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December, 2008 “Dressing Up”

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

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.

10 Responses

  1. but how did this transformation take place? was it gradual? abrupt? one day you looked in the mirror and said damned if i\’m going to put eyeliner on one more time….?i like the moods of dressing up. nobody woudl say i was a creative dresser, or a beautiful dresser. but i do like to think about it, and i require certain clothes on certain days.

  2. After reading this I expect to see you sometime in jeans and work boots but with accessories galore, a marriage of the layers of you. Congrats on the new blog! dona m

  3. Laurie, what happened is that I moved to Vermont, the un-dress-up capital of the world. The first things to go were the high heels and the tight skirts. Then, one by one, kind of like a tree in autumn, I shed powder, eyeliner, panty hose, perfume…I know what you mean about dressing moods. On low-energy days I literally cannot stand to wear red.

  4. I have two basic clothing styles: For Others, and For Me. \”For Others\” is a decent shirt, usually unwrinkled, pants, and sandals. Dressing up means a nicer shirt. \”For Me\” is seasonal: most of the year it\’s a wrinkled tee shirt, baggy cotton jersey pants or shorts, and bare feet; in winter (that is, early autumn Vermont weather) it may include slippers, and an open flannel shirt over the tee.

  5. Ah, the blessed simplicity of male attire! Fortunately, these days that approach is available to women as well, especially in Vermont.As for me, I forgot to mention that in my former life I used to curl my eyelashes every single day (curly eyelashes make the eyes look larger).

  6. Lizzie and I have threatened to have a party at which guests wore things they just can\’t seem to find places to wear here. But then we\’d have to have it catered, because no one could actually cook/serve in some of those outfits…

  7. Now, there\’s an interesting thought for a party. You wear the jeans, we doll up.There\’s an evening gown in my attic that I wouldn\’t let my sister throw away. I wonder if I could get into that? I wonder if I have any shoes that go with it?

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