In the summer of 2013, I completely gutted my closet. GUTTED. We're talking Stage 5 Doomsday Crisis, here. It was a massacre. Broken hangers strewn about the bedroom, piles of casualties littering the hallway.
Only the lucky few survived...
This was the rule: anything I hadn't worn in 6 months or less got taken to the nearest Goodwill or the dump. I wanted a clean start. New clothes to reflect the adult me. The out-of-grad-school me. The time-to-get-health-insurance and 1099-tax-nightmare me.
I was about to start my first official teaching job as an adjunct professor of voice, and I was already well aware that I looked MUCH younger then 26... I was still getting carded at rated-R movies at this point, and not too happy about it.
My husband thought it was hilarious. Until someone asked if he was my father at the doctor's office. Karma is sweet, my friends.
Naturally, I began taking bits and pieces of ideas from my fashion inspirations:
Audrey Hepburn - Timeless, Clean lines, Monochromatic, Simple
Zooey Deschanel - Feminine, Soft, Polka Dots, Vintage
Antonio Melani - Professional, Mature, Fits to Size, Elegant
In my mind, clothes would be the perfect way to fix this problem. Or so I thought.
I was so wrong.
My very first day as a professor, I wore a smart sapphire sheath, paired with a modern fitted blazer, opaque tights, and my round-toe black pumps. Simple. Classy. Here's a picture of me wearing this exact outfit (minus the blazer) to my sister-in-law's wedding rehearsal two months prior:
There's no way I would be mistaken for a student wearing THAT. When I was in college - which, yes, wasn't that long ago - my staple of T-shirts and converse sneakers screamed "I'm a broke college student who's powered by Ramen noodles and McDonalds coke!" I don't even want to comment on what college students today wear, but it certainly doesn't resemble my outfit above.
So I was safe. I'd immediately be recognized as a faculty member - or at the very least, some sort of college staff.
After lunch, I had thirty minutes or so to kill before the second half of in-service - every teacher's favorite part of the school year. Feeling energized, I decided to walk to the campus police office to have my faculty ID picture taken. One more item to mark off my ever-growing to-do list. Go me! Productivity! Power hour!
Naturally, there are already students standing in line to have their pictures taken as well. I wait patiently, hands clasped in front, observing each one as they step forward. A few have parents with them. Others look like they just rolled out of bed. All - I happily noted - looked much younger then myself, with much more casual attire. Adulting for the win.
Finally, it's my turn. I step forward and turn towards the camera, smile at the ready.
"Hello, how are you?" the officer asks, prepping the monitor for the next photo file.
"Fine, and yourself?" I reply.
She glances up at me and smiles politely. "Doing alright." Back to the screen. "Okay, what's your student ID number?"
She looks back up at me. Waiting.
"I'm not a student. I'm a faculty member."
She continues to stare.
Blinking rapidly, she says, "Oh. OH! Well, what's your faculty ID? I'm sorry, you just look so young..."
In the four years I've taught college courses, I've been mistaken as a student by multiple faculty and administration, no matter what I was wearing. Campus police have approached me after hours and during summer sessions, when most buildings are emptier then usual. I'd be running by my office in the evenings to grab a score or anthology, and after pulling into the parking lot, a campus police car would pull in after me.
They would ask the following: Was there a problem? How did I have a key? Was I a student? Did I know that I had parked in faculty parking?
The third time this happened I was formally dressed for my students' spring recital. Once I got out of the car, the officer immediately began backtracking. But I knew why I'd been stopped. I wasn't even upset. It actually makes me feel secure to work there with campus police that are so diligent. If I have to be at the music building alone at night, I can at least work knowing they're doing their job well. :-)
Life Lesson: Clothes are an art form, NOT a band-aid
They can't fix you. They can't change you. Clothes can accentuate your personality, your style, your creativity. But they cannot hide what you are. And this was a tough lesson for me to learn. I can't change my face, or my petite frame And I needed to embrace that part of me, instead of trying to cover it up with power suits and stilettos.
Now, I'm 6 months away from turning 30. I still get mistaken for a high school student when I'm dressed casually on weekends and summers. My closet has doubled in size, filled with a healthy balance of professional work attire and my own personal flare of polka dots, cardigans, and ballet flats.
I've discovered that the upside to looking younger as a college professor is the interactions I have with my students. They're comfortable coming to me with crazy hard life issues. I know so much more about what makes them tick, what makes them sad, what can make them laugh on a bad day because of my baby face.
And I wouldn't give that up for anything.