Great White Whales (with Pockets)

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Image courtesy of Brian Gratwicke. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I am fatter now than I was in college, and was fatter in college than I was in high school. This does not bother me particularly. Given the fact that I entered the world breeched and jaundiced, wound up with a paralyzed face during delivery, had (rather botched) eye surgery as a child, and have been blind as a bat since the age of 9, most of what I think about my person is “holy shit, I am a testament to the human brain’s ability to override natural selection despite nature’s attempts to kill us.” (#TeamThumbs.) At any previous point in history, I would be dead 3 times over by now.

That said, the confines of this particular meat sack have forced me to lose some truly spectacular items of clothing. This came to the forefront of my mind this weekend, as I was walking—drunk on Fuller’s ESB and cheese toast—around my hometown square. Stepping into the local hipster boutique (by “local,” I mean “the one on that side of the square,” since there’s approximately 7 in a half-mile radius), I saw an absolutely beautiful pair of knee-high, wooden-heeled, burgundy Frye boots in the most completely gorgeous, buttery leather. They were 40% off. They were the last pair in the store. They were my size.

They were also, in the way of Frye boots, designed for tiny-calved people: despite the fact that they fit my feet, I couldn’t zip them up over my legs. My calves, inherited from my father, are giant.

Before the white whale of discounted leather boots, though, there was a pink lace dress. It was picked up in a second-hand store in Arkansas for $25, and it dated from the 1940s. The core of it, a sheath, was pink silk, with rose lace overlay on the skirt and torso. A foot-wide band of the lining tied around as a belt. The dress, which managed to survive a particularly drunken New Year’s Eve freshman year of college, died at the Great Gatsby-themed party where this was taken. I ripped a side seam in the torso due to beer/becoming an adult weight/enthusiastic dancing. At some point I will fix it and sell the thing, because it is gorgeous. Continue reading

Cultural Whiplash

Sometimes I have days where I feel reasonably secure in my ability to function in my life here in Dakar. Other times, I feel like I may in fact be completely broken. Today I had both of these experiences within about five minutes of each other, and felt what I can only describe as cultural acquisition whiplash.

The positive experience was–as almost all of my positive experiences are–an interaction with my tailor, Ousmane. I like him both because he makes me pretty, pretty clothes and because he is the most deadpan human being that I have met since leaving the United States. He’s great.

I was passing by his shop this evening with a friend when I saw him outside taking a smoking break. We waved. He waved back. Then, he hissed at me (the way that most folks here indicate, “I don’t remember your name despite knowing the circumfrence of your entire body, but I have something to tell you”). Continue reading

Dresses! Also, boredom!

I could lie and say that I’ve quit updating as regularly because I’ve been off exploring Dakar, but that would be a complete lie. Mostly, my computer got knocked off a desk and its screen imploded, so that’s been putting a cramp in my style. Rather than using the extra time to learn Wolof/figure out how to barter at all successfully, I’ve been taking naps, reading, and talking to my host dad. It turns out that Dakar is a lot like the year that I moved to Atlanta, in terms of my active social life and propensity to take risks.

As an aside, yesterday my host dad told me that I need more friends. I may need to reevaluate some life choices here.

Life is not all incredibly boring, though! Last week, I went to the HLM market, the local source for all things fabricy, with a friend. (See, host dad!) I took the wax cloth that I bought to the tailor in order to have it whipped into garmenty shape, and I picked the dress up yesterday. The whole setup cost $17 (fabric plus labor), and fits wonderfully. Plus: fabric covered buttons and pockets. I think the tailor may have replaced the guy who works at the sandwich shop behind school as my favorite person I’ve interacted with this week. Continue reading

Time for a New Uniform

It’s something of a joke among those who live in close quarters with me that I tend to dress in uniforms. This probably comes from the same part of me that can spend a month watching 6 seasons of a foreign TV show, twice, without tiring of it basically being the same show each week. I am comfortable with routine.

The most recent iteration of the uniform was a blazer, a scoop neck t-shirt, jeggings, red shoes, and a large scarf. Because all my shoes are red and all of my t-shirts are the same thing in different colors, this allowed for a variety of outfits with pretty much no effort. Plus, I always had a built-in blanket for cold classrooms. It was a win win.

Recently, however, I’ve moved away from the blazer-scarf-jeggings power look. I got tired of having a sweaty neck all of the time.

Without meaning to, I have settled in to a new uniform. For the past three days (I really wish I was exaggerating for effect, here) I have worn one of my two pairs of skinny jeans, one of the same scoop neck tees, and a tweed jacket that looks like a stole it off a very narrow-shouldered male archaeologist. The jacket is reversible, so if I tire of the tweed* I can revisit my elementary school uniform and wear some khaki instead.

The uniform, combined with my short hair and a non-expression that I am told makes me look very angry, tends to make me look sort of like a teenaged boy. I think that part of it is me making myself as unnoticeable as possible using the things over which I have control over for when I go to Dakar. I can’t control being white and American, but I can confine myself to earth tones with the best of them.

But I think even without the trip abroad, I’d be moving in that same direction. There was a period in high school where my wardrobe was hyperfeminine, as was my hair—there were a lot of sundresses and pincurls and pencil skirts. Without me noticing, my wardrobe has shifted from red into blue into grey and brown over the last semester.

I spent so much of this year being anxious whenever I spoke in class and hoping that I would be sort of ignored. Of course, I still raised my hand in class and pretty much never shut up**, but I felt bad when I did. It was a really weird combination of feelings and impulses, and I think that the move into more muted colors and more androgynous cuts of clothing had something to do with it.

But, even as my clothes become less colorful, I am struck by how I feel when I’m wearing them. When I’m channeling Agyness Deyn with some combat boots and the punker jacket, I feel powerful in a way that sundresses and heels didn’t necessarily make me feel. It’s superficial, but there’s something to be said for the knowledge that you could kick some ass in your clothing.

The weather now is similar to what the weather will be when I go abroad. All signs point to me keeping more or less this uniform while I’m there. I’m interested to see whether my feelings about power and clothing stay the same while I’m traveling. I suspect that they will not.

This got to be much more serious than I intended. Because what I originally wanted to share about the jacket that makes up the main part of the new uniform is that it’s reversible, it’s tweed, and it cost me $6.95.

I am the queen of thrift stores.

* I will not tire of the tweed.

** I thirst for external approval like a vampire for blood. Blame magnet school.

Dear polos: I hate you.

Dear polos: I hate you.

Yes, you, you polyblend summer uniform sonsofabitch. In your men’s incarnation you are baggy and, somehow, despite that fact you still manage to make me twenty pounds heavier. How? I don’t know! If I did, I’d sell the technology to some Russians wanting to shame their enemies. And don’t get me started on the embroidered ones of you: either the embroidery awkwardly lies halfway up my shoulder, because polos don’t fit humans, or it lies halfway down my breast, making every interaction with a customer a morass of uncomfortable glances.

But you’re not getting off either, ladies-cut polos. No–if anything, you’re worse. What is it that prompted every polo manufacturer in America to size their polos for twelve-year-olds? They cling uncomfortably up top–both revealing the outline of your bra and giving the general public the impression you are some magical primate with a single breast–and bunch around your stomach. Even Jillian Michaels would have stomach fat the way these things fit. And, unlike the overlarge mens’ polos which give you an extra foot of fabric if you dare to tuck them in, these beauties manage to stop two inches above the waistband of your shorts.

It doesn’t matter what shorts you are wearing.

Continue reading