If clothes make the man, then I live with a rainbow dragon and a superhero ninja who are in firm opposition to the premise that socks come in matching pairs. I’m not sure what sort of men I’m raising, but they certainly are colorful.
I think I was first aware of fashion as a concept when we moved from rural Pennsylvania to Florida when I was ten years old. The culture shock was as overwhelming as the heat. My exposure to style up to that point was full-on Preppy couture: Bermuda bags, khaki pants, and ribbon belts ruled the day, and I knew nothing else.
The dress code at my new school was completely foreign to me. The cool girls did not wear straight skirts with tiny embroidered whales or pleated chino shorts, but instead sported varying shades of jewel-toned Dolfin shorts. For the uninitiated, Dolfins are satin running shorts with an underwear-covering liner and slits up the sides. Think Richard Simmons, or for a more regional example, Hooters.
Desperate to fit in, I begged my mother for these shorts and the prerequisite white tank top to go with them. Worn down by recently moving 1,200 miles with four kids, she gave in to my request and I came home from Countryside Mall with a much-coveted pair of navy blue satin beauties. My parents wouldn’t go for the tank top, so I had to settle for a plain white T-shirt, but no matter, I had my Dolfins. I was in for sure.
I remember the first day I wore them to school: Walking to the bus stop that morning, I expected to feel totally rad but instead I felt naked and exposed. They were awkwardly high-cut and I was unaccustomed to wearing so little clothing. I tugged on the hems but the scant few inches of material didn’t do much to cover my behind. My thighs adhered to the molten vinyl bus seat. The shorts rode up and fluttered provocatively when I ran around at recess. I couldn’t wait to get home to change.
Maybe worst of all, nobody noticed. I expected this magical garment to be my ticket to popularity, but it didn’t happen. I was clearly a nerd in stripper shorts. I wore them a few more times but the self-consciousness and obvious discomfort I experienced were not worth the awkward attempt at upward social mobility.
Today I find myself raising two little boys who have specific and unique ideas about what they want to wear. My oldest son’s favorite outfit is composed of rainbow-painted white sweatpants and tall rainbow-striped socks worn with a waffle-weave gray and green shirt. Sometimes he accessorizes with the jacket from his Halloween dragon costume (with green wings under the arms and long felt tail dragging behind) just because it’s fun to be a dragon. Who can argue with that?
My younger son may be our resident fashionisto. For more than a year he didn’t leave the house without his Batman costume, including mask and cape. Lately, he is a preschool trendsetter by wearing his shirts backwards and going for a completely monochromatic look, preferably all blue or all black, topped with a ninja belt (a repurposed cotton headband in neon green) for some color-contrast and easy sword transport (Note: sword not allowed at school). When I pick him up in the afternoon, most of the other boys in the class also have their shirts on backward and their Moms say my son is the inspiration. I’m so proud.
Despite their distinctive fashion choices, the thing that makes me happiest is to see them make these decisions on their own, and how these outfits allow them to boldly and confidently march into the world. They have no regrets over their mis-matched socks (chosen carefully for maximum dissonance) or the tattered Cubs hat that is another frequent selection. They look good, they feel good, they wear it well. That’s all that matters.
Through the years I’ve dipped my toe into the fashion pool now and again, with varying levels of success. It took years of trial and error, but I settled into a style somewhere in my mid-20s that I like to think of as ‘sexy librarian.’ This doesn’t mean I have no appreciation for fashion, and I even push the envelope at times, but I know what I like and nothing is sexier than a confident woman, even if she’s wearing a cardigan.
So cheers to the fashionable folks among us. Thanks for being innovative and inspiring. My dragon, superhero, and I hope you feel as fabulous as you look. Because that’s what it’s all about.
This essay originally appeared in Fete Lifestyle Magazine, April 2018.