Eight Plaids A-Matching, Seven Leopard Prints Clashing (in a Good Way), Six Polkas Dotting, Five Stripes Colliding, Four Paisleys Swirling, Three Satins Glowing, Two Velvets Flowing, and One Red Silk Rose!

December 12, 2009

When I was eight years old my favorite outfit was a pair of turquoise bermuda shorts I wore with a white sleeveless blouse that had an elasticized ruffle around the neckline. It was designed to be worn off the shoulder to reveal a hint of something that would not arrive for several years. I remember standing in front of the mirror using socks to simulate chestage, stuffing them into my undershirt. Incidentally, undershirts, even the wifebeater kind little girls sometimes wear, are not a good combination with off-the-shoulder attire.

To accessorize this ensemble, I chose red espadrilles, canvas shoes with very  long laces that criss-crossed up my legs, tying with a bow just under the knees. Around my waist, I wrapped a long red scarf to achieve a cummerband effect, and on my shoulder—and sometimes in my hair when I could get it to stay with five or six bobby pins that made my head hurt—I wore a large red silk rose I liberated from my mother’s collection of fake flora, once an almost ubiquitous requisite of suit lapel and chapeau decor for the well-dressed woman. I felt fabulous. You may wonder why I am telling you this.

I am what some might consider a daring dresser because I have frankly never given a damn what anyone else was wearing. If I go out of town and forget my party clothes, I can go to a thrift store, spend an hour, and less than twenty dollars, and feel as well-dressed as anyone at the event. I shop my closet and assorted boxes and old suitcases that hold collections dating back to elementary school (I still have jewelry and scarves I bought then) every weekend to put together outfits for the next week. I am delighted when I can wear eight different plaids or seven versions of leopard print in the same outfit. While all of this might be called matchy-matchy by some, again, I just don’t give a damn. Matchy-matchy will be gone with the wind and I will still be wearing what I want. You are probably still wondering why I am telling you this.

I’ll quit stalling. I’m telling you this because I took a brief little test at the conference I attended last month. The “Sensory Patterns Questionnaire“ (adapted from Brown & Dunn, 2001) was derived from the work of W. Dunn (2007), whose book, Living Sensationally, Understanding Your Senses, provides the basis for the information that follows. By answering the questions, I was guided to insights into whether I am a seeker, an avoider, a sensor, or a bystander. I don’t like to take tests until I know a little bit about what I’m being tested for, so I read the accompanying handouts first.

Because of my personal preferences, my eyes were drawn immediately to the sections about “the clothes you wear“ in the characteristics provided for each type because I thought I could get an instantaneous take on which type is most like me by looking here first. The bystander, I read, spends little time on wardrobe, forgets accessories, and picks from lines of clothing that are dyed to match and coordinate each other (Note: all of this material is from a conference handout and comes, I am fairly certain, although it is not noted, from Dunn’s book). Garanimals® for adults is what this sounds like to me and this is definitely NOT me. Scratch bystander.

I turn next to avoider clothing. Such persons create same color outfits with few to no accessories at all, have a limited set of acceptable clothing items, and throw away wardrobe items after wearing them only once. Weirdly, they also have undergarments that they have never worn. This is definitely not me, although I do have undergarments that should be thrown away because I have probably worn them one too many times. Oh, yes, mother, I do have a safety-pinned bra strap although I promise that I am definitely planning to toss this unmentionable sometime soon. Scratch avoider.

Next comes the sensor and the clothing s/he wears starts to sound promising since this person is very picky about clothing choices. Yes. This is me. Things either go together or they do not, although the process of finding these “matches“ is quite serendipitous for me. I read on. The sensor has clothing items tailored to fit perfectly. Hmmmm. S/he probably does not use masking tape or safety pins to ensure a fit. Probably doesn’t roll up sleeves either. Or wear men’s clothing that may be a bit too big but has plenty of pockets to hold pens and 3×5 cards. This is sounding less and less like me. And then I read that this person chooses less flamboyant color schemes or solid colors. Meaning probably not multiple plaids or leopard prints. Sigh. Scratch sensor.

On to my final choice, seeker. It’s the last one I look at because I’d first glanced at the top category “how you feel about movement“ and discovered that the seeker selects extreme sports (bungy—sic—jumping, sky diving, etc.) and moves furniture frequently, among other things. I loathe and despise extreme sports and often wonder why people are so silly as to endanger their lives for a thrill. I get my thrills from scary movies and amusement park fun houses. And as for furniture? Here in The House of Stuff, once something finds its place, it stays there. I add to my decor, not move it around.

Ah, but the clothing of the seeker. This person selects many different textures, colors and has an idiosyncratic style and chooses bright colors and contrasts and selects various patterns when selecting an outfit. Now this one sounds like me. But nothing else does. Likes iPods, for example. I don’t own one. I don’t miss one. Likes loud concerts. No. I don’t. Enjoys the sounds of NASCAR, fireworks, gun shots, and other loud sounds. I can’t even stand the sound of the vacuum cleaner. My husband vacuums when I’m not at home. And then there’s the part about vacationing: the seeker likes it action-packed, rock-climbing, white water rafting, wine tasting (yuck!), and adventure. No, no, no, no, and no.

You are probably still wondering why I am telling you this. You cannot find the answers to who you are in a questionnaire of any kind that promises to reveal you to you. These guides can only prompt you to reflect on your complexity. Don’t pigeonhole yourself or let anyone else do so. Students who want to be successful and study in the right way are particularly vulnerable. Beware. Each of us is an idiosyncratic mixture of multiple types whose success depends on understanding how this mixture is affected by the context of a particular class or assignment and by the prior knowledge and skills we bring to the experience.

And incidentally, seeing what a person chooses to wear does not mean you understand what that person will like. At this gift-giving time of year, this is an important point to note. I have been the recipient of several festive sequined and rickracked and rhinestoned and ruffled and embroidered and tucked and ruched and glittered and froufroued and folderoled garments that were clearly chosen with quirky me in mind. As I opened these gifts, I was overwhelmed by two thoughts: how wonderful it was that these people tried so hard and how awful it was that I might actually have to wear the item at least once to show my appreciation. If only they’d given me a large red silk rose instead.

What do you like to wear and what do you think it says about you?

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.
• Gilda Radner


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