On a flight from Los Angeles to Boston this summer, I woke up with a start when we hit turbulence somewhere over the midwest. Perched in my exit row seat, I wondered what my childhood friends would think of me sitting here wearing something called a shacket with pants that had a little stretch in them, lifestyle sneakers, and a watch that was telling me it was time to stand up. Luckily, I would have a fighting chance to redeem myself in their eyes as I was still sporting the same haircut I used to get from Dennis at The Concord Barbershop when I was ten. Have I come a long way or regressed?
Shopping was pretty easy when I was a kid—The Maynard Outdoor Store for sneakers, Vans Clothiers for jeans, and Hayes Shoe Store for church or dancing school—a whole other story. While the public schools I attended did not have a formal uniform, we essentially created our own: polo shirt (sometimes over a turtleneck), Levi jeans or corduroys (flair cut if you could swing it), and sneakers. Gym class did require that we wear the maroon and white of the Concord-Carlisle Patriots, but we brought style to the occasion by wearing our short maroon shorts over our gray sweatpants. Stunning.
The pressure to fit in was no different then as it is now. Ironically, while trying to figure myself out as an adolescent, I was doing my best not to stand out or be noticed. Years ago, a group of my students scoffed at the behaviorist theory I was teaching and spoke fervently about their ability to make their own decisions and not be influenced by advertising or mystical forces messing with their psyche. As any good teacher would, I waited for the hook to set and for their righteous indignation to build before I asked why they were all wearing jeans, their books were carried in LL Bean backpacks, and their taste in music was eerily similar. The students fought the good fight and didn’t give much until they offered that at least they weren’t wearing the same attire as the kids at the other prep school in town. Two truths win again.
So, have I come a long way or regressed? Having concluded that I don’t have the creative gene or desire to be noticed because of what I wear, I find myself at a happy medium between fitting in and standing out. I can also hear my mother whispering when she wouldn’t buy me the latest cool thing to wear that it is who you are on the inside that counts. Still true. When the plane landed, I took a bus and then a car to our house in Rhode Island, pulled on an old sweatshirt and hat that hold more memories than style, and felt content and at peace.