Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Clothes shopping: the reckoning

File under: XX Marks the Spot, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 5:03 pm.

Midway through last term, I observed that my students were relating to me very well. I was, to them, something of a peer; I was close to the youngest ones’ ages, and I was younger than around a quarter of my students. This had its advantages and its disadvantages. On the one hand, my students saw me more as an ally than as an authority figure. On the other hand, my students saw me more as an ally than as an authority figure.

This development, coupled with the fact that - irony of ironies - people in Island Town tend to assume I’m a student far more often than anyone ever did when I was actually studying at Large Urban Grad School, led me to decide that it was about time I started looking like a grownup. The two easiest ways to do this - get haircut, and wear makeup - were out. No one, including me, would recognize me with short hair and a painted face. No one.

This meant new clothes - suits, or some approximation thereof.

I had a list of nonnegotiables:

  1. Limit of $200 per outfit, and even that was pushing it.

  2. No garish colours. I’m trying to be taken more seriously, not less. Even allowing that neon pink and bright purple have their uses, businesswear is not among them. Brown or olive green would be ideal for a suit. Black would be fine as well.

  3. On the same theme as 2), only moreso: “sexy” is quite decidedly not the image I’m going for. I’m not interested in flashing leg. Ditto for cleavage, which is a nonissue for me anyway.

  4. On that theme, clothes must fit. I am the arbiter of fitting. A salesperson telling me that “it’s supposed to be that tight” does not have the final word.

  5. POCKETS. This is a dealbreaker. Pants and jackets must have pockets that are cumulatively of sufficient size for transporting items such as wallets, pens, small papers, and cell phones. I refuse to tote bags with me whenever I wish to bring more than my person from one place to another.

I don’t think I’m that picky, but a trip to the largest mall on Vancouver Island left me emptyhanded. The only jacket with pockets would have set me back $150. The long skirt that looked fine from the front, had a massive slit right up to the ass in the back. And I had tried on the lovely, well-fitting, $40, chocolate brown pants when I realized that they were manufactured by a POCKET TEASE, a designer who puts little folds near the hips that look like pockets, but that go nowhere. Apparently it is considered fashionable to appear as though you have pockets but don’t.

This doesn’t even take into account the frustration engendered by the sheer arbitrariness of women’s clothing sizes, which are apparently functions of a multitude of variables, including, but not limited to, the woman’s size; the calendar year; the price of the clothing; and the alignment of the planets. I am of the tall, thin variety, with apparently the majority of my body fat concentrated in my thighs and ass. Somehow, though, it’s not uncommon for the size n pants to fit just fine, while the matching size n+4 blazer is a little small. There’s also the perplexing experience that I routinely try on pants that fit me at the waist, but that are around three inches too long. I have a BMI of NINETEEN. I cling naively to the view, unpopular on this coast, that the market responds at least somewhat to demand, but (evangelical Marxists, take note) damned if that belief doesn’t take a beating every time I shop for clothes. I guess it’s possible that although I’ve never met any six foot tall, 120 lb women, they not only exist, they also buy a helluva lot of pants - but I’m skeptical.

In any case, I decided to put the clothes shopping on hold. It wasn’t worth the stress, and Island Town apparently had little to offer me.

This week, though, I found myself in Big Ontario City, and decided to try again. The clincher: the local paper’s horoscope for my zodiac sign, which I reproduce in full:

You will acquire some new clothes.

And - THANK YOU, Mercury in retrograde! - I did. For three hundred dollars, I obtained three pairs of well-fitting, dark, pocketed pants; two blazers (one black, one orangish-brown) with pockets; and two shirts. The sizes were arbitrary (I can feel my ribs and spine, which to me indicates that a size large shirt should not restrict my breathing, but whatever), and the mall was a zoo, but I can wear something other than jeans next term. Without needing to carry a purse.

And best of all, I won’t have to do this again for another year or two. Unless the stars encourage me otherwise.


  1. At least one factor is working in your favor this season: the current fashion in pants is for them to be way too long. I have had to buy tall shoes to wear until I get around to hemming my new pants.

    I maintain an elaborate fantasy that one day I will be able to sew myself clothing that fits.

    - Rudbeckia Hirta — 12/29/2004 @ 6:34 pm

  2. New clothes, good for you. It seems that in mathematics, young women are less likely to be taken seriously than men by their students.

    - Vegeta — 12/30/2004 @ 9:40 am

  3. RH - but the problem with long pants is that they’re made ridiculously long. Though I am taller and thinner than 95% of the women I meet, half the pants I try on are STILL too long. Since I presume that runway models are not purchasing $40 pants, I honestly don’t understand this.

    Vegeta - yeah, I think that a lot of my students expected me to be a softie. (I should mention that I don’t look very young; it’s probably safe to say that no one has described me as “cute” since I was around six years old. But I’m quite likely to be the only young, female math instructor they’ll ever have.) In terms of academic standards, though, I’m among the toughest in the department, and I have absolutely no patience for bullshit from students - many of my students seem to think that they’re entitled to warm fuzziness from me. I know that I’m not the only one whose students have this sense of entitlement, but sometimes wonder if the young female ones make puppy-dog eyes at their male teachers and whine that it’s not faaaaiiiir, they don’t waaaant to learn probability.

    (My students are half right, mind you, when they assume that I am nicer than their older professors: I have virtually infinite patience for students who are struggling with the material and who are actually putting forth effort, and I will happily spend hours working with them one-on-one.)

    - Moebius Stripper — 12/30/2004 @ 11:20 am

  4. Math teachers probably have it easier than most other profs because people kind of expect us to be weird. I manage to be a rebel in my dept by the simple expedient of wearing a tie most of the time. If a dress code were established by actual observation of the math faculty and recording the modal choices, it would be shorts and T’s for the guys and jeans and polo shirts for the gals. But perhaps we should make allowance for my being at a California commmunity college. Nine of the thirty tenured/tenure-track math faculty are women, only one of whom routinely wears a skirt and two others do on occasion; the others: rarely or never. I wear a tie out of habit, although now I’m old enough (53) that a natural separation exists between me and my students. I put the neckwear aside, though, during summer session, which is very casual (to the point that some students seems to challenge public decency laws by their choices of dress). I got in the habit of wearing painter pants — bib overalls, actually — which were very comfortable (no belt needed with those built-in suspenders), had lots of pockets, and never sagged despite my tendency to load down the aforementioned pockets. My students, however, have felt no impulse to emulate me so I guess I’ll never be a style trendsetter. (sigh)

    It is important to maintain a decent interval of separation between faculty and students, otherwise we run the risk of getting completely swamped in the many real personal problems that arise in a group that includes, on the average each semester, 120 individuals. The usual big problem each term is the student who stops attending because of personal, family, or occupational emergencies but “Please don’t drop me because I’m going to catch up.” They’re usually sincere, I think, but if we carry them on the books too long (that is, past the drop deadline) they’re going to end up with F’s on their transcripts. If they actually return to class after missing two or three weeks, they want individual tutoring to close the gap, which is impossible while other students are crowding your office hours for help with the contemporary material. For more manageable emergencies, with less dramatic absences, I will work very hard to help a student who is serious about succeeding, but too often their expectations are wildly unrealistic.

    For whatever reason, I have not had many young female students (or young male ones, for that matter) flutter their eyelashes at me and appeal to me for special consideration because they are so overwhelmed by the material — and those darned graduation standards are so unfair and arbitrary anyway. Maybe the tie works.

    - TonyB — 12/31/2004 @ 9:17 pm

  5. I’ve learned to just buy whatever pants fit my butt and come in a fabric I like, and then I have a tailor fix the hems, because that’s a relatively easy (and cheap) job. Hell, when I lost alot of weight recently (which I’ve more than gained back, for good reason) I even had the waist taken in on one pair.

    What’s sad is that I do have a sewing machine and have sewed by hand before… but I don’t know how to hem.

    - meep — 1/3/2005 @ 3:39 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.