“Are you the woman from the paper?” he asked and I noted the quizzical expression on his face. He’d met me just the day before when I dropped off my business card and asked to interview him. He really did not recognize me at all. The years fell away and I was transported back to 1985 and my college graduation.
Our graduation march practice was held early on a Saturday morning. Running late, I’d eschewed make-up, pulled my hair back in a pony tail and donned a loose, green sweat suit. Standing in a line of virtual strangers, we each carefully studied both the person ahead of us and behind us so we would be in the correct formation the next morning. On the morning of my graduation I artfully applied make-up, washed my hair and carefully styled it, and then donned a black dress and the string of pearls my father had given me for my 16th birthday. In line, I noticed the young man ahead of me frantically turning his head in every direction.
“I don’t know where the girl is that I stood ahead of yesterday,” he urgently whispered.
“Um, that would be me,” I said, and his eyes widened.
“I clean up pretty good,” I added, and we both laughed.
Now, 25 years later, I was reminded once again, of that very fact.
I still clean up pretty good.
There was a period of time, in the not so distant past, when I pretty much spent every waking hour in what I now affectionately, and somewhat derisively call my “lazy suit.” When I lived out in the country with a passel of kids and saw only our landlord and the mailman on a regular basis, I spent the majority of my time in a pair of sweatpants and a loose sweatshirt, or more often, a loose nursing top, for ease of nursing whatever baby or toddler I was breastfeeding at the time. There were also years when I didn’t have the money to invest in myself. Sadly, when an essay of mine was accepted for the Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul in 1996, I cancelled a book signing and reading because I didn’t have anything nice to wear. When I started work at a library I had to invest some money into work clothing and made do with two separate outfits.
Today. with an urgent need for clothing to wear to work and public speaking engagements, and thanks to my sister’s consignment store and some high-quality thrift stores, I don’t have to resort to the desperate look of a mother at home who doesn’t have the time or the funds to take care of herself.
I can dress like this for my newspaper work or a speech:
I remove the jewelry and change into jeans and a casual top for a trip to the library or the grocery store. Sometimes I keep the dress on to run my errands, but there are times when a dress isn’t practical.There are, of course, those occasions when I can still be caught sans make-up and wearing black yoga pants or sweatpants and a loose sweatshirt; when I go to my mother’s house to write and want to be warm (her heat is turned off), or I’m working in the yard, riding the bike, or doing intensive housecleaning. I won’t share those pictures with you, lest you are eating or drinking in front of your computer screen and don’t want to spew the leftover beverage all over your keyboard with unrestrained and boisterous laughter. I try to avoid being seen in my lazy suit but there are those occasions when I just need to pick up a gallon of milk or drop something off at the post office and don’t want to change clothes. So it was on the day I stopped with my business card to set up an interview time. I was on the way home from my mother’s and was driving right past this place of business. I’m just dropping off my business card and setting up the interview, I thought. It isn’t like I’m representing the newspaper right now. I may not have been representing the newspaper in an official capacity when I dropped off my business card and set up the appointment for the interview, but with the man’s confusion the next day, I realized with some chagrin I had been representing myself as a professional writer, and had failed.
Knowing that this man had a wife and a daughter and could possibly relate, I used my tried and true quip; “Yes, I’m the one who set up the interview with you the other day. I was running errands and wearing my old clothes so you might not recognize me. I clean up pretty good.”
The man laughed a boisterous laugh, which set the tone for the rest of our interview. We were immediately comfortable with each other.
I learned more than one lesson through this recent experience. Our choice of attire matters a great deal. I need to dress a certain way if I want to appear professional in my work. People treat me differently when I am dressed up.
But sometimes, the lazy suit is just fine.