First day of school ... what am I going to wear? I begin lectures in two weeks for an intensive mini-course, a requirement for students going on an international field course in tropical biology I’m co-teaching later in May. Sure I’m thinking about important things such as writing lectures, preparing course materials, planning and logistics. But I’m also already thinking about what to wear to my first lecture. I can’t really say why this matters so much, except I’ve always felt like on the first day of a new course I want to make just the right impression — professional but interesting and a little bit different (in a good, not weird, way).
Of course once I’m in the wilderness surveying biodiversity with my students, the patched pants, stained shirts, and rubber Wellie boots that make up my field outfit won’t be terribly stylish. But we’ll all be grubby and muddy, so it won’t matter too much. I will, however, wear my everyday “gold” hoop earrings. Even in the jungle, I don’t feel dressed without something in my ear holes.
I’ve met many women whose personal styles I admire, but some of my academic friends in particular stand out as pulling off styles all their own with confidence and flair. One woman I know almost always wears vintage jeweled cardigans when she teaches. A math prof friend always looks cool in her colorful collection of shoes and coordinated beaded necklaces. I haven’t really found my own trademark look; I don’t know if the themed earrings I sometimes wear to match lecture topics counts. (My collection includes beetles, dragonflies, birds, bats, lizards, and even a pair that look like chromosomes to wear for genetics lectures.)
I enjoy observing my children as their own awareness of fashion evolves. My eleven-year-old, who used to care only about comfort, has suddenly become concerned with wearing the right brands of shoes and cut of jeans. As much as I think it’s nonsense to buy brand names, I’m also aware that it’s important for my son’s self-confidence to, within reason, let him try out some of what he sees his friends wearing. (Of course I have to get advice from the stylish moms of his stylish friends.) What’s surprising is that my daughter at age 8 is already very aware of what “everyone” is wearing. Sure, I’ll let my kids try out some fashion trends (especially when we get them as hand-me-downs), but I’ve told my daughter that the line is drawn at Ugg boots. No way. I do have my limits. It doesn’t help that her friends told her about a knock-off version at Walmart. (“I’ll save up my own money, Mom!”) I can’t imagine anything worse!
It helps to remember that I want through a similar phase, and it’s pointless to worry that my children are failing to express their individuality. At some point, probably in high school, I went from wanting to be like everyone else, to wanting to be different (like everyone else). The turning point for me was in the early 80’s, the first day back to school my sophomore year when I proudly wore my new t-shirt with the rainbow stretched across the front. I also had updated to a haircut with feathered bangs. When I got to school I found that nearly every girl had the rainbow shirt and feathered hair. After that, I stuffed the coveted shirt in the bottom of the drawer, never to be worn again, and my fringed hair grew back to its normal, stringy straightness.
The weather over the next few weeks promises to be highly variable, which means I have no idea what to wear on the first day of school. I’ll probably rehearse a few outfits and ask my kids to advise me. They have surprisingly good taste.