Two suitcases is all I brought to Washington, DC. I congratulated myself for filling them with mostly practical stuff: clothes. Practical for teaching English in an art school in San Francisco. For frolicking in 80’s dance clubs and singing in piano bars. For grabbing beers with friends on weekends and then biking home, wind streaming through my helmeted hair. I come from the Mission District, the hipsterville. I was rather looking forward to carrying my style over, with a bang.
And lo and behold, I find myself on the set of modern-day Mad Men. People in the metro, on the streets, even in class all have this austere, tortured look to their wardrobe as if their personal and professional lives are spent on the defendant’s bench.
The men tuck in. I know this because in hot weather, they immodestly remove their blazers. The gleaming of their shoes could illuminate a sketchy intersection. Suits, suits are everywhere – and, unlike in San Francisco, it isn’t drag. Pink button-downs abound, but their wearers seem straight as an arrow. The men sport crew cuts. No curls or artistically-arranged facial hair here (I’m still talking about men, now).
The women clip around in sensible high heels, blouses tucked into their fitted pencil skirts. It’s the sea of monochrome, mostly black and grey, accurately capturing my despondent mood as I survey my clothing pile back in the apartment.
Looks like the age-old crisis has finally caught up with me: a closet full of clothes, and nothing to wear.
So what am I to do with these skinny jeans? Flowy strappy tops with floral patterns? Long necklaces and dangly earrings? My canvas bag that proudly reads “Bike to Work Day, San Francisco, 2010” would not land me a seat on the metro or brownie points in classes (and this, alas, is spoken from experience). Much less a job.
Then, there’s the ironing. It’s as if Washingtonians pack portable irons in their bags, so crisp their lines, so seamless their silhouettes. Not so with me. Once a year or so when I do get the courage to iron, the stuff comes out looking more crumpled than when I’d started, so I stopped bothering.
And there is something downright unforgiving about suits that makes me freeze up in conversation — images of interrogation, war, and other legal proceedings flashing through my mind.
“Remember that there are actual people inside those suits,” someone back home tried to comfort me on the phone. That’s the same person who made me pack a lime green fuzzy blazer just last week with an “Are you kidding? You have to bring it to DC! Of course you’ll fit in!”
Fashion-shocked and with interviews looming, I haven’t yet attended a single museum. I haven’t seen Mr. Lincoln immortalized in stone. Instead, I’ve resigned to combing mass merchant stores in hopes of squelching the unconscious hipster in me and reinventing my wardrobe.
It ain’t easy dressing conservative. Myriads of questions come up. For instance,
1) Is it okay to wear peep-toes to a job interview? To work?
2) If so, with hose or without?
3) Does a non-leather purse speak of modest means? And is there a reason for these dirty looks at my square-shaped hot pink bag? (I bet it’s envy. Yes.)
4) How low cut is too low cut? Let’s be frank: I want that job, but not that much.
5) And, ahem, shapewear?
As I ponder these questions, fashionistas who have mastered the art of conservative dressing are welcome to weigh in.