Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Fashion! Turn to the Left!"

I know that amongst young, hipster librarians, a favorite topic of conversation is the lack of fashion sense that can run rampant in our profession. The socks and sandals jokes, the holiday-scene sweaters, the gunny sack dresses, the bunheads. I've heard about it a million times. I've talked about it a million times. When I first got my job, I read a book of essays that gave advice to new librarians, and one of the essays actually said that wearing sweats to work is not really the best idea. In a book that intelligently discussed ideas about patron service, cataloging theory and practice, and the underpinnings of intellectual freedom, this book had to spell that mess out. "If the predominant author is not indicated, tag 100 is to be made under the first author, and tag 700 for the rest. And fool, don't wear sweats to work." Boggles the mind, no?

When I think about this phenomenon a bit more, I come to the conclusion that part of what this is about is purely generational. As much as anyone is loathe to admit it, there was a time when gunny sack dresses with plastic headbands were completely in. During the time when Melissa Gilbert ruled the airwaves, prairie-wear was stylin', at least much more so than it is now. And I remember when Maddie Hayes used to wear those triangle-shaped blazers with the huge shoulder pads in shades of Pepto or Mylanta, and it was chic as can be. So when I see my colleagues wearing these types of things, it's just a reflection of the time warp that many people get caught in. And that phase, if you calculate it, usually falls into the era of whenever that particular person was in their 20s. Think about it.

Take my dad as an example. He was in his 20s during the 1950s, and much of his fashion sense is frozen in that time period. Tailored suits, neckties in a windsor knot, cuff links. To dress down, he likes his newsie cap and linen pants. He's not going to change that. It's the same with our librarian colleagues. If they were hippies who wore birkenstocks with socks while they had folksy singalongs with their friends when they were 25, they are greying librarians who wear birkenstocks with socks as they do their story times now.

As I just recently left my 20s, I am noticing that my peers are starting to settle into their look and I wonder what the future holds for us. I have friends who were in their early 20s when big, chunky, neo-platform shoes were all the rage, and they are sticking to those chunksters with hardcore committment, right through the kitten-heel/wedge extravaganza that's going on right now. What else is in store for us? Will you be the 60 year old man in the jean jacket with the hoodie underneath? Will I be the 72 year old lady with the long Lucy Liu hair and fishnet Spanx? Will your lower back tattoo peek through the top of your pants as you sit at the park bench feeding the birds? Will we rock the bingo parlor in our Converse and Mac eyeliner?

I guess what I'm saying is that I am feeling much more compassion when I look at the socks and sandals I see paraded before me. I see it as an homage to lost youth. I imagine what you were doing when you first donned those Sally Jessie glasses. Did you wear those corduroy dress shorts with nude nylons underneath the first time you fell in love? Did you hike up those high-waisters to your ribcage on your first day of college? Is that the perm with stand-up bangs you got styled especially for graduation? I see those moments in you. I'm old enough now to get how we all want to hold onto that, at least a little. I really do.

So if I'm still showing up to work in my United Nude cork shoes in 20 years, please be nice to me. And if I show up to work in my sweats, laugh with good nature and tell me to go home and change. And be nice about my Lucy Liu hair. It was stylin' back in the day.

Kiss the rings, I'm out.
Librarian Girl


Leah said...

I think you should write an entire post about the mystery that is Nude Pantyhose. One will NEVER see so many nude pantyhosed legs in the same place as one will see at a librarian conference.

Anonymous said...

But where does the book-themed clothing fit in? Book vests, book pins, book turtlenecks (ok, now I'm starting to scare myself)....when were these EVER in style?

Librarian Girl said...

Ah, the book fetish people. That's a whole other ball of wax.

biology girl said...

I won't give up jeans and sweaters. I won't. I won't! I WON'T!

marty said...

I think it starts when you just refuse to try something particularly horrible that is new in fashion. Like Huggie cut-offs. My current fear is a fashion return to tapered jeans. I will go out and buy every pair of flared jeans in my size, plus a few up and down in case I gain/lose weight, and wear them for all eternity before I put on a pair of tapered jeans.

WDL said...

I am never going to change my look. It worked in the 1940's, and while charmingly out of date today, will look quite sharp someday far far in the future when I can't remember how I got to work, or why I'm smoking at the reference desk.

and honey, i'll totally tell you to go home if you wear sweat pants to work!

Ms. Yingling said...

As a school librarian, I think it's important that I have an authoritarian yet nuturing air. Thus my pleated skirts, blazers, turtlenecks and penny loafers. It will also be a good look when I am 80, and is incentive to never gain weight!