Hey teachers, leave my pants alone

Two things came together in the past week that have had me thinking about what I wear, and what it says, and if I care.

First, there was the news out of — where else — Florida, that a school board was considering a dress code for parents. As of last night that idea was (s)quashed like a palmetto bug, and rightly so.

And then there was a scene from this week’s episode of Mad Men, which NPR described perfectly:

“We saw a scruffy, robe-wearing, boozing Don put on his full Don Draper drag, from hair to tie to shoes, just to briefly greet Dawn at the door. She knows he’s not working, so he’s not literally trying to fool her, but it was fascinating to see Don trying so hard to maintain the illusion of his status to an audience consisting solely of his black secretary, whom he appears to trust a great deal, meaning it probably really was for her benefit, and not to avoid gossip. That gussying-up process demonstrated a strange, twisted respect for her — and concern over what she thinks — to which it would probably be hard for him to admit.”

Both items — one a flawed proposition, the other a touching anachronism — shine a light on what passes for acceptable dress these days. As you probably know, my own standards are lax, bordering on lazy.

I’ve edited articles that have appeared in major Canadian magazines, while wearing jeans that I pulled out of the laundry basket (and not the post-dryer one that smells like a country meadow). I once gave a telephone radio interview in boxers and a bra (had to turn off the air conditioning during the call). I’ve written a speech — while wearing yoga pants — that was read in the House of Commons. I’ve done some decent work while decidedly dressed down is what I’m getting at.

Remember: I work from home, which obviously affords a certain level of casuality*. So I’m not at all exaggerating when I say that if I was expected to dress more formally for school drop-off or pick-up, I would need to buy an entire new wardrobe to do so. I think we’ve established that that’s not going to happen.

Also remember: my son’s teacher wears leggings and Keds pretty much every day. And why not? It’s pretty much the perfect uniform for the standing-sitting-running-jumping-bending-lifting-rolling-squatting job that is educating 30 four-, five- and six-year-olds all day.

A bigger concern for me — far greater than impressing a school official or keeping up with the less sartorially challenged neighbours — is the example I’m setting for my kids. And what do I teach them when I pull on the same pair of ratty jeans or flour-burnished yoga pants?

I teach them that the person inside is more interesting, more intelligent, more engaged and more important than the clothes on the outside. They know that to be true, because we pushed off doing laundry in favour of playing outside. We read books together instead of going shopping together. The flour on my pants says, “We made pizza last night, remember? That was fun. Let’s do it again.”

Would I act differently if I had a full-time office job? Or a friend/colleague like Dawn who could hold me to account? I’ll only admit to “probably,” though we all know the answer is “yes.”

But that’s a worry for another day. Today, the only dress codes that apply are for bathing (no clothes) and tea parties (tiaras mandatory). Works for me.

* Not a real word. Let’s add “invented a new word” to my list of Great Things Accomplished While Dressed Inappropriately.

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