Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Reputations, Transition, and Getting Dressed

Disclaimer: This post will contain many references to various friends, all of which will be abbreviated by first initial. It is not important for you to keep them straight or to know who's who; I'm leaving them in solely for my own future reference.

At the end of my freshman year of college, J, distressed that he wouldn't see me for eight months, demanded a "last hurrah" with me, and we spent three hours talking about everything that had happened to each of us throughout the year. I still remember clearly a number of the things he said to me that day, one of which was a comparison he drew between us, which caught me completely by surprise. While he'd spent his year slaving away for the theatre department, working hard to make himself known, I had unknowingly amassed a reputation simply by being myself: I was known across the campus for my distinctive clothing (not always done attractively, but in a way that didn't matter) and my loving hugs, given freely to all.

I don't know what really started the outrageous dressing, save perhaps for the sudden liberation from the school uniforms in which I'd been living for thirteen years. Too, I've always enjoyed the bright colors and the crazy patterns, and thought it silly to have in your closet something you love but never wear. It's just been a source of joy for me, and usually for those around me.

In the fall of my junior year of college, I was conversing with a former dormmate (who'd lived in the next room freshman year), who lamented the fact that my wardrobe and I had moved to the other side of campus. True, it's not that long of a trek, but it's quite too far to just pop in and borrow that perfect accessory she lacked. I told her she should stop by and pick out an outfit someday, and she agreed, but it had that air of a "We should get coffee!" statement that one knows will never come to fruition. That day, I came up with the idea to host a day on which people from all over the campus would wear my clothing. It was a raging success, more than half the clothes were returned to me within 24 hours, and I had everything back within a week. So we did it again. And again. And again. It was a hit each time - even those who wouldn't wear anything of mine loved to watch for "me" all over the place...

And it was interesting for me. Some people looked in and wanted a ready-made outfit, preferably something fun and flashy that they otherwise couldn't get away with. Some just grabbed something small, for the sake of saying they were participating. Others looked through my stuff for something that was mine but suited their more refined style (I've given away a good deal of clothing this way). It was a unique way to see how people thought of me. And it was always funny.

But as college went on and I got busier, I had less time for Wear Claire's Clothes Days (I had to be available in my room for about a week beforehand, and had to spend much time and energy publicizing it, or it would flop); I don't even think I had one my last semester. Since I joined Liturgy Committee and thought of myself as on call to do any needed ministry at Mass any day of the week, my clothes became less outlandish and more sophisticated (though still coordinated). As I became a leader on campus and worked with people in a different capacity, and as I encountered students who weren't interested in a hug every three hours, I slowly but surely stopped hugging everyone consistently. With the increased knowledge that comes with limited authority, I grew bitter at the blockage of beaurocracy. I became tired of the pressure, possibly just self-imposed, of always looking distinctive in some way. L will attest that getting dressed in the mornings became a nightmarish ordeal towards the end.

Then came to transition to reality (by which I mean: life after college). I never expected it to be so difficult, so lonely, so completely changed! I couldn't hug people whom I met in a business capacity, and those I knew in a friend capacity I didn't see very often (though I had the same twofold reputation there as I'd had in college). I found little desire to dress to impress, and instead found solace in the fact that good friends don't care what you're wearing, and like you just as much if you're tired and just throw on jeans, a tshirt, and white sneakers than if you have a carefully coordinated outfit such that every visible article of clothing is blue.

During this time, I found a pair of jeans that fit me comfortably, which I like to wear very much. When they were new, I (who rarely gives me physical appearance compliments) remarked that he very much liked me in jeans, that it's nice to see me dressed down like everybody else. I guess that's kind of like when a girl who dresses nicely and wears just the right amount of makeup is told that she looks great in sweats with naked face and hair tied messily back - it's not meant to denigrate the usual snazzy look, but to acknowledge the intimacy that is observable when one's guard is let down (not that I'd intentionally had a guard up, but you know).

I continued wearing the jeans to social outings, considering that compliment each time I got dressed but wearing the jeans really for my own sake, because I wanted to. After three weeks, K said to me in jest that she was worried I was becoming normal on her, that I'd show up soon in khakis and a tan blazer. So the next day, as I was dressing for a girls-only event I knew K would be at, I was inspired to throw together a truly crazy outfit such as I haven't worn in many months (and I used the jeans as part of it, to boot). I pulled together four separate outfits that day (each was warranted by the situation, I assure you), and enjoyed every second of it. That weekend made me feel like, "I'm back!" and reportedly I seem happier, too. My co-workers have noticed that I look better put-together as a general rule, and I am again interested in pulling together cool outfits for events. Not that I'm going to be wearing my punjabi suit just for the heck of it or anything like that, or that I won't pull a jeans-and-a-tshirt combo more now than I would have previously, but I suppose my faith in my closet (and my own ability to match things) has been restored.

But today after Mass brought to mind something that baffles me still. I've really only made friends with one family since joining this parish in August or so, but already T and J have nicknamed me "huggy Claire" (to differentiate me from Other Claire, who predates me at this parish), and T asks for a full view of my outfits each week, because she knows they're colorful and lovely. I haven't even been trying, and I suppose I've been suffering from a mild case of transitional depression, and yet again it happens that while I'm not paying attention to myself, I draw people to me with these two distinctive aspects of my personality about which I forget so easily. I guess they're more important than I'd thought.

And I'm going to hug my friends more often. J informed me this morning that I level up by so doing, and I've presumably lost quite a lot of xp since the days when I gave out over 150 hugs daily. It's high time I got back in the game.


  1. But... how am I supposed to know which of us you mean by "L"?
    You have to promise that you'll use "-L" if you mean me.


  2. Also: I was jello because you have more people subscribing to your feed than I do. I'm over it now.

    And: I, personally, think that you started dressing classier towards the end of your tenure. Certainly still unique but... the two most significant moments were probably the shedding of the chainmail and the shedding of the hair.


  3. Unless you were habitually in my bedroom as I was selecting outfits, I think it's safe to imply that the L in question is not you. And I shall keep such request in mind. :)

  4. Anonymous6:07 PM

    "L will attest that getting dressed in the mornings became a nightmarish ordeal towards the end."

    I do.

    -The Other 'L' (The Girl One)

  5. Claire, is it wrong for me to confess that it took me years be become completely acclimated to you? You were quite the interesting person. ;-) In fact you still are.

    P.S., don't turn -L. into jello.

  6. You may make such a confession, J. I feel similarly about you. And L was turning himself into jello; he just blamed me as his reason. I wash my hands of his gelatinization.


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