I was listening to Michel Martin’s radio show Tell Me More yesterday (January 3) and I caught the tail end of a panel discussion about young people and designer clothing. The event that provided the anchor for this conversation was the killing of a young Washington D.C. man over the Christmas holiday for his North Face coat. Prior to that fatal event, he had been accosted over another designer item. Thus, this young man’s experiences underscored the violent character and lethal consequences of materialism in American culture. It also became the grounds for discussing parenting and identity. At one point, Martin described the role of designer brands in the lives of professionals. Lucky for me that I have chosen a profession where designer clothes don’t matter…or better yet, if they do matter, I haven’t noticed…or maybe I have just chosen another model.
I don’t think that I know the threshold for being well-dressed and being out of fashion but I know for a fact that even on the days when the culture at large would agree that I was sharp, I have been insulted. Typically, I dress counter to the “Cinderella Sharp”
style that my father said described people who went to church in their best clothes only to come home to ask my lumberjack shirt wearing grandfather for some cash. While I appreciate the feel of a well-made shirt and the fit of a perfectly tailored pair of pants, style never manifested for me the life that I imagined it would. Somehow, I imagined that style would contribute to an elegantly lived life but what I’ve discovered is that if you leave your house, you can be subjected to all manner of insult despite your attire.
Take this Christmas season as an example. My husband and I took our son to his three-year-old well visit and we were both smartly dressed. Instead of the football fan gear we’re both given to wearing, we were doing our best Michelle and Barak Obama impressions, sporting professional style clothing that mature, adult audiences would appreciate. Such attire means that we wore nothing flashy or glaringly branded though I did carry a designer bag, wore pearl earrings, and we both wore smart leather shoes. The doctor had not been in that room for five minutes before she insulted both of us. And while this is the first time that I’ve experienced a lack of courtesy from my son’s soon to be former Pediatrician, it certainly isn’t the first time my pearls failed to protect me from rude doctors or their staff. Once while I was wearing them, the scheduler at my former Pulmonologist’s office shushed me when I tried to tell her the days when I could best accommodate a procedure. My purse hasn’t helped much either. It didn’t come through for me at the grocery store when I was kept waiting while some things were sorted out with a woman purchasing groceries using an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that allows for the dispersal of funds provided by state governments to needy recipients. After the woman completed her purchase, the cashier turned to me and apologized for the long wait. To which I replied, “no problem; it’s fine.” Instead of scanning my items without further comment, the cashier then says, “well good because it might be you someday.” I was thrown: So as a return for my courtesy, I receive a lecture on manners and turns of fortune from the cashier at my local grocery store? Huh? Maybe she didn’t hear me say “NO PROBLEM.” Or, more to the point of this post, maybe she didn’t see the Coach wallet that I retrieved from my Coach purse. Perhaps she failed to notice the electronic key for the Lexus that I placed on the counter next to the card scanner. (Disclosure: The Lexus is actually my husband’s car. I have only ever bought Fords and plan to only ever buy Fords though I’ll drive whatever is available.)
So my friends, fashion has never come to my rescue. Here’s my take on that stuff (with a little help from Morrison’s Beloved, specifically Baby Suggs’s speech in the Clearing): “You better love it. You.” Don’t expect fashion to make people respect you. Don’t expect it to save you from insult. If you do, you’ll only be disappointed.