“My goodness, I didn’t even recognize you!” declared our neighbor who sat astride her bike as V and I entered the resident parking garage. Failing to respond to my heartfelt ‘hello’ when our paths initially crossed, her reasoning now struck me as kinda odd. Not only have we lived across the courtyard from this woman for the last 6 years, I thought, but with V being a 6’4 brawny, white dude and I, a significantly smaller black chic with an afro, we’re kinda a one-off in the neighborhood (cough) entire town.
Who exactly did she think we were?
“I mean WOW,” she exclaimed, “you look soooooo chic!” as she peddled off hurriedly into the night.
Staring down at what I would classify as a fairly nondescript outfit consisting of jeans, a shirt, boots and a light coat, her comments left me a tad puzzled. While I think it fair to say that Germans (in general) tend to lean towards the fashionably casual with respect to dress, I was nevertheless sure it hardly stood out to the point of landing me in the realm of “German chic-dom.” Thinking that maybe the shadows of the garage had altered her perceptions of what I was wearing, V opted to chime in…
“Well, just think about what she normally sees us in, this likely looks downright chic to her in comparison.”
Bruised ego aside, I considered his words carefully. Doing an internal visual of my typical manner of dress while kicking around the neighborhood - which in all fairness, includes an abundance of escapades through the mud-ridden woods with our dog Rosa - what came to mind was nevertheless not pretty: baseball hat (check), 10-year-old down jacket (check), torn and muck splattered denim (thank-you-Rosa and check), hard-core, waterproof hiking boots (double check.) In making this quick assessment of my standard neighborhood attire, it was clear that my clothing choices had most definitely taken a detour since leaving Manhattan and landing in Mielenforst. And while I knew these truths to be self-evident long ago, it was now in the midst of this neighborly exchange that I was left to consider just how far down the fashion chain I had truly fallen.
Manhattan Mode Madness
The fashion scene of New York City is an impressive one in its own right but when you work in the actual industry, it’s a truly spectacular spectacle to behold. I spent well over a decade there, with the bulk of it working as a publicist for a well-regarded agency with a particular knack for all things fashion.
GZ was my boss at the agency and also did double time as my bestie. Expertly mentoring me through the finer points of agency life, his efforts also included periodic (and uninvited) insights with regards to my wardrobe. With such particular tastes, he simply couldn't help himself and sometimes it was necessary for us both to weigh in...
“Did you see X in the office yet?” asked GZ.
“No why, what’s up?” I asked.
“I could be wrong, but I think she is dressed in a ball gown today,” offered GZ.
Intrigued to say the least, GZ and I rounded the corner only to be met by the aforementioned colleague who fluttered past, cocooned in copious amounts of chiffon that billowed behind in her wake.
“Ball possibly… looks a little bridal if you ask me,” I replied back.
Now, to be clear, this kind of pageantry was not what I would call out as common place but there was nevertheless the expectation of keeping it all on a high note. We worked in a specific industry and charged with dressing the part. And dress the part I always attempt but assumed in the most dire of circumstances that function won out over fashion.
Winter Footwear Blues
“What are you wearing?” inquired GZ, who appeared before my desk exactly two minutes following my heroic battle through a ghastly winter storm in order to make it into the office.
“What are you talking about?” I mumbled, working diligently to reteach my frost bitten hands how to unlace my winter boots, while simultaneously understanding that my mouth could no longer form words thanks to the sub-zero temperatures raging outside.
“Those boots,” he pointedly clarified. “I mean honey, they are just terrible. You can’t possibly wear them here. This is a fashion agency.”
Is he kidding?
“Now listen, so we are clear, I am not wearing them here,” I explained, “I wore them to here. In case you didn’t notice, there is a blizzard taking place outside, and I needed something stable and warm to get back and forth to work in,” pulling from my bag the ‘wildly-impractical-for-winter-boots’ I planned to wear around the office and swinging them deliberately in front of his face.
GZ unimpressed, continued to stare distastefully at my new boots and shared some fairly colorful language with which to describe my choice in winter footwear. Cold, weary and beyond annoyed that the concept of “fashion” even mattered during an apocalyptic snowstorm, I gave GZ an eye roll as I half-heartedly listened to his ongoing concerns over my boots.
“Are we finished here?” I asked, tucking my winter clunkers under the desk and slipping into my office-appropriate footwear.
“Not if you intend to wear those boots in here again,” he said.
“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed, “so I can listen to THAT every time I walk into work? Not a chance my friend, not a chance.”
Regrettably I sent my wonderfully practical winter boots into early retirement that winter, only to spend its duration slip-sliding around in the aforementioned ‘wildly-impractical-for-winter-boots,’ silently willing myself to stay upright but prepared for the pleasure of giving GZ a heavy side-eye when he came to visit me in the hospital when I didn’t.
I just got back with V from walking Rosa. The weather is cold, wet and overall crappy - kinda like the clothes I just had on. And while my dog-walking outfit most assuredly won’t win me any fashion awards, my apparel choices were warm, practical AND thankfully managed to slip under the radar of the aforementioned neighbor aka fashion police.
Speaking of the fashion police, GZ came to visit me in Germany last year and got a taste of what life looks like for me these days. Despite the time which has passed since our days together in New York, I still did not have the heart to tell him that those boots he so detested came out of retirement years ago and found a fresh, new start here in Germany.
In fact, I am on my second pair.