In my AMPD 5023-Cultural Aspects of Dress class we had an interesting assignment this week. I was a little afraid to do it and really could have pushed my limits a little more. After submitting my assignment however I found I was more daring than most of my cohort. We were supposed to dress inappropriately for something.
Here's what I did:
I tried this several times because I never got the reactions I was expecting.
#1 Sunday: We went to Sunset Beach to watch the sunset. My family was all in their usual Sunday afternoon attire: shorts, t-shirts, hoodies. I kept my church clothes on all day and wore my skirt and blouse to the beach. I really would have preferred to have been in my other clothes because it would have been easier to sit in the sand without a skirt on. I felt really overdressed. A few people looked at me a little longer than I felt was normal. The message I was sending was that I was not expecting a trip to the beach or that I am not comfortable at, or don’t know what to wear to a beach? I learned that I needed to do it again in a more interactive environment.
#2 Monday: I went straight from surfing to the grocery store. I had a little beach dress on over my wet suit. My hair was tied up in a top knot and was still dripping wet. My feet were bare and covered in sand. I went to the pharmacy, to the produce section and through the checkout. The pharmacist didn’t hardly even look at me let alone look at me funny. The shoppers in produce were oblivious and the checker just asked me what’s for dinner. All totally normal. I felt really uncomfortable and worried I would run into someone from church or a student. I was blatantly out of dress code and though I wasn’t at work I’m still supposed to look professional in public; it is a small town. I was conveying the message that I’m a beach bum and I don’t care what others think? I learned that I needed to do it again in an even more interactive environment with people I knew.
#3 Thursday: I was a little nervous about wearing the outfit but at this point--after doing the other two experiments--I was just curious to see if ANYONE was going to say ANYTHING to me. I’m always worried about dressing appropriately, especially when I am on-campus. I am young looking and often get mistaken as a student. Though I knew I would look like a student in this outfit I wasn’t going to have any interactions with random people. I knew everyone I met on this day already knew me really well. They were all family, students, and close co-workers. Reactions to dress are detailed below in my blow-by-blow script. Because I never wear aloha shirts I think the message I was sending is that I am involved in a presentation and wearing a uniform for it. I was expecting people to ask me what I was doing today or if I had a new job. I learned that if you are wearing something out of the ordinary probably only those that you are really close to will say anything about it.
The full script/detailed notes from Thursday
6:02am (getting dressed. Husband rolls over in bed and spots me buttoning up my top.)
Husband: What are you doing?
Me: Getting dressed.
Husband: Do you have something going on in class today? a field trip to PCC? (laughs) (PCC is Polynesian Cultural Center)
Me: Yes. In my grad class.
Husband: Really?! What?
Me: I have to wear something out of context.
Husband: You look like a student worker
6:04am (walk out of room and down hallway past my 12 yo daughter, Cora)
Cora:That’s Afton’s shirt! (pause) It’s cute on you!
Cora: Are you wearing that to work? (sounding incredulous)
6:05am (walk into kitchen where my other daughter,15 yo Afton, and 17 yo son Kirkham are cleaning up from breakfast)
Me: Good morning. Are you ready to go?
Kirkham: (turns to greet me) Morning. Uh. . .
Afton: Nice shirt mom. (questioningly because I didn’t ask permission)
Kirkham: You look like a PCC worker mom. Like a student.
Me: Hmmm. (turning to Afton) Can I wear it?
Afton: I guess. Why?
Kirkham: Is it for something at work today?
Me: Yes. For my class.
Cora: Oh, what are you doing?! (I can tell she is thinking that it is either a performance or field trip. She loves hearing about these).
Me: I have to wear something out of context.
Kirkham: That’s weird.
Cora: I think you look cute.
Afton just nods as she walks out to get her backpack.
7:30am-8:30 am I teach a student development class with 20 students. Discussion is on money management. No one says anything about my clothes. I forget after about 15 minutes that I am wearing something unusual for me.
8:30-11am Office hours
8:30-8:45 Meet with a student in my office. Discussion is about her grades and her life. No mention of my clothes. I’m not really thinking about my clothes at all.
8:45-9:30 Read emails, read news, read updates on classes.
9:30 I look down and remember what I am wearing and decide to take a picture in my office mirror (my office is the campus costume shop)
Unfortunately my office stayed pretty quiet for the next while. Usually my office mate is in by 9 with his homeschooled daughter who does her work in his office. He has quite a few students who come to the office on a normal day. Today it was crickets.
10:50am my student Luis comes in to use the workspace for his final project. He looks at me a little peculiarly but doesn’t say anything about my outfit.
noon Carly arrives for class. She is not very observant and so I am not surprised she doesn’t look at me funny or say anything.
12:05pm Meg arrives for class. She does look at me a little sideways but doesn’t ask any questions about, nor bring up my choice in apparel.
12:10pm Kierrah arrives. She looks at me funny. She looks at me up and down and stares. She looks like she is about to say something to me but Meg asks her a question about the field trip over the weekend--I took them to the World of Wearable Art exhibit at Bishop Museum. Kierrah turns to talk to Meg.
12:10-2:10pm is class time. Each of the students work on their final project independently and I hop between each one to check progress and coach them through. While working on projects students’ discussion floats from the field trip to wearable art. They stay on this subject for a while and try to figure out the difference between artistic nudity (depicted in some of the exhibit’s displays) and pornography. Conversation turns to upcoming movies and the meaning of the characters’ outfits and then they land on the university dress code. The students stay on dress code for a while and debate back and forth whether dress code is to teach them to be professional or if it is a religious symbol of faith and preparation for the temple. They try to come to a conclusion on why some students choose to not honor the dress code and what should be done about it. They can’t come to a consensus on perceived motives. They are talking about why they choose to wear the clothes they wear when I interrupt. (I love that their conversation has naturally taken this turn!)
2:10pm Class time is over. I interrupt to remind them to clean up their stations before leaving and add my two cents about their conversation. It goes something like this:
Me: None of you said anything about my out-of-the-ordinary outfit today. I’m wondering if any of you were wondering why I chose to wear this today.
Luis: I thought maybe you just hadn’t done your laundry. You know one of those days when you have to wear whatever is left. (He and Carly start laughing about his outfit last week when the same happened to him)
Kierrah: I kept wanting to ask you but I wanted to do it privately and everyone kept asking for your help. I didn’t want to seem judgmental or whatever. (she looked very relieved that it was brought up).
Luis: So it wasn’t a laundry thing?
Carly smacks him and we all laugh.
Me: No. It was a class assignment, an experiment, to wear something out of context and see what people would say or how they would react.
Luis: That’s weird. We should do that.
Kierrah: You should have borrowed a wig from me.
Meg: I say you look like you're desperate for money and took a second job at PCC.