“Mom … this week can we go dress shopping?” asked Barton. We had just dropped her friends off at their houses on the other end of Jon D William’s Cotillion class.
Cotillion, the age-old effort to groom manners and introduce children to the art of proper social interaction on and around a dance floor.
“Sweetheart, the dress you have on is lovely,” I reply.
“It’s okay,” she begins the same conversation I had with her sister a few short years ago, “it’s just that the other girls had different dresses.”
Different. According to the Teenspeak Dictionary (that I just made up):
Different. [adv. diff-rent] Something that doesn’t look like what everyone has in a loser sort of way – defining the owner or wearer as Less-Than.
“Honey, you look fine,” I reply. “And that dress was okay last year.”
“Yeah – last year,” she muttered.
“Okay, I hear you. We will try to go shopping sometime this week.” I glance at her sister riding shotgun next to me who is nodding her head. Probably remembering herself wearing an “old” dress that I forced on her. No need to mention that said dress was, in fact, her sister’s old dress. Ahh… the art of hand-me-downs. “We will get you another dress.”
“Another dress?” she replied a little indignant. “There are five more classes.”
“Yes another.” I pause, letting her response sink in. “… Wait, are you thinking you need a different dress for every class?”
“Well – yeah.”
“Honey – that is so not going to happen.” I’m shocked she would think she could have six different dresses. The fact that she’s super laid back on the clothing front and that she despises shopping had lulled me into thinking she was good with last year’s dress plus one. And she should know by now, we don’t buy in multiples. We wash and wear again.
I catch her mortified expression in the rearview mirror.
“Sweetheart, we can’t get you a different outfit for each class. It’s too expensive. And … no one will have different outfits each time. I promise.”
In her mind, everyone would be wearing different – except her. In her mind everyone’s outfit would be beautiful – except hers. In her mind, everyone would notice her wardrobe issues – and be looking at her.
Somehow, she has become the center of her attention.
It happens to all of us. Especially in new situations when we aren’t comfortable. We look to clothes, to titles, to positions, to stuff to make us feel okay about ourselves.
Dressing to impress can play two very different roles. One provides a boost, the other weighs down. And strangely enough, it’s counter-intuitive. I would tend to think, like Barton, that wearing the super-swank outfit ushers in a Cloud 9 experience. Like hitting a home run. Which maybe it does for a moment. But it’s only a moment. With super swank comes “er” as in better, nicer, cooler next time. One-up pressure mounts and more than ever you feel like everyone is looking. Ick.
Dress to impress can be in consideration of and out of respect to others. I think it’s similar to sitting down at a table with someone. Do I enter ready to impress? Or do I come ready to be impressed as I get to know the other person and all they have to offer. There’s a huge difference. It plays out in countless situations.
I’ll never forget a former boss and her approach to the whole wardrobe issue. As a Director, she ran the southwest division of our corporation. Such a lovely person inside and out, she had five different outfits. I’m not kidding. Five. They were nice ensembles that she rotated without out a care in the world. Her clothes, tasteful and appropriate, served their purpose. And that was it.
I told the girls about her in the car on the way home. “I loved that she had enough confidence to rotate that wardrobe, knowing full well that week in and week out people would see the same outfit. Those outfits were nice. She wore them well. And she NEVER let them define her. Her approach allowed her to never spend a moment thinking about her clothes. Instead, her thoughts were free to be able to focus on others and their needs. … Barton, you have a choice. Some great lessons here.”
“I’m just telling you,” replied Barton who is still navigating the road of wearing regular clothes instead of a uniform at her new school, “people notice. A boy just the other day said, ‘Hey, didn’t you wear the same thing yesterday?’ Well, then he said, ‘Oh, it’s a different shirt. But it’s like your other.’”
“Mmmm-huh,” said Snopes looking at me.
“Um, Barton,” I started –
“He’s flirting with you.,” filled in Snopes.
“No he’s not,” defended Barton.
“I think he is,” I added.
“No – he’s embarrassing me. He does that kind of thing. He notices people and tells them. He even sings along with Mr. Richards in class when a song comes up that has nothing to do with anything.”
“He sounds nice,” chimed in Snopes. “I hope I marry someone like that.”
“Like what?” I ask wondering what in the world she’s thinking – hoping that she is finally beginning to appreciate people who break out in spontaneous song.
“Someone that’s comfortable in his own skin and aware of others”
There you have it. The genuine attractiveness of not letting situations or stuff define who you are.
The car never fails to offer a little tidbit on life.
Thanks for walking the road with me.