So here it is, the beginning of what will mark half a hundred years on the big, blue marble, that’s half a century or 50 years or a whole boatload of hours and days. Even saying “big, blue marble” has old written all over it. Ah, the ’70s.
I haven’t written in eons. Why? Because I’m lazy. And television has gotten better. Mostly because I’m lazy.
The view from almost 50 years is a tad less melodramatic than past decades, I fear. Good in the long run for mental health, I suppose, but shitty as hell if you’re scouring your synapses for a bit of bullshit to share on the web. I had to will myself into a fury about something, and in the end it’s not so much fury as irritation. Thoroughly mature of me, I guess.
So’s here’s a few words on said irritation. Chafing, if you will.
The sheer torture of the way I have made money to pay the bills the last quarter century is that by it’s very nature the best and brightest and the youngest and the most precious of well-scrubbed spawn of the elite universities come to hover. Turns out the life blood of research institutes and non-profits are fellows, scholars, and eager grads. I’ve even worked in the belly of the beast, universities themselves, where students are unavoidable.
Now the straight up benefit of toiling among these folks is a low bar on all things related to corporate dress codes. Short of naked skin or hole-y pajamas, not the lord’s pjs but ones with gaps between the threads, I think I’ve worn it to work. Above are my current favorite work shoes.
I came to not-profits honestly enough. I temped, matching invoices to packing slips at a teeny improvised desk next to the accounts payable manager. It was a job, and with my mad alphabetizing and counting skills I was a colossus of temp agency legend.
Before that historic moment, however, I had worked in a couple of more legitimate career realms. I started out a transfer agency for a mutual funds company. Since that offers no visual, think any corporation in the universe with the imaginative flair of banking or insurance. Day in, day out, it was a sea of skirts, suits, pantyhose in shades of beige, gray, black or navy.
A friend got taken aside for wearing espadrilles and told by management that she was destroying her chances for success.
Career suicide. I think the jute was offensive to all that was good in the banking class.
Next up, I worked in publishing, well the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. We were a bullpen of writerly and librarian types, who all dressed like writerly and librarian types. The editors, I think all editors, wore suits. Never did I have a job that was so conscience of the clock (many a morning I faced an inquisition at the coffee maker as Michael the editor inquired as to why I had not logged into my computer at 8:02, 120 minutes past expectations). Never did a job feel so buttoned down in a room of the least buttoned down poets and scholars that could be gathered up and put to work.
One day, the editor just above me in the hierarchical food chain, who may have been called Terry, offhandedly discussed clothing. I believe her intent was directed to me, as I was in earshot matching the description she was providing. The curt upshot – she herself would never wear so much black, as the different pieces never matched properly (and absolutely).
At a non-profit, working away, matching invoices in a little corner of a biomedical research lab in my earnest temp hopefulness for permanent employment was a turning point. The only sartorial concern in a lab that’s affiliated with MIT is not exposing flesh to radiation, biohazards, acids and bases. The dress code consisted of not smelling, and even that wasn’t an immutable law.
At 49 years and almost 11 months on the planet, reams of reading in my brain, thoughts from the Feminine Mystique to Joan Rivers, a thousand different observations, I dress how I feel. I dress for comfort. And, I dress as an extension of the baby shoe steps my mother Pat had taken in choosing footwear.
Now, a billion or so pointless words into this little essay, I endeavor to get to the point.
I work with people in the formative years of their careers. They are delightfully enthusiastic and forward thinking about their own hopes and aspirations. I no longer see myself as a “career gal” on the rise. I see myself as a strong swimmer back floating in the ocean of making a paycheck. A good day at the office has mini-cupcakes and a couple of amusing interchanges with the nicer of my colleagues.
Now my cross to bear, and by cross to bear I mean thing to make me whiney in an otherwise comfortable existence, is the youngsters and their kind advice. No less than three women in my office imply they could help make me over. Well, one of them is not actually young, she’s more of a contemporary, and I don’t think she actually believes I should dress like her. She just likes to bust my chops, a stance I respect.
The others, though, they want to field trip me over to Anthropologie or Ann Taylor or wherever the fuck young women shop. Maybe the dreaded Forever 21, which I vow to put out of business with my own Forever 49 chain.
They want me in the heels I never could walk in at any stage in my life. Now, with the arthritic pain in my spine a constant reminder of my mortality, I would choose even less to teeter in pumps, mules and sling backs.
In adolescence, I tried. I clicked on unsteady legs like a colt. In my 20s and 30s, I couldn’t quite get the rhythm of dressing up in heels with drinking, and opted for flats to avoid skinned knees. Although, at various moments in my own hopes and aspirations, I tried hard to wear the uniforms and dress for success. By my 40s, I embraced flats, boot heels and, under duress, low-heeled pumps for funerals and interviews.
I don’t want fashion advice from adorable 20-30-year-olds. As adorable as they are, they cannot understand that I once was adorable, too.
I haven’t given up. But, if I can choose anything at this age, it is to be myself. So, fuck it, here I am.