Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Great Wardrobe Experiment

“You are what you wear.” That is a legitimate saying, right? I remember reading it on a PETA activist’s sign outside a rodeo in Salt Lake City. In any case, “You are what you wear.” I caught myself reciting it a while back as I gazed into my closet of clothes, pondering how I was going to dress for the day. I suddenly felt inspired to devise an experiment to test the validity of that saying. (The hallmark of a genius or too much time on my hands? You decide.) I decided that if we really are what we wear, then a careful analysis of our wardrobe would reveal a comprehensive look into who we are as individuals.
The Great Wardrobe Experiment consists of choosing three articles of clothing from your current personal wardrobe. The first must be the oldest piece of clothing you still own. We’re talking high school or before. Don’t be shy. The second needs to be something that you love to wear every chance you get. It makes you feel like you. The third article of clothing must be the newest addition to your collection. Socks? Fine. Underwear? No problem. Evening gowns? Sure. Whatever you most recently purchased is number three. The following are the results from my closet.
The Sweater Vest
The oldest piece of clothing I currently have in my possession is a sweater vest from junior year of high school. It was purchased in the summer of 1998 as the “casual look” for my school’s elite singing group. We all wore them with white tees, khakis, and probably Doc Martens. Gotta love the 90s.
The vest is a solid burgundy color. The GAP tag inside has been colored in with a blue laundry pen, so that no one would mistakenly put mine on during quick changes backstage. At careful inspection, there is a hole at the front bottom seam that has been sewn up by hand. (MY hand!) That little piece of texture occurred during a holiday sketch when my character, a reindeer desperate to perform in “Santa’s Follies,” threw himself at the feet of the head elf in pious groveling, only to be dragged across the stage. (MY shtick!)
While I enjoyed many performances in the sweater vest, I progressively started to feel more and more detached from it as the year went on. I was definitely wearing a costume. Every time I put it on, I was suddenly in a social group of which I didn’t really want to feel a part. That feeling culminated before a choral trip to San Diego. We had been entered into a festival there in both chamber and show choir categories. It was during the preparation for that competition, that my father suffered a stroke in our home while I was at the school practicing. I had no idea, of course. Cell phones weren’t around.
I remember it was an evening rehearsal, and I wasn’t particularly happy to be there. The choreography sessions always seemed to move so slowly. After we finished, I drove the twenty minutes or so back to my hometown to find the house dark. I didn’t think anything of it until my mom called to let me know that the whole family was at the hospital. I drove back up to town in time to say goodbye before Dad was life-flighted to Salt Lake City. He passed a few days later.
The choir was very compassionate. They brought flowers; they sang at the funeral; they even sponsored a service project to help our yard along later in the year. But, deep down I still felt like if I hadn’t been wasting time at that stupid rehearsal, I would’ve been home with my family. When it came time for the San Diego trip, I didn’t want to go. It wasn’t worth it. Who was going to die this time? But, I went, and we won. Hooray.
At our last concert, I was hanging up the sweater vest along with my tuxedo. Everyone else was hugging and crying. One guy in the group asked me, “Aren’t you going to miss us at all?”
“Yeah,” I replied, “but I’ve had to say goodbye to harder things this year.” Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed by that candid response, but it was the truth.
The next year, my senior year, I became president of the group and began early college, leaving most of the presidential duties to my vice president because I wasn’t ever there. I didn’t go on the choir trip.
I don’t keep in touch with too many people from those days. Maybe I still feel a little outside of it all, or maybe I just don’t know how to apologize for keeping myself outside of it all. Luckily, the sweater vest still comes in handy. I wore it a month and a half ago to an audition where I needed to look like a disgruntled prep school student.
The Tie
When you’re serving as a full time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you have strict grooming standards. You’re always clean-shaven. Your hair is short and parted on one side. You wear dress shoes and slacks, when not wearing a full suit, which are accompanied by a white shirt and the infamous nametag. The one accessory that is completely individual is your tie. Of course, you are asked to stay away from loud designs and cartoon characters, but it’s amazing how even in something as uniformed as missionary work, human beings still find ways to express themselves in what they wear.
My second article of clothing is a tie that I bought while on my mission in Texas. My missionary companion and I were inside a mall in the Fort Worth area on our preparation day. We both had birthday money that we wanted to spend. He suggested we go inside Structure, now called Express Men. I had never heard of it. He started browsing through their modern dress shirts and sleek looking ties. They were different from the ones at JC Penney, and I liked them. Instead of the usual, flimsy silk in traditional paisleys, these ties were more geometrical, with strong colors, and in a tight, sturdy weave of fabric. When you tied your full Windsor knot, it was a knot for the ages! I found one that went well with my navy suit and bought it.
While still being 100% silk, my tie is made up of hundreds of individually stitched squares. Those squares are variably three different shades of blue that play tricks on your eyes if you stare at it too long. It’s professional, but very fun.
I love wearing that tie. On my mission, I would wear it more to Sunday meetings or on special occasions rather than just for everyday proselytizing. The proudest moments of your mission are when you sincerely feel like you’re representing yourself and God at the same time. As silly as it sounds, my tie contributed to that. I would walk into a room knowing I was making a statement, but not just for the sake of making a statement. I was confident that I was polished, purposeful, wearing a name tag, yet still sporting the stamp of authenticity that it was really me in there.
I think that was the beginning of my now strong relationship with neckwear. My tie collection is pretty extensive. They hang in order of color. One rack holds the warm colors, while the other sports the cooler tones. I wear them whenever deemed appropriate. This leads me to believe I will no doubt be the best grandpa ever. Father’s Day will roll around, and the grandkids will always know that I will be more than happy with a new tie…or an itunes gift card.
The T’s of Summer
The newest item in my wardrobe is a t-shirt. There was a time that I wasn’t a fan of them. I felt like they made me look scrawny, and I didn’t really own any growing up unless they were ones that I got at Disney Theme Parks. Then, a few years ago, I found something that changed my life. Extra Small!!!
Do you know that if you buy an article of clothing that is your size and not the size you wish you were, you will actually look better? I didn’t know this. For the longest time, I was buying dress shirts with 16” necks and t-shirts in medium sizes, thinking that comfort had to equal baggy, and that all the post-workout whey protein would kick in any day. It hasn’t.
Lately, however, more stores have started carrying more t-shirts. They’re made from really soft cotton, look pretty darn cool, and now come in sizes small enough for skinny, yet proportionate, fellows like myself. Not to mention, who doesn’t love living in California weather and putting on a t-shirt?
A little more than a week ago, I had just finished doing some retail hours, and was on my way to a “social event.” I wasn’t digging what I had brought to change into, so I stopped by a shopping center on the way. If I’ve learned anything from my little sister, it’s that you can always stop by Aeropostale, and find a bargain, so I did just that. I found a baseball t-shirt with short sleeves. The baseball design made my shoulders look broader than they are, so I was already pleased. It was also comfortable, and when I saw the price tag, I knew it was a home run. Score one for the tepid vein of American teen fashion!
I’m happy that sometimes I can be content with just looking comfortable. I think we all deserve to feel that way. I only had to come to terms with what size enabled that comfortability. I’m petite, and proud. But don’t think that means I won’t be at the gym today.
It turns out we are a lot more than what we wear, just like an orange is much more than its peel. But, even if our outer shell is more of a protection of the inside rather than a reflection, it is still a part of the whole. The Great Wardrobe Experiment proved to me that style is a part of our own personal history. Without recognizing it, we could be doomed to repeat our pasts. We might live reluctantly, dragging our feet and a sweater vest to the opportunities that surround us. So, wear a tie if it will help you seize the day. Celebrate that you have become you and are the only person who can share it with others. Then, at the end of the day, fall down in bed feeling as comfortable as a t-shirt, knowing that your next thought is a brand new possibility.