"You wore that to work?" he asked.
"Yes. Do you like it?" I asked in return.
"It's a maternity shirt, I think," he said carefully.
Let it be known that I am not nor ever have been nor plan to be in a state of M-A-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y.
A few weeks before that a student announced to the me and the rest of the class that she knew I would be in class that day because she saw me walking across campus, and she knew without a doubt it was me walking across campus because of my pants.
"No one else wears pants like that, anymore," she said.
I have heard, too, that I am a very approachable professor because I "don't dress like the other female English professors." I have a multitude of examples. Suffice it to say, I have a very complicated relationship with my clothes: But this is not a new thing, I realized earlier this week. The root of my problem taps as deep as a First Grade spelling bee. "A-S-S," I spelled out for a student earlier this week who almost used the word "ass" but did not want to swear in class. "A-S-S," I spelled, and as I did so I was transported immediately back to the St. Clair County Regional Spelling Bee, 1981.
I was in the First Grade, and I wanted to be anywhere but at that spelling bee. It wasn't that I wasn't proud of being the best First Grade speller in the entire elementary school, but that my mother had forced me to wear the most dreadful clothing I had ever seen in my life. It was ugly, outdated, scratchy, and utterly embarrassing. The dress was pink, faded flower pink with a smokey yellow tinge coating its pleated overlay; a nicotine tinge. It had a frayed satin belt U-N-T-I-E-D in what was supposed to be a bow behind my back. It was something once loved by someone else years and years prior, and it looked to have been worn for a semi-formal occasion. The tights were white, yet too small, and the crotch sagged, chaffing the insides of my thighs. The shoes, however, were casual, too big, and they were burgundy with B-O-O-G-E-R-Y, rubber soles. My hair was down, which meant it was snarly and stuck under my armpits. An unhappier child you have never seen, so to top off the look were streaks running from eyes to chin where the tears had cut through the tomboy dust on my cheeks.
But they did.
And the word was "as." Could they have made it any easier? Did they feel bad for me or something?
"Use that in a sentence, please." I said to buy more time as I considered my options. I wanted to sink into the stage floor, but that was not an option.
"She ran as quickly as a cheetah," the adjudicator read from the card. I wanted to run away as quickly as a cheetah, but that was not an option, either.
I thought of the one option that would allow me to go home early, though.
"As," I said. I tried to conjure enough saliva to do what needed to be done next.
"A-S-S," I spelled.
A few people laughed. I was off the stage before they even had to ask me to leave the stage. We were in the car shortly after that, and no one spoke. As I recall, that dress and those shoes never saw the light of day, again. I never competed in a spelling bee, again, either.
Was there a better option? Did I really need to throw the game to save face? In the moment, I sure as H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks thought I did. But would I do it the same today? Probably not. I'd probably note the people laughing at the way I dressed and outspell them all, anyway, paying particular attention to enunciate any bad words that appeared within another word while looking at the laughers.
But I'd still feel bad about them laughing at me, and my complicated relationship with my clothes would get ever still more complicated. It's human nature, I think, and until we all get back to the fig leaf or go naked, it's a complication that will persist.
Want to read more about my complicated relationship with my clothes? TryProject 333 Math: Making my Own Rules
Stitch Fix Review: Styling at 40
Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.