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May 20, 2005 - 12:55 pm

THE POLITICS OF FASHION

I’ve been slowly getting myself back into interesting clothes and accessories again after a long, drab hiatus. I used to have a lot fun with my wardrobe, haunting thrift stores and eccentric boutiques. My hair has been quite a few colors and even shaved off to one side at one point. I had my nose pierced in Amsterdam, where I later got a tattoo as well. I’ve worn three different earrings, two different shoes, fish net stockings, army boots, cowboy hats, stiletto heels, rings on my fingers and bells on my toes. The whole bit.

A few college professors tried to tell me that my appearance was counterproductive to being taken seriously in this world, not so subtly telling me to tone down the sexuality. I pshawed them all. Clothes are just costumes, and when it came time for me to get a job, I put on the progressive, artsy, professional costume. No problem.

But then I went through a major identity crisis after having two kids in seventeen months. I was a ‘mom’ now. I’d never looked like a mom before, and I’d never seen a mom costume I would be comfortable wearing. My own mother (herself a stalking victim, as I recall from early childhood) had been gone for more than ten years by this time, and none of my friends had kids yet. I had no one to look to for an example. This refrigerator magnet given to me then by my friend Erik pretty well sums up my feelings around that time:

I was dowdy, conservative, plain, blah and boring. I was working out of a cramped office at home, nursing a baby, and caring for a toddler. I had no inclination to think about my appearance because every ounce of energy I had went into working and being a single parent since John was never home. I kept my split-ended, graying hair up in a pony-tail all the time and walked around barefooted, in jeans and t-shirts, which usually had spit-up on them. I didn’t go out much. I was too broke and tired, and besides, I had nothing to wear.

Then my friend Melanie intervened. And I mean that in the AA sense, as in An Intervention. She said something like, “Girl, you need to get yourself together. What happened to the cute, fun Sam I went to college with whose closet I used to sneak into and borrow cool clothes out of? Go out and spend some money on yourself before you forget how!” And she gave me lots of hand-me-downs saying stuff like, “Here’s a cute skirt. I’m sure I’ll never be wearing this fabric on these thighs again. You take it.” Or she’d see something my size on the “drastic” sale rack and bring it home to me, insisting it was only $10, don’t worry about it.

Thanks, Mel.

So here I am, building up my wardrobe again and playing with my hair, which I recently had highlighted. It’s naturally really light anyway, but I’m fighting a losing battle with the aforementioned grays, and I wanted a little spirit-lift for the summer. I also got it cut into a loose, layered style and have been too lazy/preoccupied to smooth it out. So now it’s all crazy wavy and really blonde. I’ve been getting some looks, so I think it’s either kind of sexy or maybe just a little bit scary.

In a semi-related story, they’ve been sprucing up the space adjacent to my office, hammering and screwing away for over a month now, and as annoying as it’s been, it was so worth it because the space is now a new and used book and movie store. I think I’m in trouble.

There’s a signpost outside advertising that their "Progressive Book Club" is meeting this Friday to discuss Dr. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Sweet. So having been lured in by the sign, I struck up a conversation with the owner guy and asked him about the book club – what kinds of things they read, how often they meet, etc. He starts by explaining what progressive means.

Okay. While the words of my college professors are ringing in my ears, um, can I just say, welcome to the 21st century, kind sir? I’m well aware that I might look like a bimbo to most people, but this guy is touting himself as a Progressive. I thought they were supposed to be beyond buying into all that societal construct stuff. I let him go on for a while, but eventually I started to get a little offended. I mean, he was excited I was there and all and very nice, but he kept explaining these books and movies to me like I was a junior high school cheerleader.

Finally I’d been patient long enough and cut to the chase, “So you’re pretty much liberals with socialist leanings who read mostly political stuff. That’s cool. My architecture thesis was converting a small water treatment plant in rural Alabama into an underground meeting space for communist pilgrims. I compared communism today to early Christianity during the height of the Roman Empire and painted the water tower red as both a beacon and a symbol of purification. Granted, it may have been a little trite and obvious, but the architecture was nice and it got pretty good reviews. I’ve mellowed in my politics considerably since then, but I’m still interested in finding alternatives to what’s offered as political information in mainstream media. What are you guys reading next month?”

He just stared at me.

So I lifted my skirt a little to show him some progressive knee, whereupon he promptly invited me to join the book club.

I kid.

He did invite me to join, though, and while I couldn’t make the first meeting (what with kids and all) I gave him some suggestions for next month’s selection: Paul Erlich’s Human Natures and Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee (thanks for inadvertently leading me to that last one, Kaufmans).

Ooo. I wonder what I should wear to that next meeting?

~Samantha

recommended:
reading -“J’Accuse” by Emile Zola
viewing - Papillon
listening -“Know Your Rights” by the Clash

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