the same school, and he had a frank talk with my father that night. Dad didn't apologize, he did what he thought was right, in the way that he was raised, but he knew it had caused me unintended hurt and the next day without much fanfare, I wore pants.

Soon, the dress code was even more relaxed and for the remainder of my school years I lived in Levi's, button down shirts, and shoes we knew as "waffle stompers". Other than church, volunteering at the local nursing home and this orchestra I played in well into college, I rarely wore anything else.

Then, after college and flight training, life was the "uniform thing".  I liked that. I didn't have to "coordinate an outfit". Nothing was figure flattering which leveled the playing field in the whole female "I look better than you do" nonsense, which unfortunately has existed among certain individuals since someone donned the first Saber Tooth Tiger Skin Bustier. I liked uniforms. No "what to wear" decisions at 5 a.m., no wasted money on something you'll not wear twice. However I did find out that to a black lab named Clyde, a uniform hat with "scrambled eggs" on it makes it no less edible. "Sir, about my cap."

I could  never understand the female obsession for fashion, for owning more clothing than you can wear in a matter of weeks, for having a closet full of things that some magazine tells you is what you have to wear to be liked, to be loved, to be desirable. I look at a designer handbag  and think "Wow, I could get a .380 for that".  Besides I already have TWO purses, one for the range and one that is powder residue/errant bullet casing free, so not to annoy TSA any more than I already do.

Then there is the whole Brides Magazine thing, where women fawn over dresses that have enough fabric to clothe most of Burma, and the engagement ring ads. You know the ones I speak of, that tell some poor guy that if he doesn't spend three months salary on a ring she is pretty much going to go to work and hold up her little 1/2 carat ring, point at his picture on her desk, laugh derisively and say "It's so SMALL".

That's simply marketing and has as little to do with love as integrity has to do with politics.

I look at my parent's wedding picture. Dad is in uniform, my mother is wearing a dark blue suit, tailored to compliment what he is wearing, yet feminine and something that could well be worn with other garments long after the wedding vows were past. The Depression was at hand, and both of them knew that what was important about this day was not what they wore, it was what they were. It was a quality that each recognized in each other, a single life's capacity for devotion  that abrogated the exchange value of any material thing given in an attempt to secure it.

But many people put great value into what one wears. I once interviewed a group of men for a position, civilian sector, the perfect job for a new grad school graduate. I looked out into a room full of blue suits, white shirts, red ties and a pink tuxedo. Not just ANY pink tuxedo but one with ruffles that looked like it came from South Beach Formal and Live Bait. Everyone was trying not to stare and failing miserably. When the young man came in, he handed us his curriculum vitae and said, with a soft southern drawl.  "I bet you're wondering about the suit."

Apparently, we bought him a ticket to fly in for the interview, The last leg was on a tiny, hot and cramped little puddle jumper, so he wore khaki shorts and a t shirt, his good clothing going into a carry on that ended up in the the cargo hold as it wouldn't fit in the tiny overhead. From there it disappeared. He landed at 9 something at night, with no bag in trail and literally sprinted to a taxi to go to the nearest mall, where the only thing still open was apparently the  South Beach Formal and Live Bait Shop. In the month of June, the only tux they had available in his size was this one, Sonny Bono apparently forgetting to pick it up.

He told me this tale while sitting tall and looking me straight in the eye. I hired him on the spot, without any further talk. That man had a pair and I wanted them on my team.

But many, like Mr. Twain, say clothes make the man, and I am certainly a sucker for a crisp dress shirt, the cut of a pair of dress trousers and a dapper hat, just as I am the smell of shop in the collar of a  faded, much mended shirt that bears on it the marks of taming a piece of shop machinery with sword or wrench.

I have my suits, mostly black and dark blue, the white button down shirts, the "uniform" for when I have to actually put on a couple of titles and play grown up.  For I can dress up to draw respect if I have to. Sometimes there are places where you don't want to stand out (street corners in certain neighborhoods in LA , tree stands or San Salvador, for example).  Sometimes you do.

There was one formal reception, held in some capital somewhere,  I wore a green velvet gown.  The dress was quite low cut.  A colleague I was good pals with said - "Wow. . you have . . (best  to shut up now)"  and I grinned  at him and said "don't worry, there will be plenty of other boobs in the room, no one will notice mine", with a sly grin.  I did feel somewhat like the fairy princess there, but it's not a look, or an outing,  I'll probably willingly repeat..

My closet  at home or in a hotel, is mostly cotton and wool, sweaters and coats and things meant for tramping around the outdoors or places where the temps are low and controlled. The closet at home has its share of camo as well. There are a couple pair of work dress shoes, a pair of tennis shoes and one pair of boots.  I don't really need any more footware except there are these boots that Mrs. Borepatch wore to the range one time that are just kick a**.

But what I have is functional, timeless, things I could have worn 10 years ago, and can wear 10 years from now.  I hate shopping for anything but tools or toys or things made with wood, so if I find something I like, I buy five of them in slightly different colors.   If it is is damaged through long wear, I'll repair it. I may not wear it to work but with a needle and thread I can make it useful to wear in the shop.

But I still have a little black dress and an old fashioned sweater and camisole set I  went out and bought to wear with black silk and pearls at a wedding where Partner was playing Bach on violin as people entered the church as his college friends wed.  What I wore would have fit in the 40's, though it was new.  When I entered the sanctuary, everyone looked  up and the young usher stammered and said "bride or groom?" I gave him the full wattage teeth and green eyes, with a "I'm with the band" and a nod towards my smiling friend.  For that moment, it was worth braving a "girl store" and  a dressing room to buy something  timeless and elegant, not for this crowd, but simply for that smile.

But  "Fashion", with everything else in the world that affects us, those things that threaten our rights and our way of life, means little to me ."Designers" now are often just talentless  Hollywood bimbos who lend little more than their overexposed bodies to the whole creative process, eager only to make a buck.  It's nothing more to me than clothes as status, fake padding and spandexed flesh, little more than thrust and parry, rendering what we put on more about proving something than keeping warm and comfortable.   Perhaps I'm just odd, but fashion for the most part is just not something I want to spend a lot of money on.   That's what Midway and Brownells is for.
Dad, bless his kind heart, it still somewhat clueless on my wardrobe needs.  After a day in the field after a promotion, where I was working out how to get the team in to someplace very rugged and remote with a helicopter, and who would have sidearms for the bears, Dad called and asked "so, did you wear a nice dress?". But I do love my Dad, especially for that day long ago, where he put his own feelings and wishes aside to ensure I was happy.

So many years ago, I was humiliated at school by being different.  I wanted nothing more at that age to fit in, to be a part of the crowd, to not walk home alone from school. Now, my crowd is simply a small tribe of people who accept me as I am, with no expectations or demands.  If I am not in their company, I am perfectly fine being alone with my thoughts and my button downs.

As I went for a walk this evening, the park is empty, everyone off having Thanksgiving dinner somewhere. I walk down the path, waffle stompers on my feet, in jeans and a sweater and a .45 on my hip under my vest. I walk alone, as the shadow of the days retrograde washes over me, splashing down down deep into the darkened bowl of evening, the placid well that is twilight. Now, years later, being different is simply who I am. What is in me, what you see in my eyes, see in my stride, has nothing to do with what adorns my body, but what drives it.

But there are those boots. . . . .


  1. Ms. B - Great writing. Enjoyed it. Hope you had a fret-free Thanksgiving.

  2. A few years ago I had my last IT job, I actually had to get the polo shirts out of the attic for most of my other shirts had holes from welding slag.

    When ppl ask what I want for Christmas now, I just tell them to get me Duluth firehose pants. Damn comfy, good pockets and thats all they can afford from my "Santa List".
    "Dear Santa, please find enclosed my Christmas list. Yes it is a Shotgun News."

    Outside of jeans, flannel and t-shirts I DO have some suits (You'll like the way you look, I guarantee it)... but I never have a reason to wear them. And yes, LOL, they ARE cut for my holsters...

  3. Nothing better than stompy boots...

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. LOL, your ghillie suit works really well......

    I have 2 pairs of 30 year old now-called-bootleg jeans....they're still in style but the reason I still have them because they are my "scale" - I usually don't "do scales" but once or twice a year I'll put them on just to be sure they still fit, hehe.....lately they've even been a bit big....

    My fashion style is "keep me warm, don't wear out fast" LOL...and minimal, too...except shoes, I go thru shoes no matter how sturdy they are....which probably explains why the 3 Decades jeans are big, now that I think about it.....

    Ditto on shopping, makes me cringe just typing that word......

    Great post, as usual.....hope today was great too :)

  5. Ah, wonderful post as always. I have clothing that has been around 20 plus years. Fashionable, no. Functional yes.

    I hope you and yours had a great Thanksgiving.

  6. I remember when the Sabre Tooth Tiger bustiers came out. It was quite the look! :)

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. The picture you mentioned is here:

    Feel free to use it if you want.

    This post is something that I'd have my daughters read, if I had daughters. And your story of the wedding made me think of an old saying - the difference between a beautiful woman and a charming woman is that a charming woman notices me. The "mean girls" who have gone on to "The Real Housewives of the Pleistocene" could learn a lot about beauty, and charm, and life by reading your blog.

  8. There is something other than long sleeve T Shirts and Wranglers?

  9. I have one suit for "marryins and buryins". All the rest may be generously described as everyday wear. Always button down shirt and jeans.

  10. Motherhood quickly erased years of my wife being raised guilty rich white leftist.
    One of her wonderful traits is being "low maintenance" on fashion and other girly pursuits. When it's time to go somewhere, she's ready nearly as fast as me. When it's time to gussy up, she makes a dress very happy to know her, but I think she looks just as good in a chore coat and jeans.
    She has no issue wielding long and short guns, but still hasn't found the gumption for living targets. (just last night, I was the one that had to give an acute plumbum sinus infection to an opossum in the hen house)

  11. Fashion is highly over-rated and occupies way too much space if not sorted and culled on a regular basis. Living light is a wonderful skill to have.

    Have fun stomping around in comfy boots.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Am totally with you on so-called 'fashion'.
    The classics stay as such (little black dress, crisp shirt, slacks etc.).

    I've worn guard uniforms, utilities, suits...never was allowed to wear blue jeans until college (parent's rule)
    Now, medically-retired, I live in Wranglers, colored t-shirts and an over shirt (to hide the artillery), and sadly orthopedic shoes. No more combat boots or brogans for me!


  13. I have a "travel" calculator since 9/11 because my favorite HP triggers the "thing that goes boom" sensors in the x-ray machines, especially at SFO.

    I've never had the HP anywhere near a range or explosives. The only things I've bombed with it are tests.

    The situation used to be amusing to SFO security whenever it happened. These days, the TSA would probably strip search me.

  14. Great piece B, lovely and poignant as always and *sigh* now you have me wondering about that girly stuff you wont show ;)

  15. I have a suit jacket and pants, somewhere in my closet. As said above, they were for "marryin' and buryin'". Last buryin' I went to, found that the pants no longer fit really well...had to go through a funeral with the gut sucked in for fear of popping something! Otherwise, its cargo pants (khakis) and shorts, T-shirts, and on occasion, shoes. For work, those same cargo pants and a Polo shirt. And shoes.

  16. Yep! I can certainly relate to an awful lot in this post, including the Dad!!!

  17. Great post about being different, and owning it.
    the last reminds me of This little treasure;
    "Remember,you are unique...

    just like everybody else."
    Thank you for writing in Kodachrome Ms B, as I do enjoy the colors.
    Rich in NC

  18. Well I may spend far more time in high heels than I do in stompy boots, I'm quite happy in either. I've also got more clothing than closet.
    Still, just clothes though. I'd rather spend my time with friends that don't emulate vapid stick figure clothes hangars any day. You are a treasure.

  19. nice post, i concur...
    it's funny how 'fashion' comes around again - twentysumtin' (okay, closer to 30) years ago i bought these fringed leather boots, that all my friends laughed at (might have been because i wore them to the beach), and last week a younger classmate wore the SAME ones to lab; now i'm wondering if i kept mine, lol

  20. Great post. I can relate all to well to the school day, but for a different reason other than clothes, and it lasted a lot longer...
    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

  21. Great article. Thanks for sharing. :)

  22. Hi! Found your site through Wild Liberty! III.
    Added you to my roll, if that's alright with you.

  23. Child of the Trillion - thank you for asking and yes, thank you for the honor of the link.

    Wild Cookery -welcome.

  24. What strikes me about the Pink Tuxedo Man story: life threw unexpected obstacles in his way; according to conventional wisdom he should not have had a chance; and still he showed up when and where he was supposed to and did what he set out to do.

    That's a heck of a job qualification in my book.

    And he probably knew he was getting a good boss when you hired him without dragging him off for his ID-badge photo immediately!

  25. Most of my clothes were hand me downs from a sister 10 yrs older. Talk about out of style. It was a treat to go to the Salvation Army and buy "new" clothes. I still shop at the thrift stores even though I can afford the high end stuff.

  26. Been away for a few days - have just become a gramma for the first time but catching up now. I am probably old enough to be your mother but I identified with lots in this post! Thanks for writing, B.

  27. Aussie Alaskan - Congratulations!

    Enjoy every minute of all of that.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..