Costumes are not just for Halloween. Often, the costumes we wear define us. Policemen, firefighters, doctors. Until I began working, I never understood how your job determines the clothing, or in some cases, the costumes, you will be expected to wear.
I’ve never liked to conform, preferring to color outside the box. But when I worked in state government years ago, I needed to conform – to both the governmental style of writing (never use “feel”) and how I presented myself. It seemed I now represented the “State.” A formidable, and unfeeling creature. Suits were expected for both men and women. Women didn’t have to worry about ties, but even worse, we had to stuff ourselves into stockings and heels, even in the heat of summer. My agency was closely connected to the Governor’s office and I guess, leadership wanted to make a good impression. Twenty-two years later, a new governor entered the scene, and immediately eliminated our agency. Snuffed it out like a match.
After being laid off, I found employment at our Red Cross headquarters. While I was thankful the dress code was casual, I didn’t relish the idea of having to be present at every local fire or disaster where people were impacted. These events almost always occurred during the night – and usually in some of the worst areas of the city. After six months, the stress of driving to fires in the middle of the night overpowered the lure of casual dress and I resigned.
Several months later, I landed a position as Marketing Director for an upscale retirement community. Nice job, private office, but I was under constant pressure to keep the community “full.” And, again, I needed to dress in a “professional” style, as I was the “first face” a potential resident saw when visiting for a tour of the facility. Although the director and assistant director were much more casual in their dress, I was back to suits, heels and stockings.
Five years later, when I needed a hip replacement, I decided to temporarily retire. I was only 55 so I knew I’d have to find another job but I decided I would take some time off to recover and look around. I vowed my next job would be less stressful, and yes, one where I didn’t need to wear a suit and heels. I wanted to ditch the costume I’d been dragging around for most of my working life. It was getting old and worn.
Three months later, I got lucky. My old boss from the retirement community had left her position and was now the director of another retirement community in Vermont. She was looking for an activity director and she wanted me. While it would involve an hour’s drive to and from work, the tradeoff was a more casual attire. I traded in my suits for khakis and sweaters The heels were replaced by clogs or any kind of footwear I chose. Socks replaced stockings. I was free at last from the shackles of “professional costuming.”
This turned out to be my dream job and I stayed there until my final retirement at age 66. The new costumes were fun. I loved the fact I could wear what I wanted. At thanksgiving I strutted around in a harvest themed sweater and turkey motif socks. Christmas sweaters multiplied in my closet. And a wild assortment of funky holiday socks appeared in my sock drawer. In the warmer months I could don sandals. I was in heaven.
My new costume fit the Vermont lifestyle of country casual, and even better, it was the costume that fit me best.