Saturday, September 03, 2005

Easy Street

Life is very easy here. I've been thinking about how my life will change when I move to Chicago. I've never lived in the city before, so all I have to predict the experience with is the observed experiences of my friends that live in the city and my personal experiences living anywhere other than here on the island.

I forsee spending much more mental energy on appearances. Since there are so many more strangers, the chances of needing to make a good first impression goes way up. Also, in every other place that I lived, I've been pretty particular about my image. "Pretty particular" can actually be translated as "perfectionist." This doesn't mean that I'm the best looking woman in the room. But it does mean that I would have 8-10 pairs of black dress shoes so that I could accomplish whatever image I was going for. I also have a pretty refined sense that different events require different types of outfits. What's appropriate for parent-teacher night is not right for a Sunday afternoon wedding, which is different from a dinner party in the city at a friend's condo.

This is not the case here. Here, I have refined a casual uniform of jeans that fit me perfectly and funky, form-fitting T-shirts. As it cools off, there are layers to add over and under that base outfit. I do have a variety of shoes, but their selection usually has to do with the color of the T-shirt or whther I have to have closed-toed shoes to be in the restaurant rather than the formality of an occasion. I have a couple of "cute" outfits that I wear when I want to look nice but I'm still going for a casual look. These include a couple of short dresses that I wear over jeans and overalls. That's about it for day to day life. And, honestly, there aren't a lot of dress-up occasions. It's been part of the relief of living here that I don't have to fuss over my outfits. As a result, it's fun to get dressed in the morning rather than just another thing to do right and tick off the list of my morning tasks.

However, when I had to read in a wedding a few weeks ago, I was a bit at a loss. I didn't have anything. Also, I had to get dressed at Jeff's house and I keep very little stuff there, so I didn't even have the last vestiges of my suburban clothes to draw from. So, I ended up pulling a top out of the bag that we had just brought home from The Exchange and tying over a dress that I don't wear anymore because it reveals just a little too much of the curve of my tummy. There's no way that would have happened anywhere other than the island. For starters, I did not look the way I like to look in terms of complementing my body shape. When I lost 40 pounds after my divorce, people looked at me in disbelief that I had ever weighed 180 pounds because I dressed it well and complemented and disguised through carefully wardrobe choices. This outfit gives away to my eye the Freshman 15 that I've gained here. Also, I had no shoes that were even close to being appropriate either in color, shape or formality. Finally, the silk top for The Exchange was completely wrinkled and even a little torn on a seam and I had no time to repair or iron it, even if I had an ironing board. Anywhere else, I would have stayed home rather than go out in something wrinkled. I know that when you scroll down to the picture, you'll scoff and declare that it's not actually that bad. And you're probably right. However, technically, in comparison to my standards, the outfit is a disaster.

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Look at the shoes! I'm wearing sport sandals to a Sunday afternoon wedding! I walked up to the front of the church and read scripture at an open podium (not a closed pulpit) in Chacos!

Do you know what? I did not tense one muscle or freak out one emotion. It's Orcas Island. (You've got to shrug a little as you say that, as if it explains everything.) I found it funny because I knew that in other situations, I would be freaking out and probably cry while brushing my hair because it just won't work! (I haven't even talked about how simple my hair was.) And, nobody noticed. Well, Mindy did, but that's only becuase she knows me and we've talked extensively about the transformation that this island is working on me. (Interestingly, she's lived here almost 10 years and still hasn't experienced some of the liberating things I have, so it's a little vicarious on her part to go through these things with me.) She said, "Well, hello, Island Hippy Girl." She knew. But, she also thought it was great. On the island, if you have put on clothing that is characterized as formal (dress, slacks, button-down shirts), then people see you as dressed up, regardless of how unstylish or wrinkled you may be.

I'm really hoping that I can take this attitude with me to the city. Sometimes, I like fashion as a social phenomenon and as an artistic expression of aesthetically pleasing images. However, I also really like simply getting dressed and feeling that not much of the quality of my interactions with other people will be based on the preconceptions that often come with certain images. I mean, there are two reasons that fashionable people impress us. One is that they have successfully achieved a pleasing visual aesthetic and we're genetically programmed to respond well to people who look good. However, the other reason that fashion impresses is that we make a connection in our minds that if a person can be receptive to the new ideas that are fashion trends and understand that one specific way in which the world changes, then they also probably understand other new ideas in all sorts of fields, which means that they probably know as much or even more than we ourselves do. We tend to respect people that subtly demonstrate higher intelligence.

Can you blame me for not wanting to jump back into those expectations?

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