I miss dressing up every day. Although I used to work in academia, where down-at-the-heel looks were considered a sign of intellectual rigor, I could never embrace that aspect of the profession. Instead, I used to pay lots of attention to what I wore to work.
Mostly, I dressed up because it was fun, and because it allowed me, first thing in the morning, to accomplish a small creative act in what grew to seem an ever duller workday.
I never laid out my outfit the night before. In the morning, before opening the closet I would consult 1. the weather, and 2. my mood. Some days called for brilliant hues, others for blacks and greys. Having made that decision, I would pull out a straight skirt, a blouse, and a jacket or sweater. Or I would choose a dress. I owned very few suits, because they limited my options too much. Then came the shoes, with high, high heels. I could climb mountains in high heels in those days–even my bedroom slippers had little heels. The pantyhose, which I ordered by the gross, had to match the skirt and shoes—I\’d read somewhere that that “lengthened the line.”
Make-up came next. I would put on foundation, powder, eye-shadow, eye-liner and mascara. I would outline my lips with pencil and fill them in in a lighter shade with lipstick, which I would then blot. (I won\’t go into the hair-related stuff, which played a major role in my morning routine.) Lastly, I would choose the correct earrings for the outfit, spritz myself with a little perfume, pick the gloves to go with my shoes. If upon checking in the mirror I found myself lacking a little oomph, I would rummage through my scarf drawer until I found something that I could wrap around my neck or drape on my shoulders that would save the look.
Thus arrayed I would set off for campus, about a mile and a half from my house, my heart filled with courage and my mind with principles, my heels tapping authoritatively on the sidewalk. At a time when women\’s toehold in academia was precarious, dressing up made me feel that whatever victories I earned—tenure, promotion, a seat on some committee or other—I had earned as a woman, or at least as the kind of woman I was.
Now that I live in Vermont, that morning ritual seems insane. These days, I throw a barn jacket over my pajamas and run to feed the chickens, then run back to feed the dogs. I long ago gave away the unopened packages of panty hose, the jackets with shoulder pads, the narrow skirts. If I were to go outside right now in a pair of high heels, I would have to be rescued by the local fire department. In winter I wear jeans and a thick sweater; in summer, jeans and a cotton top. My rubber-soled boots never tap authoritatively on the sidewalk (there is no sidewalk).
Even in Vermont, however, there is an occasional opportunity to dress up. But it\’s not the same. As with any art, dressing up takes practice, and I am sorely out of it. I need to face it: my dress-up days are gone.
But if that is the price I have to pay for the sound of my rooster at dawn, for empty roads bordered with sheep-dotted fields, for living in Vermont, then someone else can have the high-heeled shoes, the Hermes scarves, and all the rest.