As fall seduces us with temperatures in the nineties instead of triple digits, I notice I change my clothes less often.
All summer I’ve worn my old handkerchief linen shirts and khaki pants and shorts. It turns out regular weight cotton clothing was too hot this year. At the height of the summer, coming inside after a brief chat with a neighbor, I’d change into a very lightweight whirling dervish skirt and papery thin sleeveless maternity tank-top. These clothes are the new normal. They sit on my frame, weightless, barely touching my skin. I bet if you’re in Texas, you’re in your undies or something like it as soon as you’re inside. Am I right? Or am I right?
I bought some rockin’, clunky, ice blue round-toed seventies-style shoes on sale at Instep on my birthday one of the years of the current drought and couldn’t figure out why I’d never worn them. Then it hit me. I’m changed. After the first in series of summers with high heat and drought, I simply wouldn’t commit to regular shoes (non-sandals) even when it started to cool down. A seven-month-long summer might trigger a hot flash in anyone at anytime. I get flashbacks. What if I get stuck in traffic and can’t get my shoes off? There I am in a hot car with no A/C, moving a little too fast to get those suckers off, but just slow enough so there’s no breeze. Day ruined. I found when winter came, all I could manage were Keen sandals with Smartwool or Thorlo socks. (“Winter” is defined as the two weeks either in January or February or the week of spring break, when it gets cold, sometimes really cold, ice storm cold, during which you may as well stay home; it’ll be over soon).
When writing I wear the worst outfits imaginable. I have on at this moment the aforementioned thin skirt, a big blue print elastic-waist cotton number and a pink, ribbed cotton “Life is Good” tank top. Underwear. No bra. Not cute. But life actually is good. Nothing beats writing, except maybe writing in comfy clothes.
I love the movie Wonder Boys starring Michael Douglas. It’s fun, funny, poignant, well-written, beautifully-acted. Michael Douglas plays a writer who wears a woman’s soft pink robe whenever he writes. The robe makes me believe the main character really is a writer by being a visual symbol connoting a combination of physical comfort, emotional support, and creative talisman. It takes me to my own writing, the way a movie character smoking makes a smoker or a former smoke want a cigarette, or a waitress serving coffee in a cafe scene makes coffee lovers want a cuppa joe even if it’s ten PM. Seeing wonder boy Michael Douglas in a pink robe makes me turn off the DVD and go sit down to write.
Usually I dress like a waitress, because, let’s face it, waitress clothing is functional. They’re plain and don’t attract attention (unless you’re waiting tables at Hooter’s, and even then you could argue they serve a purpose, albeit attracting attention. I wonder what the uniforms would look like at my sister’s idea for a chain of pool halls called Big Sticks and Balls). Waitress clothes still look good after food gets on them, and they dry fast if you get a big wet blob from the dish area. You can find back-ups at Goodwill, because they’re basic: black pants & white shirt, khaki pants and blue shirt, jeans and polo-style shirt of various colors. And an apron.
Dressing like a waitress may simply reflect my inability to move on from a previous phase. After all, I worked in restaurants for thirteen years. Before that I was an athlete from the age of four (gymnastics) to nineteen (first and only year playing college volleyball at Texas State). That’s a long time to wear sports clothes – in heat – sometimes drought – inside gymnasiums that remain about 99.99 percent humidity year round. I lived through the Great Female Sports Clothing Revolution. I started out wearing boys and men’s work-out clothes that fit badly in all the wrong places, yet were strong, cool, and properly fibered. Later, we began the march toward the sexy pole-dancing style sports outfits seen on the women of today. Guess what. You cannot find them in natural fibers. At least there is such an item as a sports bra. Thank the clothing gods for that.
For years following my athletic career I simply wore a version of work-out clothes everywhere: T-shirts, comfortable pants, sports bra, and cotton underwear you could play a volleyball tournament in. Or, jeans (variation on the comfy warm-up pants), t-shirt, and gym bag – I mean purse.
What’s it going to be next? Am I destined to wear Licensed Massage Therapist clothes for ten years after I’ve left the field? This is not as glamourous as it seems. While some therapists wear their non-natural fiber sexy lady-sport clothing (which appears to work great for them in this active job), and others wear beautiful hemp tunics and gemstone chokers, I never actually wore clothes like that to practice massage. I’ve worn jeans or shorts and t-shirts the entire time. After all, I chose massage therapy as a career in part, because I could wear a tie-dye t-shirt and go barefoot every day to work. Predictably, this urge reflected the fabric arts period that preceded it. After a brief stint as a school teacher (teacher clothes were my least favorite, because they were not jeans or shorts), I returned to restaurants full time to figure out my next move. I had spent tons of money on tuition, books, equipment, and new teacher wardrobe. I had gone to class, done my student teaching, and continued waiting tables full time, all at the same time, all for a career path that turned out to be all wrong for me. During my time at Tia’s restaurant in Plano, Texas, the place I worked before, during and after being a professional teacher, I made beautiful tie-dye shirts, scarves, towels, jeans, and shorts for my colleagues, family, friends, and even restaurant customers. Who knew there was such a market for tie-dye in Plano?
Those days right after I quit teaching were a beautiful year-long meditation. I made myself wait a year before choosing a new career path. For the first time since early childhood I was experiencing the simple joys of daily living. I spent the days before my night shifts at Tia’s, cooking, cleaning, walking my dog, practicing fabric arts, listening to music, reading any book I chose whenever I wanted, which, amazingly I’d never had time to do before. As I lived and walked in the neighborhood, old ways of thinking were dissolving inside me: the internal hammering against my psyche of the relentless notions of achievement, making something of myself, and the vague, elusive idea of “success.” I was just living. I wrote down and posted this quote on my door, reminding me of the simplicity of happiness each time I left the apartment: “Before enlightenment, wait tables. After enlightenment, wait tables,” a variation on the original “Chop wood; carry water.”
One morning after staying up all night dyeing clothing, letting them “cook,” rinsing them out, hanging them to dry on the curtains, walls, and supply shelves of my tiny apartment, I experienced the meaning of Van Morrison‘s song, “Brand New Day,” while listening to it and watching the sunrise. Here’s the first verse:
“When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time
Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light
And it comes from the sky above
Makes me feel so free makes me feel like me
And lights my life with love.” – Van Morrison
I felt he must have written the song during or after a difficult time, pulling some kind of all-nighter, maybe sleepless from worry. Particularly the end of the song where he repeats “here it comes” over and over as if he’s watching each brighter moment of the sunrise and being blown away by it, I felt he simply let go, watched the sun, and felt its healing power. Life is big and we are small, and so are some problems. We must always work. That never changes. What changes is consciousness. “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
I notice the various stages of my clothing choices, boy sport clothes, waitress outfits (not the iconic 50’s kind, but the sensible kind that go with the word, “foodserver”), hippie massage therapist duds, writer/creator barely-there, not-for-public-viewing sheaths, are all variations on the same theme: the absolute best thing I can wear for my actual life as it unfolds before me.
I can live with that.
This post brings new meaning to the question: what are you wearing? Also, how has the weather changed you? What era of your life most affects your clothing choices?