The Discomfort Zone – Dressing the Part

Kate Hicks

Getting dressed ordinarily takes me all of 30 seconds. On an average morning, I throw on some clean clothes and my standard pair of shoes (blue plaid sneakers from Target) and I’m out the door.

This morning, however, marks the first day in my week of dressing up for class. I stand in front of my wardrobe, wearing a pair of brown slacks I usually reserve for job interviews and a sleeveless white sweater-type top that I’ve only worn to Mass. These pants are an awkward faded shade of brown and I don’t know what shoes to wear. What possessed me to buy a pair of pants that doesn’t go with any of my shoes anyway?

I have two options: four-inch black peep-toe heels that I wore for a wedding this summer or a pair of brown two-inch clog-heels that my mom gave me a year ago, and that I have never worn. I go with option two. I’m 5’10”, so I’m already running the risk of hitting my head on the doorjamb. Besides, the clogs are much less ostentatious.

I look up at the clock and realize I have five minutes to get from my room in Bryan to my 9:20 Stats class in McGregory. I grab my bag, lock my door, and trip as I attempt to walk down my hall, unused to being this far off the ground. I worry that I’m in for a week of stumbling around campus and concentrate on not falling down the stairs.

Once outside, I start walking as fast as these shoes will allow me. With every step, the wooden bottoms clunk against the concrete. And it’s not just the staccato click you’d expect from high heels, this is a heavy, obnoxious, and highly noticeable “thunk.” These are the loudest shoes ever created. I try to increase my speed, but now I’m risking another fall. Why is this walk so far? Why did I think I could walk uphill in heels? Why is the inside of my left foot burning? It’s 9:19? Ack! I’m late!

In what seems an eternity (but in reality is only another minute and a half), I reach my destination. When I open the door, everyone naturally turns to see who is walking in so late. Then they stare for an extra second because a) I am dressed funny and b) six feet tall. Blushing, I clomp as quietly as possible across the classroom and take the first available desk, in the last row.

I’m scratching a hole in my notebook trying to catch up with the professor but the burning on my left foot is distracting. Gingerly, I slip off my shoe and discover a one-inch long blister under the edge of it, where the leather rubs against my skin with each step. My right foot feels fine, but I check it anyway and discover a slightly smaller blister forming in the same spot. I make a mental note to buy band-aids when I go to the Coop for my morning coffee break, and then try to focus on my professor, and not on my raw feet.

I’m very quickly beginning to understand why my mom gave me these shoes.

I’m worried the rest of my week will go the same way, but thankfully I’m spared any serious mishaps. On Wednesday, I wear a pair of slightly-too-big-slacks that lack belt loops. Other than an awkward day of constantly hitching up my pants, however, I’m spared any embarrassment.

Actually, I find that my posture improves drastically when I dress up. Whether it’s from a need to hold up Tuesday’s strapless dress, or just from a feeling of professionalism, I stand up taller and keep my shoulders from slumping forward as they are wont to do. And when I step out the door, I feel more prepared for the day. Something about putting in the effort to get ready each morning gives me motivation to work harder. I’m ready to give each class my full attention, and I’m not thinking about how much I need coffee when I should be taking notes on T.S. Eliot.

A few friends notice my attire and I get a handful compliments on outfits throughout the week. Most of my peers ask the same question, though: Why are you so dressed up? I start by explaining that it’s for my column, but soon I wonder why I need a reason. What’s so wrong with dressing up? I feel more ready for my day, I look nice, and hey, I own the clothes, so why not wear them? Maybe the better question is why are you not dressed up? But this all sounds very defensive, and really, it’s not a huge issue. So I stick with the story about the column.

I do think about the answer to that last question, though. Why don’t we dress up? I can think of no good reasons. Over time, student fashion has devolved all the way to pajamas. And that’s OK, I guess. I’d feel a little awkward walking to class in my Mickey Mouse PJ pants, but that’s just me. Others might not like walking around campus in creased slacks. It’s different, to say the least, but don’t be surprised if you see me sporting mine sometime soon.