Choosing a Career by Requisite Wardrobe

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I just changed from my long, black-and-red salsa dress and bangles into a blue-stripped collared shirt, suit jacket and  grey pearls. I went from strapy high heels to sensible boots and comfortable socks.

If I chose my career based on the clothes, opera would win out over politics most mornings. I am comfortable in a suit, but I dance in a swishing dress. Singing engages my entire body while leaving most parts of my mind in the basement. It requires my constant presence.

As I changed in the College of Fine Art’s bathroom, I began to go over my remarks for my drug court class’s presentation this afternoon. It was discouraging–I’m required to read from a script. As a singer and performer, learning that presenting in my discipline means standing at a podium and clicking through powerpoint slides is disheartening.

But could I saunter onto the floor of the Steinburg auditorium in my floating halter-top and be taken seriously? Do I care?

Why are intelligent people willing to find transcendence in an aria to a tree,* but a reasoned presentation can be undermined by the wrong clothes? For that matter, if I showed up in jeans and a tank-top it will reflect badly on my professionalism but I am not sure it should.

I think my 11-year-old self who played a mammoth in a musical adaption of Thornton Wilder’s Skin of Our Teeth would be frustrated with me. She wouldn’t understand why I wear shoes that are uncomfortable, or put make-up on, or wear clothes that show dirt. She would be discouraged to hear me judge other women by what they wear to present. She would think it was a waste of time we could be reading or making up stories or doing karate–or singing.

The first summer I wore suits, my mom told me to think of it as a costume. I’d worn a two-foot-tall plaster mammoth head; I could dress-up silly for a purpose. The more conservatively and formally I dressed in college, the more I felt respected by professors and students. They treat me like I was treated in middle school: like a real person whose ideas matter.

I have worn suit-pants that keep me from swinging my leg over the back of my bike. I’ve massaged my feet after 12 hours in heels. I’ve bought make-up and learned to wear it. I am wearing pearls.

But presenting badly because it is an academic convention? I will not disappoint my 11-year-old self in that way.

*One of my arias this semester is Handel’s “Ombra Mai Fu.” it is sung by King Xerxes to a plane-tree. Here’s the translation from Wikipedia:

Frondi tenere e belle
del mio platano amato
per voi risplenda il fato.
Tuoni, lampi, e procelle
non v’oltraggino mai la cara pace,
nè giunga a profanarvi austro rapace.

Ombra mai fu
di vegetabile,
cara ed amabile,
soave più.

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never bother your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant,
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

Inspirational Quote:

“Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?”–Robert Orben

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