Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Khakis and a golf shirt?

NTB, but I am going out tonight. My husband and I are attending an event with some of his colleagues and their wives. The event is being held at a bar (not a lounge or a club) in my neighborhood--a comfortable, unpretentious place that offers a delicious hot pretzel appetizer on its menu in addition to other excellent bar food. I am not intimidated by the venue nor by the prospect of meeting some of my hubby's new colleagues and their wives. Indeed, I look forward to meeting them and and anticipate liking them very much. I look forward to entrusting the bub's evening bathtime and bedtime routines to our trusted babysitter. I look forward to being delighted by whatever is offered to me on a tray, hot pretzel or not. I look forward to enjoying a cold beverage or two of the alcoholic variety.

As ever when these sorts of occasions arise (i.e., any social occasion that is not a football game, barbecue, or wedding), I do not look forward to getting dressed. My husband and I have the same series of frustrating exchanges before many social outings. I ask days in advance if there is a dress code, and he says he will look into it. He warns me that he will be frustrated if I get worked up about choosing an outfit, cautions me to try to figure it out before the day before in order to avoid any sort of panic situation in which I become unreasonable about something we both know is no big deal. He knows me pretty well. This morning's exchange was fairly typical. "What should I wear tonight?" I query. He replies (after sighing), "I don't know. Just wear the female equivalent of what I'm wearing." He is wearing tan dress pants and a button-down shirt. He then adds the phrase I have been dreading, "It's probably business casual."

There are several reasons why his advice is not as helpful as it should or could be. First, I have always struggled with choosing my clothes. I suspect that wearing a school uniform for so many years has, instead of making me indifferent to fashion trends and personal appearance, made me over-emphasize the importance of selecting my clothes. Much as I looked forward to them, out-of-uniform days always threw me for a loop in grade school and high school, often inducing a panic and necessitating a late-evening trip to the mall or, when times were really desperate, the Fashion Bug store in the strip center five minutes away. My mom was as patient and understanding as she could be during such shopping trips. Even now, I think I have responded to the daily challenge of choosing my own outfits by adopting my own uniform. Instead of the plaid skirt and white shirt of my youth, most days I now don some version of a t-shirt (long or short-sleeved as the season demands) and jeans, capris, or some other casual bottom. When some version of my uniform is not appropriate, I struggle.

The second complicating factor is my firm belief that there is no female equivalent to dress pants and a button down, nor is there a female answer to another of my husband's fashion tips, "I'll be wearing khakis and a golf shirt." My intention here is not to criticize my husband or his fashion tips. He has nice clothes. He is always dressed appropriately. I think I am envious of the fact that men have a defacto uniform that women do not. When was the last time you attended an event (that was not a golf tournament) where the majority of women there were wearing khakis and golf shirts?

The final and perhaps most complicating factor is the entire category of business casual. I understand more or less what the category includes (though having never worked in a "business job" I am never quite sure). I understand that for women who work in jobs that have a business casual dress code, there may be a sort of female equivalent of dress pants and a button down. Unfortunately for me, the work I do requires nothing more than t-shirts (though I choose nice ones), casual bottoms, and flip flops/tennis shoes. At one time I had something close to a business casual wardrobe, but now it doesn't seem to make sense for me to go out and purchase blouses and twin sets if my livelihood does not require them. If I am going to choose items to wear out, I want my choices to be motivated by aesthetics not practicality. I also do not want to be, as my friend B described it, a sort of "impostor." I don't want to pretend I just came from work that required business casual attire if I did not.

I feel pretty good about what I am wearing tonight. It involves dress pants and a shirt that, though I wouldn't necessarily wear it to the office, is attractive without being too much of anything (not too feminine, too revealing, or too much like something one would wear to a bachelorette party). I understand that the event tonight is not about me. I understand that likely no one will be really looking at me. I understand that no one will notice (much less care) what I am wearing . . . unless I choose really poorly. I am proud to report that after this morning's exchange with my husband, I vowed not to make choosing an outfit a big deal. Yes, I bought a new shirt, but there was no panic involved. There was, however, a sale. NTB.


Regan said...

This blog is in need of some navigational tools as it becomes more expansive. For example, is there a page where I can read only items referring to hot pretzels in some way? I'm sure there is software that can implement that.

Not to start a whole thing on women lawyers, but it is ridiculous what they can wear and get away with while we have to wear suits. All kinds of stuff that basically amounts to a t-shirt with some decoration and they're fine while we sweat the summer away with close fitting collars, ties and coats.

Anyway, ZZ top has the final word on how to dress. Ladies:

They sportin' short dresses, wearin' spike-heeled shoes,
They smokin' lucky strikes, wearing nylon too.
. . . .

I had a shine on my boots, I had my sideburns lowered.
With my new york brim and my gold tooth displayed,
Nobody give me trouble cause they know I got it made.


Boox said...

MEP, this is great. I think a lot of women struggle with this. It's funny, to Regan's point, that there is very little difference for a woman between business casual and business formal. In previous jobs while men were wearing suits everyday, women were wearing "dress pants" or a skirt and long sleeve shirt or sweater set. After the business casual move, shockingly the clothing remained the same...although sandals type shoes have seem to somehow become appropriate. Ha, ha.

I too would like more info on hot pretzels!

Very funny stuff, I can picture this interchange with your hubby...makes me laugh.

Michelle said...

Female equivalent of what Troy wears? Yeah right! If only it were that easy! Men have no idea :-)

As for the non-uniform days at school, I too remember the evening trips to the mall in a last minute attempt to acquire something hip and cute....I believe The Limited was my store of choice. The best one was an outfit made of cream stirrup pants and a cream colored tunic to match. Ummmm....cream, knit stirrup pants??? Not good. Who was in charge of fashion back then? Seriously.

In any case, I'm sure you looked adorable. You always do!

Anonymous said...

If this blog entry weren't so long, I'd head straight to the nearest tattoo parlor (NTB, but right around the corner because I work in Newark) and have it become a permanent statement on my lower back. Agree wholeheartedly about the khaki and button-down equivalent issue. Perhaps a second entry is warranted, in which you could comment on the number of light blue shirts your husband owns? (I once took our dry-cleaning downstairs and counted 18 blue shirts belonging to my husband, and this did not include the 7 still in the closet and 1 on his back.) Do not agree with Regan's absurd observation, however. I mean, if I'm going to pay $89 for a swimsuit the size of a postage stamp, I sure as hell am going to pair it with a necklace and wear it to court.
-- Action

Anonymous said...

I totally loved every detail of this blog. I too struggled with out of uniform days in grade school. (Who am I kidding I am still struggling with these days now that I am an adult!) My two favorite destinations before an out of uniform day were Fashion Discovery and Elder Beerman. These two stores always had something that was better than what was in my closet. My Dad waited patiently until I found something that I deemed appropriate. I actually got my first and only pair of GUESS jeans on one of these shopping trips. Thansk for making me laugh at how our uniform roots are still influencing our fashion today.

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