I work from home a lot lately, which means my office wear usually consists of comfy shorts and my tie-dyed shirt du jour. Dress for the job you want, they say. I want to be an independently wealthy recreational blogger, so I think I’m right on track.
But a funny thing happens when you stop dressing up every day: there’s much less wiggle room to dress down. Some days it’s a thin line that separates me from showing up at the local Price Chopper in a muumuu and house shoes. Luckily I have Grandma’s example to keep my fashion sense from completely bottoming out.
Grandma was a snazzy dresser in her day. She had color-coordinated polyester slacks and blouses in every color of the rainbow, and a costume jewelry collection that spilled over into every spare inch of closet space. For every chunky necklace there was a massive pair of bejeweled clip-on earrings — I never saw her wear one without the other.
Once Grandma retired, she stopped buying her suits at Montgomery Wards and became a connoisseur of garage sale style. Grandpa was always building something out of cast-off lumber, so he dutifully remodeled their house to accommodate her ever-expanding wardrobe.
One day when we came to visit, the front door was gone. He’d walled it up and used the entryway space plus a good portion of the living room to create a walk-in closet with built-in shelves and easy-to-reach racks. Unorthodox for sure, but Grandma needed storage space, and besides, they had a back door.
When Grandpa died, the task of moving Grandma’s wardrobe fell to me. At first we agreed she’d pare down her collection, but when it came time to start the giveaway pile she broke down in tears. “These are my clothes and I want all of them,” she cried. “Then we’ll take them all,” I promised. Loaded down with armfuls of hangered clothes and musty boxes, my daughters and I carried every last item out to the U-haul and packed it inside.
After the move, it didn’t surprise me when Grandma covered the majority of her clothes in long plastic sheets. We both knew half the pantsuits didn’t fit, and a lot of what was left was just too fancy to wear around the house. A dozen or so pairs of pants and twice that many tops became her go-tos; the rest she kept for the simple comfort of familiarity.
Grandma washed her own clothes for a long time, including the slippery pajama-pant slip things she wears under her slacks to make them slide on and off easier. It kind of reminds me of when we used to powder Barbie’s legs to make her hotpants easier to yank up; just not as messy. Now that I do her laundry, Grandma brings it to my attention whenever a pair of slip pants is missing. Every time I assure her nobody stole her “garments,” which is what I call them, partially because it’s a word my Grandpa always used, and partially because I really don’t know what the hell they are.
Lately Grandma’s opting out of wearing pants all together. When I reminded her about an appointment a few days ago, she said she was ready to go. “In those?” I asked fearfully. By now I take most of her dressing idiosyncrasies in stride, but I was not prepared for a public trip in the pajama slip pants. They’re loose, they drag the floor, and all it would take is one false step for those suckers to drop to the ground, leaving Grandma in nothing but her Depends. The mere thought made me panic.
“No I’m gonna put my jeans on before we leave,” she assured me. I wondered if Grandma even knew what jeans were since she hasn’t owned a pair in the 40 or so years I’ve known her, but I was relieved. She hadn’t completely abandoned the ritual of getting dressed to go somewhere, which meant for now I didn’t need to add it to my to-do list.
Grandma is entitled to wear whatever she wants around the house. It’s just sad to have watched her simply give up caring what she looks like or who sees her in her underwear. In some sense I understand where she’s coming from, since I don’t put on makeup or dry my hair on days I work from home. But there’s something psychological about getting up, putting on fresh clothes and keeping a clear distinction between being productive and just being.
Just for good measure, I think I’ll dress up tonight for my daughter’s birthday dinner. There’s nobody to impress, but I’ll feel better. Plus it’ll put a little extra distance between me and the muumuus.
Image credit: caraman / 123RF Stock Photo