Monday, September 29, 2008

Perfectly Dressed to Un-Impress

© 2008 Leighann Lord

"I hate my uniform," I heard a middle aged teen complain to her identically dressed friends. I smiled to myself, remembering that feeling all too well. At least hers wasn’t puke plaid like mine had been.

I wore a uniform in grammar school until the eighth grade. It didn’t begin bothering me until the seventh, realizing a uniform was the antithesis of cool. So I, like many girls before and after me, heeded puberty’s siren song and began adjusting my uniform to better suit my burgeoning sense of style. Some of these tactics – none of which really worked for me – may sound painfully familiar to anyone who spent their formative years at Our Lady of Perpetual Purgatory.

Shortening the skirt by rolling it up. But so as not to reveal all the goodies, I wore a pair of shorts underneath. Rolling your socks down low to show as much leg as possible. I was tall for my age so my legs were long and skinny. Consequently I was way more Olive Oil than heroin chic.

Unbuttoning your blouse low to show off your cleavage. At 12 I didn’t have cleavage per se, so instead I was flashing lots of neck and collar bone.

In my mind I looked grown and sexy. In reality I looked a hot mess. Thankfully, this is way back when adults cared and society didn’t openly encourage young girls to embrace their inner Lolita. Any uniform adjustments I made had to be quickly returned to factory settings lest I be caught and shamed.

What I didn’t know at that age, and didn’t figure out for quite some time, is that the hard sell is completely unnecessary. Guys are wired to find you no matter what you’re wearing or how you’re wearing it.

I’ve also worn uniforms for Girl Scouts, color guard, and marching band. Looking back, the latter was more costume than uniform. We wore dark blue pants with white stripes down the side, dress military style bright red jackets with big gold buttons; topped off with dark blue, Three Musketeers style hats, with large white plumed feathers cascading from the upturned brim on the left side. Look out now! I was always a little jealous of the band leader. He got to wear the cape.

Color Guard had the same uniform as the marching band except we wore skirts instead of pants. I hated that. I’d freeze at the football games. It gave me a new respect for cheerleaders. Their skirts were skimpier than ours. It’s hard to look cute when you’re cold but they somehow managed to pull it off. On the practical side, marching and shivering while twirling and tossing a six foot pole just isn’t safe.

As a kid, caught up in my own plaid clad universe, it never occurred to me that most of the adult world wears a uniform: soldiers, policemen, firemen, postal workers, delivery men (I love when my UPS man wears shorts!) sanitation workers, doctors, nurses, judges, clergy, bouncers, janitors (I mean, maintenance engineers), waitresses, chefs, doormen, hotel staff, pilots, flight attendants, ground crew (love their shorts, too), brides, grooms, baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and cricket players (most impressive since they wear all white like athletic virgin grooms); just to name a few.

My least favorite uniform is the corporate one. In the broad strokes the rules are simple: Don’t wear a scrubs to a suit and tie job, and flip flops will get you fired. Almost everyone agrees you should dress for the job you want, not the one you have, but that’s easier said than done. When I had a "regular" job I damn near went broke trying to do just that. My co-workers resented it because they thought I was being uppity. My boss didn’t like it because she knew I wanted her job.

This rule does work well, however, at auditions. I had an audition one time that called for me to be an EMT. I wore dark blue work pants, a buttoned down, short sleeve, light blue work shirt and a stethoscope. I walked in looking the part. It was great. The casting director thought I was a real EMT. He wasn’t the only one. No one said anything, but I could sense that people on the street looked at me differently. I looked like someone who could help them in case of an emergency. I feared that if a medical situation arose – because that’s how Murphy’s Law works – I’d suddenly be on duty for a job I was only pretending to have. I regretted not bringing a change of clothes.

I ditched the stethoscope, undid the top two buttons on my shirt, and hoped I passed for an off duty security guard. Nobody expects them to do anything even when they’re on the clock.

There’s one uniform I hope to never wear. The Blue Suit. The one The Supportive Wife of The Philandering Politician wears as they stand together at the press conference podium. Knowing me, I’ll more likely be wearing a prison uniform, grousing about how horrible I look in orange, how jump suits do nothing for my figure (thank god!), and longing for the care free days of plaid skirts and penny loafers.

Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

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