Some people are aware of everything, including their clothes, to the point that they can instantly pick out their generic solid-colored raincoat from among all others. There may be many like it, but that one is theirs.
My Partner is one of these people. He’s acutely aware of color shades and such minute (to me) details, even as he simultaneously sports a minimalist wardrobe of 5-7 pairs of solid-colored slacks and shirts that fit him comfortably that he buys in coordinating shades and wears repeatedly. He always recommends I go similarly minimalist, but I still fear the ever-present career double standard for women. Drawing overt attention by dressing outside the feminine norm feels too exposed and risky. It’s not as under the radar, unfortunately, for neurodiverse women to fully embrace comfort and simplicity over fashion, even if my diminishing numbers of spoons from various diagnoses have gradually pushed me in that direction out of necessity. Guides to minimalist female wardrobes still talk about wearing a small number of items in so many ways that it looks like a month’s worth of unique outfits. This implies that having a month’s worth of unique outfits is the norm. At that point, it seems easier to just own a full month’s worth than to add daily mental gymnastics to combine a much smaller number of pieces to look like more into my morning routine. Committing to the laundry to stretch fifteen items of clothing or some such into a month’s worth is also pretty daunting in and of itself.
I wish that I could buy a small set of slacks and shirts and just wear them repeatedly instead of having to Rube Goldberg them. The idea of a uniform as my “personal brand” is incredibly appealing. But – though I haven’t fully embraced the uniform idea – I have a few all-or-none clothing awareness items that matter to me. I am clueless about fashion, but I have meaningful criteria that help tamp down that panicky, overwhelmed ADHD choice paralysis whenever I have to go shopping. For instance, I picked out a new spring raincoat coat recently. The inner lining had to not feel “sticky” when the plastic touched my skin. I hate the sensation of sticky above all other sensations. It had to have pockets – which too many women’s clothing items don’t – and those pockets had to zip closed or anything I put in them would inevitably fall out and be forgotten. It had to be sufficiently waterproof that – if and when I inevitably left my umbrella somewhere – it could do a decent job without any umbrella adjunct, yet it also had to be lightweight enough to fold up and live permanently in my bag without hurting my EDS joints until needed. It also had to be a simple, solid color, because anything brash and “stylish” can’t be worn until it wears out without drawing attention. I’ve had these criteria for coats for years, so, by this point, I have learned to look first at North Face and Columbia Sportswear and only seek further if they don’t have anything suitable. The winter coat that I have had for almost a decade and probably could pick out from a lineup is by one of them. (I’d have to go look in my closet to remember which, though, so maybe that still says something!)*
I went to a conference last week that was close enough to commute by train and return after one overnight. The northeast has been receiving a lot of rain lately – enough that I remembered and needed both the raincoat stuffed in my bag and an umbrella just to be safe – and conference goers were universally soaked by the time they checked in at the front door. The conference did not, however, have a formal coat check. It only had a self-check rack with a sign stating not to leave anything valuable since it wasn’t manned.
I normally keep my coat and other items with me in such instances. If I see a line for a coat check at the end of the day, it will remind me of the little slip in my pocket and the fact that my coat is at the check as well. I won’t notice a self-check that people walk up to in ones and twos. Without even a coat-check sticker prominently stuck to – or used as a bookmark – on my conference program to remind me, there’s too much of a chance I’ll leave without my gear if the weather changes while I’m inside. (I’ve also lost enough conference programs during the program itself, because I have a gift, that the end-of-day line for a manned check is still a necessary backup reminder.) But, there was little I could do this time. I was soaked like the others, and I assume they’d have found it rude if I dripped on my neighbors in the cramped auditorium seating.
I thought I was incredibly proactive in handling my conundrum. My umbrella was a generic shade of dark navy, and my coat was too new to be confident I’d recognize it. So, I made sure to discretely snap a picture of the rack orientation of my coat and to loop my umbrella over the same hangar. Nobody else seemed to be doing this, presumably because this would allow their umbrella to drip onto the inside of their raincoat. They used the available shelf to stow their umbrellas. I thus figured I had plenty of memory aids to identify that coat I could remember so many specific minor details about but that I still wasn’t confident I could pick out of a lineup.
It probably would have worked, too. I waited long enough for the coats to dry then returned over lunch – before the rush of people at the end of the day – to retrieve my coat and umbrella before I could a) forget about them entirely or b) be thoroughly embarrassed by being caught staring intently at my visual aids to locate my stuff.
The coat rack looked nothing like it had in the morning. Some “helpful” person had straightened it up in the meantime. Every. Single. Umbrella – including mine by default – was neatly stacked onto the rack. Every umbrella looked exactly the same. There was no grey raincoat at the end I’d originally hung it. There were, however, four total grey raincoats in my size from North Face that had their trademark dry weave lining, zippered pockets, etc. I first discreetly rifled the pockets of all of them in case business cards, chapsticks, maxi pads or any others of the dribs and drabs that tend to accumulate in the pockets of women with ADHD could act as tell-tale markers. The pockets were all empty. My own coat was still too new for me to have had time to mindlessly collect.
The coats differed in their shade of grey, however, when I looked at them in the light. Thank goodness. The umbrella was much harder to identify until I finally remembered my current one had a push-button mechanism to launch it. Only one of the many identical-to-my-eyes dark navy specimens had an automatic feature. I found my stuff without being caught looking as lost as I felt, folded my coat up and stowed my items in my bag. At the end of the day, I put them on and got a lift to the station.
My Partner looked me over when I got home and said he liked my “replacement coat” for the one I’d lost on my trip better than my original. The “lighter shade of grey looked good with my hair.” FML. If my Partner could instantly tell it was a different coat, I guess I’m not as perceptive as even I thought I was. I trust his attention to detail. If he says it’s a different coat, it is a different coat…
How in the world do I attempt to call the organizers of a past conference and explain that I walked off with a similar – but apparently not nearly as similar as I thought – coat and didn’t realize it until someone else noticed? Is there even a mechanism to report lost and found, or was their blanket warning not to leave any items we couldn’t afford to lose on the coat rack tacit admission that my “borrowed” coat will remain my coat from now on? Is there any hope that the owner of that coat also can’t tell the difference and is even right now blissfully wearing mine, equivalently unaware of our switch?
I guess it’s time to start writing my name in my outerwear and assuming anyone examining my coats closely enough to see it would, like me, be grateful in the moment for any clear visual signal that the coat they are examining is not theirs.
For whatever it’s worth, though, my Partner-who-notices-everything did confirm that I successfully returned the same umbrella that I left with. I may be an unintentional coat thief, but I’m not an umbrella thief as well. That may be the fashion equivalent of shooting the sheriff, but not shooting the deputy, but I’ll take what I can get…
*P.S. – my winter coat is actually by Merrell. My Partner has one from Columbia. But, after asking him, my Partner at least confirmed my previous rain jacket was by Columbia and I was correct in my memory that the jacket that I unintentionally swapped really was by North Face. I had the brand of the real coat right, if not the color. And yes, for anyone wondering, I do force my Partner to come shopping with me. He’s much better at this than I am, even though he himself only ever wears slacks and shirts.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.