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. . . . .