Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why Style?

This is going to be something of a soul-searching entry, so please, bear with me.

I've been asking myself, "Why worry about being stylish at this point in my life?  Does it really mean anything?"

I have to ask myself these questions because in my experience, looking good does not always add up to feeling good, or being in a good frame of mind.  In fact, the first time I was psychiatrically hospitalized, I was in full-blown psychosis ... and I was dressed to the nines.  I remember my outfit vividly, because it was my favorite suit.  The day I was hospitalized, I went to work wearing a black short-sleeved safari jacket and matching black wrap skirt, both of cotton sateen, and a black and blue striped t-shirt, black tights and black Roots shoes.  I was the cat's meow.  Everybody was telling me how good I looked.  I was feeling pretty good about myself (not uncommon when one is manic, which I was at the time) until my psychiatrist called me at my job and told me I needed to go to the hospital emergency room.  So I told my office manager that I had to leave to go to the hospital.  She was pretty disgusted with me already, so she just said, "Go, just go."  Apparently she was less than enthused about me and my pretty outfit.

So, in spite of my neat and put-together appearance, I was hospitalized.  No one was fooled by my "presentation."  That was when it really hit me:  What you look like really has nothing to do with what's going on inside.  While I was in the hospital, there was another patient.  She was older than me.  She was a very petite lady.  She always dressed with maximum class:  A silk blouse with a lace collar, pearls, slacks and Mary Janes.  You could look at her face and know she was in despair, but she presented herself very well, in this classy uniform, every day.  And it wasn't that she was wearing the same clothes every day, either.  We weren't allowed to - we had to shower and change every day.  She just had this very elegant uniform.  But she rarely talked to anyone.  She mostly just sat in the day room and stared into space.  So there was another lesson:  It really doesn't matter how well you're dressed - it means nothing.  You could be completely out to lunch, and still be the best-dressed person in the room.

So why make the effort, I have to ask myself.  Why, indeed?

I think my recent interest in fashion, style and beauty has to do with my experience of a change of fortune I had recently.  I went from being an heiress with a moderate-sized fortune to living on Public Assistance in four years.  That was definitely due to my mental illness.  Also, I lost a third of my wardrobe after I moved to this apartment when my sister came to help me do the laundry last March.  I had a massive amount of laundry to do, since I hadn't had money to do it before I moved, and my sister came to help me out, both with paying for the laundry and also with taking it to the laundromat in her car.  So we finished up the laundry, blah, blah, blah, get it home and I'm like, "Hmm, this is a lot lighter than it was going there."  Well, well, well.  Open the bags and find out ...  this top is missing ... these pajamas have disappeared ... these shirts are gone ... WTF HAPPENED????

What happened was that we left a good portion of my clothes back at the laundromat.  I went to the laundromat to get them back, and they denied having any knowledge of them.  Shortly afterward, the laundromat went out of business.  And my clothes are g-o-n-e, gone.  To top it all off, most of what was missing was my spring/summer wardrobe - tops, shirts, my lovely pajamas (don't get me started on the pajamas!).  At least four of my favorite shirts are gone with the wind.  Oh, well.  I ended up getting a bunch of summer tops from Freecycle from the previously mentioned Ms. Hebner-Akbar, but they fit badly and most of them were the wrong color for me.  Plus my ICM (Intensive Case Manager), Agnes, set me up with some clothes.  When I put the summer season clothes away in November, I got rid of most of those Freecycle clothes, along with a bunch of other badly-fitting, outdated, bad-looking clothes, so I am no longer cursed with their presence.  Then I got money, and I was able to buy new clothes, that fit well, look good and I hopefully will not lose them in the laundromat.

So, as you can see, I went through kind of a bad period of "clothing scarcity," if you can call it that, and like food scarcity, it leaves a scar on you, not as deep or as bad as food scarcity (if you ever had to go hungry for any length of time because you couldn't afford food, you know what I'm talking about), but it did make me want to look presentable, if only because I was tired of walking around in dirty, unkempt clothing.  Because I didn't have an income, I wasn't doing my laundry regularly.  I was having a hard time meeting my basic needs.

But things are better now ... I have an income from disability, I'm able to meet my needs, and even fulfill a few wants (like books!  Where would I be without reading material?  Not to mention this groovy computer), and I can do the laundry, so I have clean clothes, and I was able to afford new ones.

I think the urge to decorate oneself and one's surroundings is a very basic human instinct, like music, or communication, or the need for love.  As such, I think it should be honored.  But I personally would be leery of judging anyone by their appearance.  Einstein was not known for his sartorial presentation, but he was one of the world's geniuses.  And I'm sure there are psychopaths out there who are wearing the latest Armani suit, but you wouldn't want to meet them in a dark alley.

So really, I'm doing this fashion thing just for me, because it's something I enjoy.  I think it's important to make a good first impression, but I also acknowledge that there's a lot more to a person than what they happen to be wearing or looking like on any particular day.  A librarian when I was little introduced me to the cliche, "You can't judge a book by its cover," and it's true of books and people.

Have a good day, my friends, and in the immortal words of Petula Clark in "I Know A Place":  "Put on your best and wear a smile."  And by best, I mean best attitude!