Cleaning Up Nice: My Many Uniforms

polka-dot-police-women

London police women, circa 1970; photographer unknown

When I was in college, the business department offered a series of lectures designed to help you get a job in your years after college.

There was one night devoted to learning the art of networking. Their suggestion: don’t be afraid to approach people; be open and friendly and make eye contact; and practice your elevator speech. If you’re unfamiliar with a networking elevator speech, it’s the 30 second explanation of who you are and what your experience is, explained in the time it takes you to ride an elevator.

My elevator speech: Hi, my name is Meredith. Don’t you like this eye contact I am making? I got my degree in clothing design, and my Masters in Visual Culture, but I’m currently working in IT mostly for reasons that rhyme with death-by-student-loans. On a scale of 1 to 10, I am 10 open and friendly! It’s been an amazing learning opportunity, and I’m eager to see where I can expand those skills moving forward. Is this where the eye contact ends?!

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I’m not angry, I’m disappointed.

I don’t do this often. And in and of itself, that’s pretty amazing because I can go from zero to indignant in three seconds flat. I need to address a customer service interaction I just experienced, and I’m going to use this blog to do it.

This was a long week. A really long week. The universe and I have felt out of step, so all eyes were on today, hoping the two of us would once again find our rhythm. I decided to finagle my budget a little bit and spend some time fleshing out corners of my wardrobe that need work. That’s my idea of fun, you guys.

I finagled my budget. I didn’t get rid of my budget, which means my crazy adventure was for tights. Wild! What a surprise for me to see that Kate Spade has come to Wisconsin! They have awesome, fun tights!

Let me first say, I love Kate Spade. Loved, I should say. The company churns out clever, fun designs while still remaining elegant. I fell in love with Kate Spade my first weeks in New York City. I hadn’t met anyone. I didn’t know if grad school was the right decision. I was kind of lost, but one of my favorite past times was checking the Fifth Avenue Kate Spade to see if new merchandise had come in.

But I was in grad school. I couldn’t afford anything, but it was my little adventure to imagine one day being able to buy a bright pink swing coat and wear it with my purse shaped like a woodland creature, typical Kate fare. Like a cheaper, not-as-interesting Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Regardless, the staff was always incredibly kind to this grad student. I would go in my workout clothes, smelling of library and regret, and they would always greet me, make conversation with me, and on some days ask me how school was going. They remembered me and welcomed me back.

That’s how you do customer service. They may have rolled their eyes the minute I walked out that door, but while I was in there, they fostered a relationship that made me think, “when I’m not living on loans, I could probably afford some things here.”

Which brings us to today. I’m not living on loans, and I needed tights. Why not Kate Spade?

I walk in. Three times I make eye contact with a sales associate, smile, and watch them move on to one of the daughters shopping with their moms. They don’t say a word to me.

Is it because I was alone? Do the moms usually fund the shopping spree? Is it because my eyebrows need waxing? Do I have something on my face? Do I have something in my teeth? Do I have a muffin top? What is it about me that caused them to just skate on over? Has Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman taught sales associates nothing?!

Then I realized on the car ride home, that train of thought is insane. In the grand scheme of people being refused service (even in a passive aggressive manner), my case is very mild. And there are more than 1000 better ways to spend that money:

  1. Get a new book and a diet coke
  2. – 1000. LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE

Winter is coming, and it’s Wisconsin. In two months every single person in this city is going to be dressed in flannel and down. Is it really worth having such an elitist attitude now when no one will even see the clothing you didn’t deem me worthy to purchase?

I am a material culture historian. I study clothing and fabric, and the history and meaning behind clothing can be deeply meaningful. I do, however, hate fashion, and you, Kate Spade sales staff, are the reason. By seeing me, deeming me contrary to your target market, and essentially dismissing me, you have made me embarrassed to say I study clothing, because people will lump us together. Clothing is ancient, but the concept of fashion is basically brand new. Most people don’t know that, however.

I know the speech from The Devil Wears Prada. I’m not naive enough to believe I exist outside of the fashion cycle, but can we recognize the following?: Clothing is a necessity. Fashion is not. I have fun with clothes because I’m a fun person, but when we forget at the end of the day that it ultimately doesn’t matter how our fellow man is dressed, something is wrong.

Tomorrow I will start writing my cooking posts and sharing random history facts again, but for now, let’s just all put on our favorite pair of sweatpants because we can.

I ended my excursion at Target. I bought tights, a new book, and a diet coke, and I’ve got money left over. It was a pretty stellar plan B.