Books are a uniquely portable magic. ~ Stephen King

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wearing Hats on Planes

Memoir Monday

I don't know if this is a memoir, per se - but it dredges a lot of stuff up from the past, so I'm going to say it is. I told you my self-imposed guidelines were loose...

Wearing Hats on Planes

A few years back I was working in a career education program. I was usually out in the field, but on one particular day I was working at my desk finishing up some paperwork. As it is in most offices, my desk was located in a cubicle - privacy was an illusion. One of my co-workers was interviewing a young lady in a nearby cubicle. I couldn't see them, but I could hear every word. They were trying to figure out a career path for her, but they were having a hard time pinning something down. My co-worker tried, "When you picture yourself working, what do you see?"

"I'm not sure what I'm doing, but I know I'm carrying a briefcase and wearing a hat while flying somewhere."

I don't have any idea how my co-worker responded to that, because I had to remove myself from the situation before I laughed right out loud. This was an urban high school dropout and teen-aged mom of three. Her opportunities - at this stage of her life, at least - were limited. She had no idea what she wanted to do, but she wanted to wear a hat on an airplane. With a briefcase. No idea what sort of career to pursue, but a very clear idea of the image she wanted to portray.

I eventually got over my amusement and put some thought into it. When we're young and trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives, isn't 'looking the part' a big part of that process? We provide kids with tools and props and costumes so that they can 'try on' various careers when they're toddlers. They don't know a whole lot about what the jobs entail, but they know what someone looks like doing them. It's part of it. I wonder how many women in the sixties and seventies went into nursing for the foxy uniforms?

When my sister was young, her fondest dream was to be a window washer. This was back in the days when you pulled into a gas station and there were attendants who pumped your gas, checked your oil, and - yes - washed your windows. My sister thought they were awesome. She wore little coveralls and my parents at one point bought her a squeegee. (MAN I wish one of my kids wanted to be a window washer...) She had a little utility belt where she stored her squeegee and a squirt bottle - sometimes some rags, sometimes a walkie talkie, sometimes a canteen. Hey - I don't claim to know all the ins and outs of being a window washer. That's how they looked in her mind. "Yeah we've got a dirty window problem here on the East side. Roger that. Over." And off she'd run to save the world, one fingerprint smudged window at a time. My sister grew up and got an education and became a well-respected teacher. But her house and car still consistently sport damn clean windows. There just wasn't any money in following her heart.

When I was in high school, I had a part time job as a bank teller. Can I tell you how awesome that made me feel? Other kids my age were working in fast food and I was working in a bank. They wore hairnets and name tags and I wore what I considered to be very sharp business clothes and high heels. I felt like the shiz, no doubt. I loved running into people from school on the weekends who would ask, "Where are you going, all dressed up?" and I would respond, "I'm on my lunch break." They were usually exactly as impressed as I needed them to be.

When I left for college that fall, I had to look like I pictured a college student. My ankles took quite a beating, going from every day in heels to every day in topsiders, but as they said right around that very year, "it's not how you feel, it's how you look..." And I looked like a college student. Until it was time to student teach, of course. Then I looked like a teacher, or at least I looked like my perception of what a teacher should look like.

Now it's not so easy to tell what someone does for a living based on the clothes that they wear. Dress codes in most working environments have relaxed considerably. Uniforms, in the rare instances where they do still exist, are more casual and do not clearly delineate one worker from another in a given field.

That's good, I guess. But sometimes I miss nurses in white support hose and those weird folded hats. I definitely miss window washers. And sometimes I think I, too, would like to fly somewhere with a briefcase and a hat. What an exotic, important job the person who does that must have...


  1. Loved this!
    When I was a little girl, I told my mom I wanted to work at the bank when I grew up because there was air conditioning. But also, it was a small town with an old late 40s-era bank: shiny marble, terrazzo floors. Everyone wore suits, real suits. Nylons & heels that would click & clack as the secretaries whizzed past to their desks.
    I must say, it feels good to live the dream. Sometimes.

  2. I always wanted to be a teacher when I was little. Don't think I ever considered what teachers wore.

    Never did that but worked as an admin for 25 years in an office setting that had an implied dress code even if not written. And I always dressed for a better job. Not necessarily overdressed but heels, suits, dresses and it made me feel better about myself in what was really a dead-end job.

    Hate to sound like my mother, but when I see many young people today in situations which do require business attire, it is so painfully obvious they don't have a clue.

  3. For a brief time when I was a young girl I wanted to be a Nun. I probably wouldn't have been a very good one!! I really enjoyed this post!

  4. Haha. I'm pretty sure I wanted to be a window washer as well!! What was so fascinating about that to us now older folk?

    I also pictured myself as a young professional working at a magazine. With the whole pantsuit wardrobe, shoulder pads and all. (Remember the times). Oh, and a teacher too.

    But mostly I wanted to be a background dancer. Talk about job specific clothing. I will have to explain that sometime.

    I had an active imagination. sigh.

    What a great post.

  5. This post reminds me of when my oldest daughter was four years old and we visited a dairy farm with my Dad and Sandy. Katie stood there studying the cows and said quite seriously, "When I grow up I want to be a cow farmer and a princess". I'm pretty sure the princess part had to do with the clothes!