April 25, 2011


by Anna Lena Phillips

Each weekday, I go to work at an office. It is a nice office, a pleasant one with pleasant people, and it is more laid-back than many. Still there is the expectation that its occupants will dress in keeping with a vaguely defined set of conventions, tossed together under the name “business casual.”

No one says, in any practicable way, what this is; or, rather, there are so many definitions for it that we are each tasked with making it up as we go. I like looking cheerful, interesting, put together, or raveled at the edges in interesting ways. I appreciate seeing others dressed thusly. So I can get behind an approximate notion of what’s good to wear at work.

But it would be inefficient and perhaps wasteful to have two wardrobes. What works for the office, at least a lot of it, must work for the bike, and the bus ride, and the kitchen table to which I return.

For at night, in the evenings, or in the mornings if I can muster it, I write. My writing self is the self I dress for. The self on behalf of whom I do not wear flowy synthetic pants with cuffs at the bottom. Or blazers (and how I have tried, with the blazers). For whom I wear bright colors, black and white, stripes. The self who, prepared in this way to feel well and happy, cheers the poem on, if that is needed; or can be more easily forgotten, if that is what’s required.

And she wants—I want—some very particular things. Knows it is a privilege to have them, or to have the time to scheme about them. Desires, and feels thankful for:

Clothes that look as though they are acquainted with one another and like each other’s company.

Clothes that last and look good at various ages, wearing elegantly, as bodies can, as I wish mine to.

Red, jadeite green, warm purple.

Clothes that are made out of fibers of this world—cotton, linen, sometimes silk. Although I make exceptions for small amounts of spandex.

Clothes that are sturdy and durable, especially pants and skirts—ones I can go outside in. Because I do sometimes go outside. And come back in with pollen on my shoes and a stray leaf in my hair. And feel thankful that I work in a forgiving place, and a sparsely populated one.

Clothes that say person. Person who likes red and who is prepared for most things.

Ruffles, done well.

Shift, without penalty; shift as a condition of clothing myself: changing what colors I like best, changing my mind, changing outfits mid-Saturday-morning.

Electric blue, bright cool yellow.

Clothes that echo and appreciate the shape of my body, not badly approximate it or superimpose some other, less pleasing shape upon it.


Old dresses, cotton, fifties ones with the waist unashamedly defined, forties ones with elegant and practical side pockets, whose flower patterns seem sturdier and more true to me than the new, lazily drawn and quickly discarded ones.

Red shoes.

Sleeves that extend the full length of my arms, not leaving approximately one quarter of my arm, and my wrist, to flush with goose bumps at the slightest chill.

Clothes that transition well. An easy change into dancewear (pants under skirt; singlet under shirt).

Black and grey—safe, efficient, clear.

Clothes that are used—that might otherwise not be used anymore; that have aged well, or not much; that have character.

If they must be new, clothes made by people who are treated well—by people who can also feel happy in the clothes they wear.

Cardigans: plain white cotton; dusty red; black wool, slightly itchy.

Easily variable sizes; or, a range of clothing, all of which works and feels good to wear.

Clothes that have not been treated with petroleum-based chemicals, or, at the least, clothes from which the petroleum-based chemicals have been (I hope) washed out by a previous owner.

Shoes I can run in, or at least walk in, that will survive mud, that do not hurt.

A comfortable and capacious bag, which transitions from bike to walking with ease, which is pleasing to the eye, and which will not wear out any time soon.

Experiments—to take what doesn’t work, or might work, and make of it something that does work. (Says my partner: No wonder it takes you so long to get dressed! You have to cut your clothes up before you wear them.)


Spending little, lasting long.

Stripes, preferably in good primary colors on a white ground. (One week, I wore a different stripey shirt to work every day. I felt gleeful all week and into the next. And no stripe patrol appeared to say Enough!)

Integrity. Playfulness.

Clothes that say girl. Clothes that say boy. Clothes that say watch out.

Bio: Anna Lena Phillips's poems are forthcoming in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers and BlazeVOX. A two-time recipient of the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize for poetry, she lives in Piedmont North Carolina, where she writes, calls square dances, and plays oldtime banjo. Her most recent project, The Endearments, is documented at theendearments.wordpress.com.

No comments: