Coat in the Act

funny-Ironman-Tony-Stark-heart
<Image>: Captain America says to Ironman “Big man in a suit of armor…You take that away and what are you?” Tony Stark replies “Stark naked!” I have not seen Endgame yet, so this meme is not permission to spoil it!

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.

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Behind the Back Behavior

I feel betrayed. I’ve just learned for the first time about some truly “behind the back” behavior. I don’t mean anything from the 9th Circle of Hell, workplace bullying or even America’s President being a traitor – those are all sufficiently terrifying betrayals, but they are hardly newly discovered  – but rather something that has been quietly happening for years of which I’ve just become aware. Women, we’re all being badly betrayed…

By women’s clothing.

I’ve had to wear entirely too many dresses lately. Dresses are frustrating to begin with for spoonies, because they require things like making sure your legs are shaved every day, finding flat-toed shoes that look professional and cute (I do not have the ankle stability to wear heels), the ridiculousness and expense that is “dry cleaning,” inconsistent sizing between brands that make shopping take forever and fray the last ADHD nerve, having to buy special bras to wear with oddly shaped clothing styles, and sometimes wearing the modern-day torture device known as the “thong” under them.

They also all have zippers in the back. This has never phased me, but apparently only because I’m a mutant.

I finally pursued physical therapy for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome because it seems like, if I’m going to have to be on unpaid not-FMLA leave wearing traitorous dresses to traitorous meetings in the 9th Circle of Hell, I should also actually invest some energy into learning how not to dislocate my elbows or fall over because my ankle suddenly decides it needed to pop out orthogonally to my leg while I do so.

It took months to find a physical therapist who actually knows about EDS and who accepts my insurance. When I finally found one, the first thing he did was go through what “normal” range of motion is for most of my joints and to establish some limits beyond which I really shouldn’t be moving them to ensure my funny bone stays connected to the rest of my bones.  He will work with me throughout my not-FMLA, including designing a home program I can continue anywhere, including in the 9th Circle of Hell.

It took me until after the session to crystalize what was nagging at me about my “hyperextended” range of motion behind my back. If what I am capable of is “too much,” then how do non-mutant women ever zip up their dresses?!

I have never met a dress I couldn’t zip on my own, which is a good thing because my Partner is the first human I’ve been able to live with. I finagled my way into a single room in my sophomore year of college, and I never looked back. I am not good at having strangers in my personal living space. (Heck, it even took about four months to get used to living with my Partner.) In all that time, I have worn dresses to various functions. Now, suddenly, I’m told that the way I zip them is actually hyperextending most of my arm joints. What’s the alternative? For now, it’s asking my Partner to zip me up.

He is more than willing. (Though being a funny bonehead himself, he happily reminded me that he only has to own a handful of sports jackets, five pairs of similarly colored dress slacks, two colors of dress shoes and two suits to complete the male professional wardrobe as he agreed.) But, it made me wonder how single women without Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome handle zippers in the back of their dresses? If I’m understanding my physical therapist – and my Partner – correctly, most humans can’t zip up a zipper that extends the entire length of a dress from butt to neck on their own? I legitimately never knew this.

A brief internet search suggests this to be true. There are even devices made for single women to help them zip up their own dresses? Women, why do we stand for this? Women’s fashion is cruel and unusual punishment in so many ways, but it’s a special level of betrayal that a staple of women’s fashion for “coupley” events like weddings and first dates requires expensive contraptions for a single woman to put on. Or, that a woman could conceivably make the C-suite all by herself but still need to ask her significant other to help her get dressed for it in the morning?

There are other places that designers could put zippers. I’ve seen dresses with zippers up the side or no zippers at all. Yet, the vast majority of my dresses have had zippers straight up the back that require a range of motion that is “beyond normal” for humans. Why are women such masochists for “fashion”?  Can we all agree now that owning a twenty-piece professional wardrobe like my Partner makes much more financial and physical sense, especially for spoonie women? Can we agree to some women’s code wherein we all don’t purchase clothing that requires special equipment to put on?

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a minimalist wardrobe for some time, but “minimalism” for women still requires being creative so that the same small number of clothing items are worn in continuously inventive ways that look like they are many more items. That takes creative commitment for which I don’t have the mental energy. Owning fewer clothing items additionally means more of that most feared task for anyone with ADHD: laundry. Laundry is the bane of the ADHD existence. I can’t quite embrace minimalism simply because of its laundry commitment. However, I am now seriously considering boycotting dresses with zippers up the back. I trust my Partner to always be there to give me a “hand up,” but I resent that some designer I’ve never met could force me into a situation wherein I have to either spend additional money or rely on others. I’m not scratching their backs with any more of my money unless they scratch my back and make their clothes fit within my new “pretending not to be a mutant” human lifestyle.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

Lack of Selfiesteem

I love winter because I can plausibly claim scarves as a fashion accessory. I don’t have to face the overwhelm that is shopping with ADHD or planning coherent outfits in the morning with low blood pressure. I can wear seemingly infinite permutations of plain black or brown work pants, button-down blouses and vaguely stylish scarves that I can buy from the comfort of my computer. If I could wear scarves indoors year round, I might actually have a viable personal brand!

We were spared the brunt of a full nor’easter, but we did still have snow on the ground this week. With temperatures hovering around freezing in the first full week of Spring, I’ve enjoyed the guilty pleasure of an extra week of wearing scarves instead of having to think about what I’m doing with my work attire.

Continue reading “Lack of Selfiesteem”