When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping

It's t-minus 1935 right now. Eighty years isn't a bad run, but it's small consolation. And everybody knows it, even if they don't believe it. If you said it 18 months or even a year ago, they'd roll their eyes and privately sort you with the tinfoil hat crowd. Now they laugh nervously, worriedly.

So in light of an explosive refuge crises, rising tensions in the East and the West, tides of expansionism/militarism/nationalism/terrorism, the kind of weather that makes you think of bible stories, and the first skirmishes of an all out race war here in the US... I decided to upgrade my wardrobe.

Yeah, I know how shallow and pointless that sounds, but there's a method to my madness. I'm trying to level up at work. I've been given new responsibilities and an opportunity to turn that into a career step up. My current position is has a rare level of stability for my industry, and this new opportunity will both cement my value at my current company while strengthening my resume... particularly in the area of global business experience. If you don't see how that could be useful in a time of increasing domestic and international unrest... Let me just say that I consider it as useful as some of my other interests, such as food preservation, supporting local food production, and knowing how to shoot a firearm.

I'm not much of a shopper. I don't practice it as a hobby. The last time I did a major clothes shop was probably 3 years ago. I'm not interested in fashion or brands or what's hot right now. I don't like logos on my clothing. However I'm well aware that clothing is important in terms of social and professional interaction. Plus it's nice to have, you know, stuff to wear that looks good and makes you feel good. My job is the type that moves from being in a casual office to full suit business meetings, social engagements, and international travel. As my role changes, I needed more clothes for these latter categories, but at the same time I've gained some winter weight so some things can't be worn right now.

Because I don't shop all the time, I needed to really shift gears in order to get this done, and done well. I approached the project in the way I approach all projects: methodically. Here is what my process looked like:

  • Researched online sites for what they call capsule wardrobes (hyper-practical and minimalist wardrobes of clothes that give maximum flexibility for dressing)
  • Searched for retailers with decent human rights reputations (which was really hard and not altogether a success), clothing for humans with long arms and legs, a good price to quality ratio, and flexible shipping and returns policies
  • Went through my current clothes and put together a pile to donate (some of which got donated straight to the kid's closet) and a pile to save until I lose 10 lbs (which I only recently gained, so I have high hopes... I put these in a box that I now call my hope chest) -- plus threw away items too worn to donate
  • Identified my color palette
  • Made a list of existing items that I wanted to work with my new purchases (and when I say list, I mean Excel spreadsheet)
  • Identified the kinds of uniform looks I was going for in various categories
  • Found a new tailor (there was an issue with my previous with accusations of domestic abuse, which I don't want to support)
  • All the while I saved my discretionary income (my allowance, if you will) as well as birthday cash and a work award
  • I executed my plan, buying items online from my chosen retailers, including signing up for mailing lists to get 'first time' coupons, looking for online discounts, and comparing prices
  • Once received, I logged everything (including prices) into my spreadsheet and took the first of several batches of items in to test the new tailor (success, she is wonderful)
  • And, lest you think this was entirely mundane, there was some search incantation to help me find the right resources, magic to ensure timely shipping, and sigil-work on various pieces to help project the things I want to project when I'm wearing them

At this point I have everything I need except a new suit (Italian flannel, very excited to get this) and some shirts that I had to return (the only real failure of my purchases so far). I need a few accessories (belt, bag, scarf) but have to wait to save up more money.

It was a good example of a smaller project that's taking about three months to execute and has magical as well as mundane elements. You can see how the planning and execution flowed together so I was researching while I was deciding on what to buy and then making purchases while finding the tailor. All the while saving up the money needed.

There's always a cadre of people who seem offended at the idea that how you present yourself matters. Their argument is that it's what's inside that counts, that externals are just illusion and part of the world of Maya. If people aren't willing to accept you for who you are, then they aren't worth knowing. Judging people on externals is wrong. You can't judge a book and namaste and kumbaya and all that. Folks who are counter cultural, including Pagans, seem particularly prone to this kind of thinking.

But this attitude it itself illusion.

First because they are judging based on appearances just as much as anyone... they're just doing it in reverse. They'll judge me for my business suit or shoes, label me as a certain kind of person without really knowing me. I've been judged for caring about my career and enjoying my corporate work. I've been judged for having a stable income, as if I was the cause of their poverty. I've been judged as less spiritual and less magical for having my shit together.

But people who assume that because I look normal I'm normal, aren't looking deep enough. In fact, I think that it's better to look normal and actually be interesting than to look interesting but be normal underneath. Plus I'm aware that I don't really read as normal to normal people. Not because I do anything outre, but because... well, I don't know, I just am the way I am. I have the stamp of wyrde on me or something. And this can be off-putting, even fear inducing. I've seen it with the kid too. Some of her friend's parents are just freaked out by her. The spouse has this problem worse than either of us. Better for me not to compound the problem at work by being all goth-pentagram-witchcraft all over the place.

Second, because we live in the world we do live in and not a different one. Each of us who strives to live an aware life has to consciously decide to participate or object to parts of it as we choose. I eat organic, cruelty-free, fair trade... I choose it consciously. I also have a corporate job... and I choose that consciously as well. In part because I enjoy my work and in part because it gives me a lot in return (not just dollars either, trips to other countries and personal fulfillment are pretty amazing returns). If someone would rather be an artist, that's cool too. It's just a different choice.

We are here for a reason, and while that reason is pretty opaque, it seems likely that trying stuff and figuring shit out is part of that (another part has to do with love and another with compassion and suffering). I've got to get busy learning the lessons I've got to learn this time around the track, and I'll just let you get on with doing the same.

Third, authenticity can be a goal, and it comes in many flavors, but it's also a lie. Everyone has masks that they wear and images of themselves that they project. This isn't because they are inauthentic, but because these things are necessary to have a functioning society. One of the best examples of this are people who hate small talk. I always find this interesting. What would you rather talk about at a client lunch or before an interview or with your friends' parents?

"Hi nice weather we've been having."
"Yeah, too bad the police are all fascist pigs and I have PMS and organized religion is a scam."
or alternately
"Yeah, I had the greatest orgasm last night, just OMG and it was all due to this new technique I just found out about... let me tell you."

Small talk has a purpose and if done well is a wonderful way to smooth interactions and build the kind of base that then allows people space to decide whether to become closer and share more. It's a mask and a game, but it's a useful one. A lot of society is like that. There are probably people at work who don't really like me. Or who at least wouldn't want to be friends with me. That's fine. There are people I feel that way about too. But because we are professionals, we can don our professional masks and find a way to get along to get the job done.

Finally, the way you express yourself in the world is a reflection, however distorted, of how you see yourself inside. So if you look like shit and smell like shit, maybe it's because you are a free spirit who's not bound by convention or maybe it's because you actually feel like shit. People will assume the latter and won't get close enough to experience your warm personality and sparkling wit. And the reverse is true as well... if you look like shit outside, it can make you feel bad inside too. So it's a loop.

We're going to be talking a lot more about what it takes to get stuff done. Because from a PMPM standpoint, all the planning in the world won't get your ass off the couch (hypocrisy check, I'm on the couch right now!). But one thing you can do, if you are feeling nasty or low or generally unmotivated or even sick, is to have a nice shower, put on some clean nice things, have a nourishing healthy meal, and create a little order in your life (wash the dishes, neaten your desk, etc.). Maybe get out and have a stroll, check out some trees and stuff. Look good. Feel good. Feel good. Look good.

This past week I wore some of my new clothes for a series of meetings. I didn't get to wear my new suit, alas, but I did wear some other pieces (women have this a lot easier than men believe it or not, there are a lot more things considered completely conservative, professional business clothes than just a shirt and tie). I'm pretty sure I looked OK (my goal here is nice, not drop dead stunning) but moreover I felt great.

I feel behind on everything not work related at this point, but I think there may be a tiny lull in the storm over the next couple of weeks, which would be excellent and give me a chance to get the new suit tailored. Namaste and kumbaya fashionistas.


  1. I think you're spot-on about wardrobe upgrades. My big challenge at the moment is completing a major financial project in the next six months, which I have to do in the middle of the current roller-coaster; and then this 'dress' problem is the next big challenge. My trouble is that I run a computer lab, a Latin classroom and a woodcraft workshop all in the course of my working day; I wear a tie in the color of the planetary day every day, but I'm constantly worried about destroying my clothes for professional wear in the workshop... usually because I do. I wore pants to an event today, and didn't notice until I got there that they were an old pair stained with green paint... which I'd changed into because I noticed the pants I was planning to wear had bleach on them from working with dye during a fabric workshop. Ugh. Good thing the yellow shirt, the suspenders, and the snappy hat distracted them. :-)

    In any case, this is my challenge: figuring out how to dress like a man who can move between ancient languages, computer coding, and sawdust in the course of the day... because I am that man.

    1. This is not a fashion advice blog, and will never be one... but have you considered changing before that class? Or maybe getting a coverall or overpants and shop apron? It's symbolic as well. You're transitioning from your cerebral mode to your hands-on mode.


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