I have trouble dressing myself, especially for the winter, and I think the problem is my mother’s fault.
Don’t get me wrong: My mother is an excellent dresser. She teaches at a high school just south of Boca Raton, Fla., where the girls in her class consistently compliment her fashion sense. Undoubtedly, my mother is cooler than I am, but when it came to my first and definitive exposure to winter, she may have sacrificed bestowing her aesthetic sensibilities in favor of a more pragmatic approach to the cold.
When I was seven, my family relocated from Florida to Virginia at the start of winter. We moved back down South soon after (probably because of the winter), but not before the first big chill hit.
My mother is from Wisconsin; she knows the cold. But when she saw the first white flurries fall, matriarchal instinct kicked in. She put her game face on. “Come over here,” she said, flat voice and flat face. “We’re getting you dressed.”
Three coats, three pairs of socks, two pairs of sweatpants, a hat, gloves — I was ready not only for a mild Virginia winter, but for a nuclear winter. I resembled a crash test dummy more than a second-grader. Waddling out the door and down the street, unable to drop my arms or bend my knees, I was lucky I made it to school at all. Had I fallen, I would have been helpless, stranded, like a turtle on his back in the desert, groping aimlessly with his stubby digits.
Today, in the face of my closet, I feel just as hopeless. When presented with a stiff cold outside, I react the way my mother did 13 years ago: I layer without discretion. Sweatpants slide over jeans; a hat snugs over a sweater hood. On particularly chilly mornings I try to cram a third T-shirt over the undershirts I’ve already got on, creating a layer of cotton warmth under the two jackets that will hang on my shoulders unbuttoned. Who can blame me? It was how I was raised.
Every morning, I take a look in the mirror and justify my choices to myself. “Sure,” I say, “two Polo shirts are an acceptable combination if it’s cold enough,” or, “Guys wear leg warmers, right?”
But when I go outside, I see students from New York and Boston, accustomed and savvy to the weather, don black pea coats and scarves and move with as much confidence as their outfits convey. They look like experienced investment bankers, walking to a power lunch somewhere near Fifth and Central Park South.
I, on the other hand, feel like the homeless man on the park bench, wearing the clothes I found thrown out behind the Salvation Army.
But I’m not the only bum on campus. Every year, freshmen from Texas, California and similar states arrive and bear the first winter of their lives. And every year each of these students is forced to assemble and maintain a winter closet for the first time. Some ease into their new wardrobes as effortlessly as they flip the pages of their J.Crew catalogues. Others are not so adept. When I see a student wearing a worried look, red nose and cheeks and a jacket hanging open over a zipped coat, I know I’ve found someone like me, and I pity that person.
So I ask those of you who know how to dress for the cold, please, help those of us who are clearly struggling with the concept. Point out our mistakes, correct our poor choices, because without the steady hand of someone with a reliable fashion sense, we are bound to continue our misguided ways.
And don’t be worried about the person’s feelings. You are not being cruel, you are being helpful.
For instance, one summer afternoon I had the audacity to wear plaid shorts with a striped shirt. I approached a girl, confident my shorts would make her think that I’m hip, that I’m from California. She looked me up and down once and said, “No. Stripes with plaid? Go home and change. You’ve embarrassed us both.”
Although I may have felt hurt then, I am the stronger for it now. So if you see me, or anyone, sporting a misaligned hat, an inverted jacket or too many pairs of pants, please don’t just look away in shame. Help the unfortunate person. We’ll all be better for it in the end.
Jason Richey is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.