I've often told the story about the car I drove during my first stint in grad school back in the 1980s: a used Mazda GLC, which, depending on your perspective, stands for "Great Little Car" or "Ghastly Lemon Crap." Among the car's many foibles was a tendency for the doors to freeze shut in the winter, so that I would go out in the morning all dressed up for my T.A. gig--wool skirt, silk blouse, high heels, faux-pearl necklace, long wool coat--and find that the only way to get into the car was to open the hatchback and climb over the seats, taking care not to nudge the gearshift lever into Neutral and set the car rolling. Not a particularly graceful way to start the day.
I've often talked about that car in the context of terrible-car stories, but these days I look back and want to slap myself silly for dressing so unsuitably for the weather. Seriously, what was I thinking? Silk, high heels, and faux pearls do nothing to protect the body from the hazards of ice, snow, sleet, and slush.
But in my defense, I was a newbie tackling my first teaching gig, just a few years older than my students, and I felt the need to Dress for Success. Over the years a sense of sartorial inadequacy has led to wardrobe choices that in hindsight look pretty egregious: the infamous peacock dress; the red and black faux-moleskin interview suit that made me sweat buckets; the polyester double-knit jacket with nautical trim that made me look like a rear admiral who'd slept in his uniform--not to mention decades of uncomfortable shoes.
Today I'm sitting in my office in plain black chinos, sandals (because they don't make my feet hurt), and a print blouse that I almost didn't buy because it struck me as something a Grandma would wear. No pearls, no earrings, no jewelry at all (because ever since my brief encounter with peripheral neuropathy, it bothers me to have stuff attached to my flesh). I'm wearing a little moisturizer and powder but I have finally and definitively given up lipstick (because I can't find a brand, no matter how special and expensive, that doesn't make my lips crack and bleed). All told, I look like someone who has given up trying to dress professionally.
But I'm okay with that. I admire and envy colleagues who somehow manage to look stylish and professional every single day while carrying a heavy burden of teaching, professional development, and service, but that doesn't mean I'm going to expend any energy on joining their ranks. I long ago realized that no one's ever going to award me a chili pepper on ratemyprofessors.com, and I've come to terms with my inner Grandma. If students get distracted by colorful Grandma blouses and scarves, maybe they'll find it easier to stay awake in class. (Besides, I'm a better teacher when my feet don't hurt.)