Posted: Saturday, May 12, 2012 6:26:26 PM
I have always been under the impression that how you dress says a lot about who you are. That’s why I have always struggled with the fact that I couldn’t afford the clothes I wanted. How do I let others know who I am when I can’t afford it? I look at Vince clothing and Marchesa, hoping one day I’ll own that red lace trimmed raincoat and cashmere silk blouse, consciously knowing that day is far off, if even in my future at all. Nothing squeezes my fruit however, more than seeing women in pajama pants at the grocery store. There is no excuse. I always internally channel Nelson from The Simpsons with a point and a “Hah. Hah” mentally aimed at them. It’s in the same realm of men wearing sandals and the way lip gloss sounds when the top is popped. Shudder. If you want to torture my sister Sarah for information, put her in a room with ten popping tubes of cheap lip-gloss. It is the ‘nails on a chalkboard’ of our time.
Back in Birmingham, I had a few friends that were; well let’s just say they were from the ‘right side’ of the tracks. After a shift one night, I shed my restaurant uniform of bike shorts, apron and funky, fun t-shirt for a pair of scoffed black heels and an office-style pleat skirt. Everything I have ever owned is second-hand, if not from the sale rack. I get the heels of my stilettos repaired twice a year and maintain a weight that allows me to wear my high school jeans.
As we hit dinner, a male friend asked me why I always dressed like a high-class librarian… Ouch. It really hurt my feelings. Couldn’t he have said high-class call girl instead? Here I was, 21 and fancy-free and I’m being labeled as ‘Spectacle Sally’ hiding behind a copy of War and Peace. I have always tended to lean more to the darker shades of attire and the simpler ones. I’m naturally pale, though you wouldn’t expect it from the native American honor that resides in my natural father’s humongous pores, and I spent a lot of my youth trying not to bring attention to myself. I’ve made my own money and bought my own clothes since I was seventeen and learned that if you’re coming from the ‘wrong side’ of the tracks you might as well try not to look like it.
Finally, it hit me. I spent all day and most weekends slinging brews, plates and wiping mysterious substances onto my apron. When it was finally time to hit the nightlife I wanted to feel like something other than a struggling server. It was not the time for the tight purple bandage dress, it was time to prove I had a future, surrounded by tipsy college kids at 2 am. The “librarian demeanor” was in a sense, my cat-woman suit, letting me live the life I wanted to, even if it was a ruse. I still remember the night that a professor I had interviewed, under the veil of “journalist” came into the restaurant I was working at. It was a humbling experience. She sat in my section; so I smiled, waved and wished her and her husband a good meal. Then I high-tailed it to the kitchen where the other servers were griping about their patrons and eating ‘clean food’ from cleared tables. I advertised like a used car salesman with a slick smile, “What do I have to do to see you serving that table?” Finally, someone bit. He’d take the table if I took the tot party (code name for a large group of teenagers). I spent an evening watching mouths full of braces masticate breadsticks and was tipped a generous amount of 8%. It was worth it. Seeing an interviewee while I was covered in sauce and soda splatter was the most awkward I have ever felt at work, including the time my shorts got stuck at the top of my apron and I walked around for an hour with my hind end visible to every businessman on 29th street. It beats it.
As time went on, my attire returned to a normal twenty-something wardrobe. Although, I still get the urge to dress in a collared shirt on occasion. Everyone grows up desiring something and it’s usually your youth that influences those desires. I’m not shy about letting people know that the one thing I want more than anything is a great career. Take my ovaries, take my wedding finger and take my bonanza collection but leave me my hope for a career. Dreaming about buying a home and having a 401k turns me into a giddy child. I know it will happen one day. Until then, I’ll play the hand I’m dealt to the best of my ability. Though now, I'll throw on the occasional high heels and Nazareth t-shirt mix, because the one thing you can’t sacrifice in this scary job market, is individuality. Some people will start out with a fancy step and some will slip on a banana peel right out of the womb. That being said, the beginning of the race never makes history.
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