I hate shopping for clothes. It’s a problem. I get anxiety. If I had to name five things I’d rather do besides being beaten over the head by the fashion industry, they would be the following: clean the refrigerator, take out garbage in the infectious disease unit sans mask, scrape road kill off highways on a ninety-degree day, polish kid vomit from the floor at school, or repair industrial tractors in the middle of an Oklahoma corn field waving a Nebraska flag.
Fashion mystifies me. I hate clothes a lot, but I hate “teacher clothes” more. You won’t catch me alive in a Halloween or Christmas themed sweater. If I’m thrown in one when I’m dead, I will find the culprit and haunt their family for generations. Poltergeist-style.
But it’s back to school time, and I do need clothes. And so I forge ahead and shop. No pointy heels and A-lined skirts for me, thank you.
Fashion rules for teachers:
- I must look cool(ish) in an old-person geeky sort of way. I should project enough of an air of authority so students to not want to chuck spit balls at my cardigan when I turn around.
- I must feel comfortable. I’m active. It’s tough to jump over small items of furniture while dressed like an investment banker.
- I should not look like someone’s grandmother. That would require me to bring in milk and cookies every day, and that’s just not healthy.
- I should never look like a candidate for prom queen. This includes the times when I attend school functions that require me to dress up, like dinners and proms. This is public education, not a Nabokov sequel.
To solve this dilemma, I created a “school uniform.” It’s a public school. Even though studies show that schools requiring uniforms achieve success at higher rates, I’ve only seen a couple of public schools implement uniforms fully. Most of those that try say the uniform is “optional” because no administrator in his or her right mind wants to box three rounds with the American Civil Liberties Union, whose watchful eye protects the rights of students to wear death metal t-shirts, sideways-fitted caps with stickers and a healthy collection of gothwear.
Because no one will force me to wear a uniform, I’ll force myself. I have no desire to have Catholic school flashbacks. Those obnoxious plaid miniskirts that Sharon Stoned girls’ at recess scared me away from skirts forever. Just a simple pair of khakis and a golf shirt for me, please. I want people to wonder if I’m about to teach or about to pop under the hood of a car. Universal worker-wear, the kind that makes you want to get down and dirty. Because education is a down-and-dirty kind of job if you do it right.
I created my school uniform for a few non-fashion reasons, too. One, because we have “dress-down day” fundraisers. I don’t like to pay for dress-down days. I think I dress down enough as it is. Dress-down days always raise money for a good cause, but I like to choose, myself, where I give. I’m not too cheap. I can certainly afford two dollars on the days I carry cash, which are few and far between—teachers do not carry cash. It’s just that giving is personal to me.
Also, I don’t want to be shaken down for money for the honor of wearing clothes to school. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. I’d have to wear clothes anyway or I’d be facing far bigger problems than who blew off my homework, but I’m also uncomfortable having a policy that defines charity. And then there’s the issue of The Sticker. Even if I did give, I would politely refuse to wear The Sticker saying I contributed. I don’t need a badge identifying me to the Giving Police. I do want to be helpful. I just don’t love dress-down day.
But that’s not the reason for my uniform either. The real reason I created my school uniform—khakis and an array of golf shirts paired with my favorite Keen hiking shoes, is because I can’t coordinate fashion. It sounds so much better when I put it in a sociopolitical context and cite data, performance, experts, and research, though.
The truth is, I can’t shop for clothes. It causes me anxiety. Serious, go-see-someone type anxiety. Oh, how I’ve prayed that I’d win a contest and have Carson Kressley walk through my door saying, “Oh, no! We’re going to take care of that girl right now.” And he would wave his fashion wand over me like Cinderella’s haute couture godmother, replacing The Uniform with things that make runways appear before with the speed of light.
But he didn’t appear, and I struck out on my own. I went to several stores, tossed some things around and emerged with one measly shirt. One…shirt. I feel no achievement at this because I already own that shirt in three different colors.
First, I failed to find a suitable pair of shoes in a warehouse of more than a thousand pairs of designer shoes. I walked out overwhelmed and empty-handed. Next, I exasperated the kind retail professional who pulled out all the stops to show me a million outfits that just might do. At outfit twenty, I told her she deserved a raise. She laughed a little. Just a little. Because what I said was true.
She brought me blue suits (too Republican National Convention). Cranberry pants, pink shirt, (too ice cream shoppy), grey flannel “blazer,” (to bathroby-Thurston-Howell-the-Thirdy), a purple shirt (too “holy crap that’s ugly”) and some fancy shirts—shirts with low necklines and flowers tied in the middle in just the right spot to make me feel like I had a third boob.
When The Girl Who Deserved A Raise finally escaped for a breather, I struck out to find something on my own. I found the shirt. It had been folded into a perfect square, with about fifty little pins, pieces of cardboard, and plastic collar supports ensuring that it would look perfectly square forever when matched up with other perfect squares lined up in perfectly aligned rows. Was I even supposed to touch this? After reading the shirt-origami instructions, which were completely in Japanese, I unraveled the booby traps I tried it on. And there was. The shirt. My one, tiny, victory.
All in all, I think I failed. And I blame Carson Kressley, who did not come to my rescue. Couldn’t he have taken one little day away from his busy schedule transforming slovenly bachelors for me? I’m hoping somebody will send me his number.
As a last resort, I considered putting an ad on Craigslist, “Professional fashion-deprived individual seeks kept woman to help her shop for clothes. Must have at least five years experience spending husband’s money. No leopard print need apply.” But I can’t tell a Gucci from a Prada, and I think Vera Bradley looks like very much like my grandmother’s front room curtains. And certainly don’t want someone else’s initials written all over my purse to the tune of five Benjamins. Generally, a cloth shopping bag suits me just fine. I might be beyond redemption. Better not to waste someone’s time.
So now I’m home, waiting for the anxiety to pass and my heart rate to return to normal. I’m going to retreat to my desk and come up with seven more studies that show scientific proof that the school uniform will indeed be the key to education reform. And then, I’ll wear it forever.