Maybe it’s because our house is small, and we’re still trying to integrate the possessions of three households (my mother-in-law’s, whose house this was; my partner’s, who had his own place before we moved in; and mine, since I had my own place too). Maybe it’s because my working days are full and I’m feeling the need for a little more emptiness when I get home. Maybe it’s because we’re in the middle of a renovation and the contents of the room next door are crammed into the one I’m sitting in. Maybe it’s because having less means having less to take care of. Whatever the reason, I just need less, and I’m starting with my closet.
It now contains, including shoes and bags, 37 things.
I’ve written before about my search for an efficient and sustainable early morning practice (that phrase makes me think I’ve been reading too many Strategic Mandate Agreements) that will let me get out the door looking professional and presentable in the least amount of time. I finally figured out the hair thing–turns out I didn’t need to change my haircut, just accept the fact that my hair is actually (gasp) curly. Aimee has her go-to boots and her back-of-the-door blazer and her Serious Person Glasses (me too!). Erin has her Fluevogs and gorgeous big scarves. We all think about how we present ourselves in our classrooms and offices, and we’re all pretty fluent in the grammar of clothing so that we can make deliberate statements with how we dress. But I was thinking about it too much. Like the strategic deployment of my academic credentials, I know what to wear to make people take me seriously at work and to make me feel like myself. It’s always my uniform: a pencil skirt or sheath dress + blouse + cardigan + funky shoes. Imagine Joan from Mad Men in 2014, and you’re headed in the right direction. And yet getting dressed became a chore, an over-long deliberation and a Sisyphean struggle to keep my wardrobe (and, okay, sometimes floordrobe) from exceeding the confines of my exceedingly tiny closet. Being efficient in my morning prep has become extra important of late, since I’m now on an adjusted schedule at work so that I can write more in the morning, and I’m trying to cram in all the words I can before I have to leave for the office.
I didn’t realize how much this clothing conundrum was bugging me until I stumbled across Un-Fancy. (The capacity of the human mind to internalize habit and fail to see inefficiency never ceases to amaze me). Caroline’s style is nothing like mine (okay, we do have the same glasses), but her concept of a capsule wardrobe was so appealing. Every day she wears something different, but that something different is simply another combination of the 37 things she chooses, and then wears exclusively, for three months. I’ve long known that exceptional creativity often emerges in response to arbitrary restriction (I’m not a reader of the Oulipians for nothing), but here were those principles applied to a closet. I was immediately sold, and I packed up my extra clothes the same day. The fact that it took me all of 10 minutes to create an inventory of the 37 things I wanted to keep told me that this was just what I needed to do.
My closet now contains: 15 shirts and sweaters + 7 skirts and dresses + 2 pairs of jeans + 3 jackets and blazers + 7 pairs of shoes and boots + 3 bags. C’est tout.
It’s only been about a week, but I’m glorying in fewer choices. Getting dressed takes all of 3 minutes, because I can see all of my choices at one glance and pull what I’m going to wear from the back to the front before I go to bed. I’m wearing things I haven’t worn for ages and love, because I’d forgotten about them amidst a wealth of choice. I’m not staring down clothes that don’t fit well or that I don’t love, which is a depressing way to start the day. I’m being more creative in the ways that I combine the things I do have. I’m not wasting my finite daily decision-making capacity on which sweater to wear. Truly, this is only the illusion of a lack of choice. If every outfit I make has three elements (top + bottom + shoes), I’ve got the ingredients for something like 5000 unique outfits here. Oh, and the other benefit? It’s an easy way to limit the amount of shopping I need to do. I’ll wear these 37 things until the end of December. At that point, I’ll keep some of the things I’m wearing now, pull others out of storage, and perhaps buy a few things I’m missing or that need replacing. But then I’ll live with those 37 from January to March.
Now that I’ve got the closet under control, I’m moving on to the kitchen–it’s time to put a hiatus on grocery shopping for a little while and see what we can make out of a half bunch of spinach, some cornmeal, and an egg. I’m feeling inspired already.
What about you? How do you keep your closet under control and your mornings simple?
Well, the shit has hit the fan, gender-wise, at Waterloo. Again. Please go read the news coverage to know what I’m talking about, and then come back. Let me just say there are bikinis, and Formula One racecars, a dean of engineering, and some corporate sponsors.
Wednesday’s headline: UW shuts down student car team over racy photograph
Thursday’s headline: Car sponsors decry UW decision on bikini photo
My reaction to these stories is complicated. Issues of money (corporate sponsors, the charity), power (the university, the engineering faculty), academic culture (grades and teamwork and academic integrity involved in facility use), sex (she’s not wearing coveralls in the photo), gender (the discussion of expressing femininity in a male-dominated faculty), and even feminism (the university’s efforts at equity and at female recruitment and retention, successful or not) intermingle in ways that are hard to disentangle, let alone understand.
I’ve tagged this post “righteous feminist anger,” but I’m not altogether sure who I’m angry with. I’ve tagged it “sexist fail,” too, without being able to say quite who has failed.
Overwhelmingly, though, this makes me sad. Here’s why:
- I am sad that this student needs explicitly to look for an outlet to express her femininity–engineering is still a gendered course of study, I guess, and that gender seems to be male. Having part of yourself necessarily suppressed every day to fit in can make you wiggy.
- I am even more sad that this expression–this self-expression!–of femininity takes as its form the the most clichéd of sexualized postures/costumes for the pleasure of the male gaze.
- I am sad that the shoot was for a charity: how awful that the best thing a female engineer can contribute to charity is an image of her own hypersexualized body?
- I am sad that if we’re going to celebrate our beautiful bodies, we twist and contort them (hip jutted out, back arched, breasts out) instead of showing their strength and power. By way of contrast, this is beautiful and strong together, I think.
- I am sad that I don’t know her name: out of delicacy, her name is deliberately never mentioned in the reporting. Her body we see, but her name is veiled. Is this to save her some anticipated shame at being exposed, while we are nevertheless entitled to enjoy our collective titillation, on the front page of the paper, over our morning coffee?
I waited in the doorway at the optician’s, waiting for my dear friend (a colleague) to catch up to me, to see my new glasses.
“Oh!” she said, “I like them!” She considered, and then added, approvingly, “They’re very professor-y, they make you look older.”
She was smiling, so I know it was a compliment, and when she popped into my office to say hello the next morning, noticed them again, and said, “I really like those on you!”
Later that morning, another dear friend and colleague took a good look at them: “They’re great,” she said, “very nerdy.”
Older. Professor-y. Nerdy. You know, that’s what I thought of them, too. (Except maybe the older part. I’m 37; I am no longer really trying to look any older than I am, thankyouverymuch.) Anyhow, it’s not too much to say I picked a pair of glasses that made me look more like a professor.
I know very few academics who have perfect vision. Most of us wear glasses. And many of us make some kind of statement with those glasses. I wear contacts as well as glasses, so when I wear my glasses on any given day, it’s a choice: maybe I’m too lazy to do the full eye makeup thing that unadorned eyes require, or maybe my eyes feel too tired for them, but usually when I wear my glasses to work, it’s because I’m trying to up the ‘professor’ quotient on my self-presentation.
For example, on the first day of class, I used to wear my glasses, so students would know I’m a Serious, Qualified Person. However, increasingly I find that I walk and talk and dress like a serious, qualified person (erect bearing and controlled movements, speech in paragraphs with complicated clauses, wool pants and architecturally clever sweaters) and that I might need to tone it down a bit. I mean, the other day, I was out for coffee in jeans and a sweatshirt, and struck up a conversation with a new mom next to me–she ultimately asked me if I was an English professor, because I used the word ‘ambulatory’. The Force is strong in me, I guess. Anyways. Now I wear contacts on the first day to look less like an ancient and alienating grammar robot.
But you’re damn right I wear the glasses when half the class turns in their assignment late and I’m going to Address the Issue in class. And I wear my glasses to proctor exams. I often wear them when I’m on a hiring committee, because lately I’m always the junior person and we’ve been interviewing senior candidates and sometimes they ignore me.
I guess where I’m going with this is that I wear my glasses to look and feel more powerful in the world; I take them off when I want to hide or diminish my power. I don’t mind that they make me look older or more serious–I mean, in general, I now wear my glasses a lot more frequently than I wear my contacts–and this surprises me, because the prevailing cultural narrative (you might be familiar with this) is that women are supposed to always try to look younger and … softer? I guess ‘sexually approachable’ is what I mean. But 90% of the time, I’m more likely to be deliberately keying my self-presentation to a scale of authority rather than a mass-mediated attractiveness. Unlike the ‘sexy librarian’ who reveals her inner hotness by dropping the bun and tearing off the glasses, I actually really think I’m really my best, most attractive self in the wool pants and the glasses.
What about you? Do you count yourself among the legion of book-addled myopics? How do you choose to correct your vision? Do you deploy your glasses or contacts as props in the performance of self?
Not “go-go” boots, but “go-to” boots, as in “This pair of black pleather pull-up Franco Sarto stack-heel boots are my go-to footwear for work and fun alike.” And they are, they really are.
Beyond a well-made, well-fitting, flattering suit, every academic gal needs a miracle piece of footwear–a boot, a shoe, or maybe a sandal, depending on the climate you work in–that goes with everything. It has to work with a skirt, with a dress, with dress pants, and with jeans. Hell, nowadays it even has to work with leggings. It has to be hip enough to wear in the off-hours, comfortable enough to stand up in for a 90 minute class or two (or three), sturdy enough to have equal purchase on waxed institutional flooring and unshoveled winter bus stops alike, and dressy enough to plausibly wear to a job interview, whether your own or someone else’s. It should have enough of a heel to add a little height and keep your hems out of the mud but not so high as to tip you, ass-over-teakettle, as they say, into said mud. A real winner in this department will also manage to be waterproof and salt-stain proof.
I have worn these boots nearly every day between September and April since 2006:
Why place such a heavy burden on one poor set of soles? Why not hip suede sneakers with your jeans? A nice t-strap pump with the skirt, a dressy ankle boot with the suit, and Sorels for the bus stop? There are two main reasons why I at least lean so heavily on my one favorite pair of boots.
First: when I was a poor graduate student, and when I was a postdoc, and like many of my friends tenuously / temporarily / contingently employed, there wasn’t money to fill the shoe closet to brimming, and what money there was, frankly, could be better spent. Come to think of it, there was no shoe closet in that bachelor apartment, either. So: cost. I imagine that some among you might face similar constraints. And really, no matter my income level, I would rather have one really nice thing, than three things that will just fall apart before the end of term (I’m looking at you, Zellers sandals that broke my heart!)
Second: now that I’m a faculty member, I travel a lot, to conferences and unconferences and workshops and such. I try to concoct the maximum sartorial variety from the minimum number of pieces of clothing, to minimize, obviously, the size and weight of luggage I am inevitably going to drag from terminal to terminal in Minneapolis or Denver or Amsterdam or Calgary, and then up fif-ty-se-ven-se-pa-rate stairs to a stifling garret room at a bed and breakfast in Brighton (for example) or across a bumpy acre of parking lot at midnight at UVic (for another example). I want to travel light, but I don’t want to look like someone who’s traveling light. I want to be stylin’ and comfortable without carting around my bodyweight in luggage. I know many of you travel a lot more than me, so I’m confident I’m not the only one facing this issue, either.
So tell me: do you have a go-to boot, or shoe? A miracle scarf or pashmina or rain jacket? A pantsuit for all occasions? My boots have already been re-heeled once, and I know they’re not going to last forever. I’m looking for inspiration on this front, if you have any to send this way.
Welcome to the first edition of “This Month in Sexism,” an anonymous compendium of gobsmacking true experiences.
Unless we’re sorely mistaken, feminists don’t really have time to take on the re-education of everybody who says something dumb, intentional or not. At the same time, we are tired of pretending it just doesn’t matter. Our solution? Send us your FAIL stories (see the link here for how) and we’ll compile them into a post that will make you groan, laugh – and move on.
Here are this month’s jaw-droppers:
- I pause during my lecture to ask if anyone has any questions. A hand from the back shoots up. “Yes,” I acknowledge a male student who rarely speaks. “Where do you get your clothes?,” he asks.
- In a public meeting, my VP referred to 4 senior academic administrators as “ladies” – as in, “Thanks, ladies. Good work!” (This happened twice.)
- A senior colleague in my field patted me on the head.
- My new dean looked me up and down and said, “You didn’t have to dress up, you know.”
- My first professional advice? “Women can’t direct Shakespeare.”
- Sitting beside a (female) colleague from another institution during dinner: “Wow, you sure can pack it in, young lady! Better watch your figure.”
- As I walked up the aisle of the classroom distributing notes, a male student complimented me on my skirt, which I guess is okay . . . sort of. Then he complimented me on on my legs. I told him that I grew them especially for his pedagogical benefit. I suspect it was this student who described me as “a sarcastic and cynical feminist” on my teaching evaluations that term.
- For a slightly longer rant, see Mama non Grata’s blog entry for today!
What’s that? You can top these? Email us at sexism (at) hookandeye (dot) ca and show us!