Column: Kids won’t hesitate to question your fashion choices

Published 5:58 pm Friday, November 22, 2019


Coffee with Mimi

It is hard to imagine how folks of yesteryear managed to leave the house in the morning, dressed. I’m not referring to the amount of clothing, but to the color. One can only imagine selecting colors by the light of a candle or a fire. Unless I wait until full daylight to begin my day, it is quite possible I will arrive at my daytime destination with one black sock and one blue one, or any manner of  glaringly and odd combinations of clothing and accessories.

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Adults likely will leave the comments aside, but back in my teaching days, students would not. Early on in my career as a middle school teacher, I wound up wearing two different earrings. They were smallish and of similar style, but clearly not a pair. After a bit of time had passed during the first period class, one student raised his hand, and when called on, inquired if I knew I was wearing two different earrings. He wasn’t being rude, just curious.

Not wanting to admit that I had prepared for the day without turning on many lights, I quipped that I liked my earrings that way. He quite accepted my response and that was that.  

Middle school behavior can be unpredictable. One day they want to buck traditions and all and the next they want to blend into the woodwork. For whatever reason, it was perfectly acceptable for me, the teacher, to be different, a bit odd. It was, after all, just a pair of earrings. I hadn’t dyed my hair purple. After that, I actually wore those earrings as a set on a regular basis. Nothing was ever said again.  

Thinking about it on a more philosophical level, I considered the impact such direct comments about personal appearance, fashion choices, cultural habits, quirky behaviors, odd mannerisms and the like have on an individual. Who controls the standards? What is offensive? What is an honest misunderstanding? Where is the learning?   

A number of years ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman from another country who was working in the United States for a period of time. He was in a professional position requiring that he interact with the general public on a regular basis. He would frequently engage in conversation with near perfect strangers. I was interested in his background. As our conversation developed, he shared some of the clearly uninformed and nearly rude questions he was asked about his culture and the history of his home country. I honestly asked how he handled the situations, wondering if he was offended.

He was not. He held it within himself to determine what bothered him. He controlled his own emotions and reactions. I don’t remember his name and never saw him again, but his words have stuck with me all these years. Can’t say as I have always been so personally immune to such directly and obliviously delivered opinions.

Some comments are flat out rude and unacceptable and best left unsaid by any standards. As parents, we often corrected our children when they uttered such.  While they may not realize what they are saying, there is no time like the present to sow the seeds of manners, decency and compassion. But, the shoe falls where it does throughout life.  There are times when the comments are way more consequential to the individual than questioning a mismatched set of earrings one day in middle school.

When our children are young and unaware of the subtleties and connotations of the words they use, and the times they choose to utter them, we take gentle corrective action, often including an apology to the offended party. The party in question is usually gracious in accepting the offering. That’s how it should work and society rolls along. People grow up.

That’s how it should work.  

Do you know you are wearing two different earrings? That looks pretty stupid. Can’t you manage to get dressed without your mommy’s help? An exaggeration of my little experience, of course. Are you sure that is always the case? Who sets the standard and who speaks up? Who lets it slide?

Life is built on the smallest of details. The most fleeting words and actions. One after the other. Positive and not so. Until one way or the other, that way becomes the way and being personally resolute and gracious may not be enough, or even the responsible response.

I am so fortunate to count among my friends and associates quite a lot of the most kind and considerate people. Quirks and differences of opinion are often noted and shared as part of the human condition. We laugh much of the time we spend together, respecting boundaries. Laughing often together about little things reminds us that the big differences can be understood and respected among us.  

Perhaps the key to accepting misdressing in the dark is that pretty much everyone is in the same boat one day or the other.