On Wednesday evening, I was at a dance class when a mild sense of inappropriateness hit me. It wasn’t because of the dancing. It was because of what I was wearing. Relax, I wasn’t flashing skin all over the place but I felt vaguely out of place.
It was my first time at the dance class. Some of the girls from school have been going for the past couple of weeks but at first I wasn’t interested, I’m not sure why now. Then, last week, one of them personally invited me and I decided to give it a try. So on Wednesday evening, I wrapped up my class of little ones faster than I ever have before (their heads are probably still spinning from how fast I got the classroom put back into order and them on their way), donned my hat, scarf, coat and boots, grabbed my bag and ski pants, ran out the door behind the four other girls who were also going dancing that evening, and jumped into our waiting taxi.
When we got to the dance studio, one of the girls pointed out the changing room to me. This took me by surprise because it’s a beginners Latin dancing class so I hadn’t considered a need to change from my work clothes. I didn’t imagine that I would be doing anything to work up much of a sweat so all I had brought was my sneakers to change into. While I changed out of my unti, almost everyone else changed into exercise tights and t-shirts; only one other person didn’t change out of the jeans she had worn to work.
There were about fifteen of us in the class. We faced a wall of mirrors so we could all easily see our instructor and our own moves. As I took my place at the back of the class, I focussed at first on the warm up routine we were being taken through. It was easy enough for me, so my mind soon wandered a bit, and that was when I started to feel somewhat inappropriately dressed. Through the mirrors, I took in everyone dressed in their exercise gear and me in my layers of clothes – black long-sleeved t-shirt with a green, short-sleeved, loose t-shirt over it, black skirt, thick black tights, socks and sneakers. I felt like the proverbial sore thumb.
In all honesty, I think the people in the class were fully occupied with mastering the steps we were being taught, and even if they did notice me they probably only processed me as someone who rushed to the class there after work without bringing her exercise gear. I didn’t feel judged and I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong there. I just felt like I hadn’t dressed appropriately for the occasion.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt like that over the past few years. There was that time towards the end of my year in Indonesia when I went to the fancy cocktail party put on by the Austrian embassy and I felt positively gauche in my kampung elegant outfit while everyone else was actually elegant and nicely put together. Even a couple of months ago, I went to a nice restaurant with a few people from work on a Saturday evening and I was the only person wearing unti and ski pants. Underneath I had on a nice sweater and jeans but literally everyone else in the restaurant was decked out in nice dresses and suits and dressy boots. Again, I didn’t feel judged but I felt a vague sense of inappropriateness all night, despite the excellent food and good company.
This unfortunate situation also happens at school every day. It’s my own fault because I hate stockings with a passion. I despise them utterly and I won’t wear them for more than three or four hours at a time, and then only if my outfit would suffer and die without them. I consider wearing stockings a huge sacrifice to my personal comfort, notwithstanding that I used to wear them back in my corporate life. I hated them then and I hate them now. This is why, on any given day at school, I’m professionally attired but as you get down to my feet there’s some discordance. I’m always wearing tights and socks, along with what I think are the cute and comfortable slip-on shoes that I keep at school because I’m a teacher and spend most of the day on my feet and I’m not trying to get corns and bunions and ingrown toenails, so I refuse to wear heels all day.
As I warmed up in the dance studio on Wednesday night, I considered where this discordance in my attire is coming from. I used to be one of the hottest things in any room that I graced and now look at me. What happened? A new way of life and perspective is what happened. I live a life that requires me to keep my personal possessions limited to what can fit into two pieces of checked luggage, a roll-aboard and a backpack, so I’ve learned what’s essential and what’s not. Also, I abandoned caring much about what other people think, so I started making practical fashion choices rather than cute and impractical ones.
Having said all of that, I admit that I’m still trying to find a balance between comfort and fashion that works for me because I want to feel appropriately and attractively dressed from head to toe. Hope springs eternal, I’ll find that balance soon.
Meanwhile, next dance class I’ll definitely be wearing exercise tights and a t-shirt.