Choosing what to wear as an adult lost its luster for me somewhere around the winter of 1997. While I can’t quite point you to an exact demarkation, I’m pretty sure the specific moment in time I gave up lives somewhere between when I quit my one and only real corporate job and the last time my erstwhile girlfriend made me change clothes before she’d be seen in public with me.
The truth of the matter, however, is that I really hadn’t been what one might call “on trend” since the 4th grade, when I proudly rocked fat, fluorescent laces in my patent leather Nikes and a rolled up bandana around the popped collars of my pink short-sleeve Izod knit. (Prize money for the first one to respond with photographic evidence of the above–Mom, you don’t count.) Levi’s 501s and a t-shirt (Adidas in high school, some kind of beer/school spirit in college, white Hanes v-neck thereafter) became my go-to, accented with a pair of beat-to-hell cowboy boots or Converse All Stars, depending on the season. When we moved to the beach last year, I gave up footware all together, save for a pair of flip flops I got for being a groomsman at one of my best friends’ wedding in ’05.
Recently, I signed on as the chief creative officer for a little lifestyle company in Phoenix called CherylStyle (if you haven’t heard of it, you will soon), and while I’m not entirely sure there’s a formal policy on office attire, I was told before my interview that “we have to dress up and look stylish.” No jeans? I asked the old friend who brought me in. Definitely no jeans.* I had a sudden flashback to a temp job I had straight out of college working for a woman named Shondrella in which I wore the same pair of pants every day for six weeks. My last day she called me into her office to wish me well, and to advise me to use my earnings to buy another pair of trousers. “Those pants are tired,” she observed, aptly.
As I thought about what I might wear for that all-important first impression in Arizona, I looked down at my 2-year-old son, who was sporting orange pants and a pajama-like shirt featuring a variety of safari animals. He looked up at me and blinked, as if he couldn’t quite understand why I wouldn’t just put on something fun, perhaps with numbers on it.
You see, if my collection of clothes is one-hit wonder Come on Eileen, Attie’s is the Beatles chronology, sporting everything from tie-dye to Hawaiian, lil’ rocker to soccer star. It is at this point I wonder to myself, when did getting dressed become such serious business? Why can’t we all walk around in matching alligator pants and tops? My guess is that the transition probably lands somewhere around the point in time when interest in playing tag gives way to interest in holding hands and first kisses. Though I still think, if you own it, wearing a mint green shirt with a grasshopper head is bound to woo.
Now, when I’m in the office, I pretty much cobble together an outfit from one of the three or four staple items of shirt and pant I own beyond the vintage ’97 attire still preserved in a box somewhere in my garage. I find a comfort in the familiarity of these items, and it removes the consternation involved in having to think too hard about what to get dressed in each day. I’m quite sure my far more stylish co-workers have noticed, but have gracefully taken pity on me and remained silent (at least in my presence) for my less than inventive wardrobe.
*This policy was amended last Friday in the spirit of being a hipper and younger company by our uber-hip and young CEO to include jeans (dark, stylish ones only, of course). Now if I can only figure out what translates to being allowed to wear flip flops and v-necks, we’ll be getting somewhere.**
**I think I just heard our CEO yell “never going to happen, Stew” over the office walls. Ah, well. Baby steps.