I’ve always had a passion for fashion, with an emphasis on personal style. While I don’t always dress to the nines, I do dress to my personality and mood, and I like to have fun with clothes. I own many articles of clothing with which I am in love, and my tender loving care keeps them wearable through many, many seasons. But my favorite article of clothing is stashed away in the back of an attic closet in Southern Ohio, where it’s been hanging stiffly, neglected, for five or six years. It is my pair of blue jean overalls.
I bought these overalls at Dillards in Lexington, Kentucky, while shopping with my mom and grandma back in approximately 1997. These are no Osh-Kosh standard-issue bibs, they were (and I believe, still are) rather stylish; they feature ajustable straps which attach to the bib with levered latches (not buttons or snaps), a narrow fit at the waist, and a leg that gradually widens to a modest boot cut that stops just below my ankle bone, allowing them to pair as easily with flip-flops as with boots or sneakers. The denim is a medium wash, and the bib has one large pocket with two small pockets sewn to its front. Side pockets lie perfectly just below either hipbone, and back pockets are wide and deep.
Because these fit me so perfectly, and because they look great with any shirt–tank top, t-shirt, or long-sleeved–I wore these bibs year-round in high school. They were especially good for the summers when I worked at my grandpa’s little corner grocery because they were roomy, comfy, and had plenty of pockets for stashing pens and stocking cards (made by writing on the clean inside of torn-up cigarette cartons).
After high school, I took the bibs with me to college and wore them once or twice. But as a small town girl learning to fit-in on a large, urban campus, I felt the bibs marked me as young and country, and soon returned them to my closet at my parents’ house, where I enjoyed them on many weekend and holiday visits. Now that I’m no longer an undergrad trying to establish herself as an intellectual, I toy with the idea of bringing my bibs with me to Stanford, but they seem even more out-of-place there now than they did at Ohio State then.
And here’s the newest wrinkle: during my sophomore year at Ohio State I took a job as a legal secretary and dove head-first into a new Professional Stacina look. I also had less time to come back home to Southern Ohio and even spent my summers working full time at the office. When I did come home and tried to don my bibs; though their fit and comfort was still the same, I was acutely aware of the fact that I was no longer the sort of person who was supposed to wear such things. When I wore them to the grocery or to the drugstore I could sense the eyes on me evaluating me in the same way I might evaluate a 70-year-old in a leather mini-skirt: What was she thinking?
Despite all this, they are still my favorite article of clothing. Yes, since graduating from high school I have splurged on a few expensive designer pieces and accessories. Yes, I own a couple fabulously chic cashmere sweaters. But nothing makes me feel more at home than my bib overalls. It’s just too bad I no longer feel like I have a right to call them home.
Obviously, these musings go deeper than some denim hanging in a closet; they are just iconic of the position I find myself in these days where I can no longer recognize myself as the person I had become accustomed to seeing in the mirror. In years of finding myself I had come upon truths like I am blonde, I am shy, I have awkwardly long legs, I am good at math and logic, I am an over-achiever, and have repeated them like mantras anytime I imagine myself and my position in relation to people around me. So many of these truths remained so steadfast and reliable over the years, that I thought them to be permanent. But now, when I look at myself and try to see what a stranger sees, I see a young woman who is neither blonde nor shy, who has grown into her legs, who is perhaps average in her math and logic skills, and whose over-achieving days may be behind her.
It’s a scary thing to realize that things you had come to believe and trust about yourself are perhaps no longer objectively valid. But it’s an empowering thing, too, to realize the power that lies in the imagined self–in the lies and half-truths we unwittingly convince ourselves of. The challenge is to distinguish that which is permanent, enduring, from that which is ever-changing.