Fashion Sans Suits

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about confidence. Specifically, the outfits that make you feel the most confident. It’d be easy to say three-piece suits, but I actually dislike wearing them. They feel restrictive and bland at best; I’ve never understood their appeal. Is it because they’re form-fitting? They supposedly make you look like a million bucks – it’s amazing how much positive attention wearing a clean suit jacket can get you – but they just seem…boring. And uncomfortable; why can’t someone make a suit that feels good to wear? I can get away with going full-on Johnny Cash Man In Black-style with my suits, but that requires little effort and attention to detail. Even if I do go with other colors, I don’t want to look like every other suit-and-tie ensemble walking down the street. Shouldn’t we strive for more unique looks? Men’s formal fashion hasn’t changed much in the last century, which is something I wish more designers would further develop. Guys are capable of matching and contrasting colors and fabrics, you know.

Anyways.

I feel most confident wearing business casual. I’ve got a nice, comfortable pair of black loafers, which are polished enough for meetings and sturdy enough for long walks. Black, calf-high dress socks to match. The slacks are usually either black or dark brown, just long enough to keep everything covered if I cross my legs while sitting, but not so long I accidentally walk on the cuffs and shred them to pieces. If I’m traveling, they’ll be cargos. A belt with at least three or four notches of leeway, with simple silver buckle. A t-shirt for the first layer, preferably black, white, dark brown, or dark green. I usually have a forest green dress shirt over it; it complements my olive skin tone and brings out my eyes and hair color. I also have a burgundy cotton shirt that’s more flashy and better in the heat. Both are left untucked, with the first and last buttons left open. Whichever shirt I’m wearing, I’ll always have the sleeves rolled up. It’s a carryover from my early banking days; I worked with money hands-on, and didn’t want to get ink or sweat stains. Rolling them up keeps my body cooler while accentuating my arms and shoulders. If I have to wear a tie, I go with silk in a single shade;  loathe the loud, tacky designs sold in most stores. If it’s cold out, I don a black trench coat with a removable inner layer. If the weather warms up, I can just unzip the inner part and use the coat as a stylish windbreaker. Put on my glasses and let down my hair, and I’m ready to get my style on.

…Yeah, it’s not exactly a three-piece suit, but I like it. As much as we like to deny it, people do judge each other based on personal appearance. It’s funny getting reactions when I’m out and about. I get called “Miss” often. Stares and compliments from women are common, with a few rare catcalls. I get mistaken a librarian or professor, while others think I’m a businessman with a hippie streak. I occasionally get asked if I moonlight in a rock band, and what instruments I play. Others – including my coworkers! – think I look like a vampire or goth. I could probably pull that look off, come to think of it…But at least no one has said I look bad. They can believe whatever they want, but I make it look good.

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Mirror, Tell Me Something…

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about appearances. Basically, it’s about the discrepancy between the person you see in the mirror and the person you feel internally. That one’s kind of tricky, because it assumes that that you actually know the identity you’ve internalized. I don’t. At least, not completely. I’ve had to adopt and utilize so many personas over the years, that I’m not sure which one of them is real. Or more confusingly, maybe they’re all real, just different pieces of a larger whole. Like a jigsaw puzzle. And some of those pieces definitely don’t fit with what’s gazing back at me from the mirror.

The reflection in front of me is a 20-something somewhat androgynous fellow with olive skin. Could use a bit more sun. The build is above average at best; nowhere near an Adonis, but still in good shape. The age is hard to pin down; he looks young, but too serious and focused to be as such. He stares at me with dark brown eyes beneath a pair of black, thick-rimmed glasses. The eyes are intense and give off sense of utter awareness and mental calculation. There is no trace of a smile on his face, but he can fake one like a pro. His mannerisms and stances change fluidly; calm and relaxed (and maybe even seductive?) at one moment, sweet and pleasant the next, powerful and confident after that, and all-out vicious and terrifying when his buttons are pressed. His face is capable of surprising articulation, allowing him to silently glare, scowl, grin, and playfully mock with a few muscle movements. Two feet of curly, wavy hair spill down the back of his body, giving him either an air of either regality or wildness. He would not look out of place in a heavy metal band, or maybe Game of Thrones. It’s hard to tell if this reflection is just being haughty and aloof, or just in deep thought. Regardless, it’s easy to tell that he is a character, and will draw your attention the moment he steps in the room.

Appearances are so deceiving.

Part of the reason I grew out my hair was to mess with people’s expectations. I’ve never played in a band – let alone an instrument – in my life. I don’t even watch Game of Thrones! The long hair is just my way of muddling gender roles and refusing to let myself be victimized for it anymore. Apparently, I have the attitude to make it work. Heads turn and backs straighten when I enter a room. The hair is an indicator of confidence, something that doesn’t come so easily for me. I can pull off the regal, intimidating look, but I’m much more shy and quiet than that. It’s not so much about aloofness as it is oh no I have to talk to someone what do I say please no leave me alone. I’d rather be curled up with a book in something soft and comfy.  The shy/confidence thing is an ongoing paradox for me; I may not be amazing socially, but I’ve got an adventurous streak a mile wide. The only things that really match are the eyes. I’m fancy myself serious and scholarly, like professor or philosopher sans stuffiness. I’m always picking little details and observations, like some kind of cheap Sherlock Holmes ripoff. And while I may not smile much, anyone who’s had a good conversation or watched movies with me knows I will snark and mock with reckless abandon.

*Sigh* It’s such an incomplete self-perception. I need to learn more about who I really am.

Daily Prompt: Sink or Swim, Or: Canned Peas – College Education The Old-Fashioned Way

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about perseverance. As in, dealing with a seemingly overwhelming situation on your own. This one hits really close to home, because it’s been such a huge factor in my life. I’ve got several stories to use – that’s the disguised blessing of being a loner and growing up in a broken home as a latchkey kid – and one is even ongoing as I type this. Hint: it’s not fun being unemployed. I’ll get into that story later. But this time, I’ll focus on something a little bit older:

College.

Aside from all the academic aspects, your college years are normally associated with things like partying, socialization, and developing as a person. You’re backed up by your parents, you meet people, and you just might learn a life lesson or two along the way. For most people, this process of changing from a young adult to being ready for the “real world” is typically a slow but steady process.

For me, it was a headlong plunge.

I’ve always been a great student. With my grades, I could’ve gone straight into places like Berkeley or Stanford. But I didn’t have the money for it; I didn’t have a college fund growing up. When I applied for financial aid, I was turned down because my parents’ salaries at the time exceeded the application’s quota; there was the underlying assumption that they would help me. But they didn’t; since I already had saved up money from working part-time as a high schooler, I was expected to foot the bill myself. My mother even lost her job shortly after the application filing period ended. I could’ve applied for student loans, but even back then I was savvy enough to know that would come back to haunt me. Same with credit cards. Considering the current debt and student loan financial crises, I’m glad to know I made the right decision. Thus I did things the old-fashioned way: I just took on part-time jobs, saved up, and focused on my schooling. Let me repeat that more simply: I paid for my college tuition myself. Let that sink in for a minute.

For those of you that have parents that pay for your education, thank them. Profusely.

Do you have any inkling of how hard it holding down a full course-load and working enough part-time jobs to make ends meet? It’s excruciating. But it is doable. I discarded my goal of going straight to a university and took all my lower division coursework at a community college. It wasn’t prestigious, but it saved me thousands. I couldn’t afford a car, so I simply walked and took public transit. I had to throw myself into my studies and make it count, because I literally couldn’t afford to fail. I didn’t sleep much during those years; I’d stay up late putting finishing touches on papers, only to wake up four hours later to get ready for my morning commute. I learned how to study and work in trains and buses instead of libraries. You’d be surprised how comfortable a pillow a hard plastic seat can be. It didn’t matter. All I cared about was the next assignment, the next class, the next objective. The requirements for a university transfer were spelled out in plain black and white; all I had to do was finish everything.

It took me a bit longer than most kids, but I got it done. My transfer was finished, and I was finally off to the university to tackle my upper division coursework. My first few weeks on the new campus, I felt like some of kind of impersonator. I was surrounded by people with backgrounds far better off than mine. A good portion of them (and instructors, for that matter) already knew each other from previous classes. I had to dig in and get adjust to the new setting. Some of those early lectures – particularly Renaissance Lit and Shakespeare – were the most technically demanding courses I ever took. They were the most rewarding, too; I was always a huge bookworm, but my literary and philosophical repertoire skyrocketed. I devoured information as if I were starving. My writings and eagerness to learn made me become the professors’ favorite within weeks. It’s not because I curried favor, but because I tackled the work with a no-nonsense but laid-back attitude. I did extremely well in this environment, and it seemed that finally, finally I would be able to make it through okay.

But I wasn’t. Not yet.

After some time, I had a consultation with one of my professors. She was actually spearheading most of her department’s graduate program, and offered advice to anyone who asked. She took one glance at my transcript and said, very plainly, that I might not graduate on time. Not because of the grades – I was acing every class – but because I didn’t have nearly enough coursework done. The revelation was utterly gut-wrenching. Due to the way the university’s scheduling worked, I might’ve missed out on vital courses and had to wait a whole year to take them. She explained that I could still pull it off, but I’d have to really step up my game.

So I did.

I walked out of that office with the determination that I would graduate on time. Looking back, it was probably one of the defining moments of my adult life. I realized that I had let myself become complacent after I had transferred; I had gotten too comfortable in my element, and it was catching up with me. I cast away all distractions. What little time I spent with my hobbies was used to study. There were no relationships, no parties, nothing else. When it came time for the quarterly registration, I doubled my course-load without a second thought. As a result, I had to reduce my working time to only a single day a week. Can you imagine doing that? Just scraping by with tiny paycheck every too weeks? Carefully budgeting out every last cent? Eating out of cans for months because you can’t afford anything else? Paying tuition was like cutting off a limb. I watched my savings crumble like an old wall with each passing quarter. But I knew that I couldn’t give up. I had come too far. I needed to finish.

And I did.

Obtaining that degree was one of the most exhausting and fulfilling challenges in my entire life. Not from an academic standpoint, but from a logistical one. When I triumphantly walked across that stage in my cap and gown, my account was nearly empty. I had almost nothing left. But I didn’t have a single cent of debt to my name. I may have been broke, but I now know that I’m in a better financial situation than the millions of others mired in loans. It taught me the value of focusing on the important things, responsibility, and the understanding that your essential, practical needs will always trump desire. You’d be surprised how much you can learn to love canned peas and bread when it’s the only thing affordable. I’ve also come to realize that it broke me emotionally; I didn’t have a single relationship – romantic or otherwise – in those years. Compared to most people my age, I’m terribly maladjusted. I still feel ashamed and guilty whenever I want to buy something for myself. And that sense of responsibility can be crushing. I need to work on those.

But whenever I feel weak, I look back and realize how determined and capable I can be.

Daily Prompt: Fear Factor, Or: Rejection VS Individuality

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about fear. Namely, what do you fear. Don’t be fooled by anyone who claims to be fearless. They’re either covering up insecurity, a computer, or an alien. Maybe all three. Everyone has a fear; it’s one of the defining aspects of your humanity. It’s a natural, instinctual response your body has to perceived threats. It’s just a matter of exactly what it is. For me, it’s nothing tangible. I don’t fear death, the dark, insects, etc. I mentioned recently that my fear is living a meaningless existence. Life is inherently meaningless; it’s up to each individual to find their own meaning. Putting that into practice is not only hard, but scary as well. What do you do when the whole world is out there, and you don’t have a dream? The scope of it is downright terrifying.

While this kind of fear works well for philosophical discussion, this particular prompt calls for something a little less…overarching. So, how about something a bit more intimate: Rejection. I’m not talking about the romantic kind; given the amount of barely-averted looks and flirts directed toward me, I wouldn’t have any problems…if I actually tried going with it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a textbook introvert. I’m really shy and I try to avoid being in large groups of people. Not because I necessarily despise them, but because interactions are tiring, and I never know what to say. Hey, let’s see you bring up the psychologically manipulative set designs of The Shining or the recurring themes in Haruki Murakami’s novels the next time you’re chatting a party. By all means, go ahead. All I get those confused stares, a request to speak up, or a lingering sense that I never should have opened my mouth in the first place. I get through it with a (hopefully) charming smile and heavy doses of sarcasm. A lot of people find it endearing. Others ask me what planet I’m from. I scramble for the quietest corner, take out the book I smuggled along with me, and leave my horribly awkward real world behind.

But why?

It’s a lot easier to close yourself off from what you fear. Since I dread rejection so much, then why bother interacting with people at all? Oh wait, that’s right! Social interaction is the core tenet of human civilization. Can’t get around that one, can I? Well, technically I can, but it’d cost me my sanity. Pretty sure that’s something you want to hang on to. So since shutting everyone out isn’t feasible, that means dealing with the fear in question. How exactly am I supposed to do that? That’s not a rhetorical question; I really don’t know. It’s been a part of me for as far back as I can remember. A lot of my elders were – and still are – religiously conservative. Look, I’m not going to start a debate about this. I have no problem with religion; some folks need something to believe in. But when you use religion to oppress and slaughter people who don’t share your views? Yeah, humanity doesn’t exactly have a spotless record. Now, imagine trying to be the model son raised by conservative, often absent parents. Sound difficult? Try doing that with an independent streak as big and deep as mine. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not very fun. I was the kind of kid who’d always ask the difficult questions, the one who wanted everything explained in non-sugarcoated detail. The phrase “Because I said so!” was never good enough for me, and I refused to accept excuses. Many adults found it irritating, and it hasn’t won me many fans in my adult life. There are some at my church who still won’t even look at me.

Well shucks, I’m so sorry that I can’t just play along. That must be such an inconvenience.

I’m not trying to be rebellious. I’m really not. I just need to experience the world on my own terms. New ideas and concepts are fascinating, but not necessarily feasible for me. My concern isn’t so much about religious beliefs, laws, structure, etc. The only thing that matters is if it works. And a lot of what does work for me doesn’t do so for the people in my personal and professional life. I’d been rejected, bullied, and dismissed so many times growing up that I learned to expect it. Trying to conform to others’ expectations left me an emotional wreck. I’ve let myself become less restrictive, though. My contempt for gender roles is probably the most noticeable result. I’ve got enough long, curly hair to resemble a young Robert Plant or Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook. I rock the androgynous look. A lot of women find it fascinating and ask me about it, but others just frown disapprovingly or assume I’m transgendered. I stopped caring years ago. If I’m in a suit, I’ll occasionally get asked if I moonlight in a heavy metal band. I’m one of the few people on either side of my family that actively reads and writes. People think I’m weird because I don’t spend my free time on Facebook, clinging to my phone, watching sports, or going bar-hopping. I don’t know anyone else my age that doesn’t drink. You try being the only sober person in at a party. Or how about hearing the phrase, “Why don’t you have a girlfriend?” Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s hard to trust people when you’re an outcast.

Just saying.

Gah, what a mess. I need to work on the self-confidence thing. How do I get over social phobia? There’s got to be a niche for me out there somewhere. If not, I’ll just have to carve out my own. That’s got to count for a little bit of courage, right?