Day 69: Thank God It’s Feet

On Monday morning around 8:30 while I was on the phone trying to reschedule a doctor’s appointment, and therefore not paying full attention, I foolishly agreed to get down from a high shelf in the younger’s room a large cardboard box in which we keep friends’ hand-me-downs that are as yet too big for the younger. By the time I had gotten off the phone, the younger was set on her ensemble for the first day back at preschool after spring break.

The ensemble consisted of cerise fleece pants over which she wore a rather too large Hawaiian print sundress topped off with a vaguely Nepalese looking hand-knitted hooded sweater. I’m trying to imagine how Vogue would describe it. [1]

Polynesian-Sherpa-norm-core chic?

The younger was extremely taken with the combination.

“Mama, I’m going to be the prettiest girl at my school because I’m wearing so many pretty things! Mama, are you amazed by me?”

“I am truly amazed.”

When we approached the school doors we saw another mother and preschooler arriving. This little girl was wearing skinny dark washed jeans and a dove-grey cable-knit sweater. She and the younger were a study in contrasts. As the skinny-jean clad preschooler and her skinny-jean clad mother walked by us I was waiting patiently for the younger to slide down the dirty sloping wall that she insists upon sliding down three times every day before school. I don’t bother protesting any more. It’s an established part of the routine.

After the third slide she looked not merely like an escapee from a bohemian band of travelers, but an escapee from an especially grubby bohemian band of travelers. But—and I’m probably just projecting here—grubby as she was, the skinny-jean-clad four-year old was gazing at her with a rather wistful expression.

Later that day, when I was reading The Blazing World in preparation for Tuesday’s seminar, I decided that the younger’s sartorial choices embodied the Empress of the Blazing World’s style credo:

“my Nature is such, that I had rather appear worse in Singularity, than better in the Mode.” The Empress seems to take after Cavendish herself, in this respect. Cavendish writes in her memoir, A True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life (1656), “I took great delight in attiring, fine dressing and fashions, especially such fashions as I did invent my self, not taking that pleasure in such fashions as was invented by others.” [2]

I, on the contrary, have not of late been particularly inventive when it comes to fashion. Indeed, I’ve adopted a minimal-effort-daily-work-uniform. It’s not exciting, but it is very easy. It consists of grey jeans (jeans that I bought probably about five months ago and have been wearing, without exaggeration, approximately five days a week since then); a T-shirt; and then—and this is the key—a jacket, most usually a black-and-white herringbone tweed blazer that I bought more than ten years ago but which is still in pretty good nick.

The blazer is a visual shorthand that I imagine communicates, “I am a Professor.” Such is my faith in the power of the blazer that I imagine that I could pretty much wear anything underneath it without distorting its communication of my authority and competence.

I borrowed this look from some of my male colleagues. True, a lot of them wear a collared shirt under their blazer, but I decided that that aspect could be eliminated, at least for a woman, without compromising the overall effect. [3] I believe that Prof. Serna has now adopted this uniform too. I highly recommend the uniform to anyone who does not want to spend time thinking about what to wear.

Often the T-shirt I choose to wear under the blazer is a ridiculous eighteenth-century philosophy T-shirt. Yes, that’s a genre of T-shirt. So far I have two Humes and a Leibniz. I’d like a Bishop Berkeley one that says esse est percipi but, extraordinarily, no-one has thought to manufacture such a T-shirt. Think of the untapped market! The other T-shirt I quite often wear (in fact I wore it to my seminar on Tuesday) is the T-shirt one of the freshmen in The History of Modern Thought class designed last year. There is a competition every year in this class (which I co-teach with several others) to design a T-shirt that in some way relates to the course. Last year I taught Robinson Crusoe and the winning design was a Robinson Crusoe reference. Here it is:

Note that I am, indeed, wearing my grey jeans. Also, I have feet.

Note that I am, indeed, wearing my grey jeans. Also, I have feet.

The joke will be obscure to anyone who has not recently read Robinson Crusoe, and so I’ll explain it: the joke is that the “Friday” in the Thank God It’s Friday acronym refers to the character Friday in the novel. The footprint refers to an iconic moment in the novel in which Crusoe discovers a single footprint on the beach and has a big freak out. We never find out who made the footprint (and it’s not likely that it was made by Friday), but the footprint nonetheless signifies the possible presence of others on the island, and Friday is, eventually, the incarnation of that mysterious Other.

So I actually wear this T-shirt all the time[4] And sometimes I forget that its meaning is not readily evident. A case in point was when I was wearing it in a local coffee shop a couple of months ago. I was sitting at a table working. I noticed a woman standing in the queue for coffee staring at me. I decided to pretend not to notice. Then she said something to me. I looked up and she said it again. It sounded like, “Da gaw isfee?” which I decided must mean something like, “The coffee, is good, yes?” in Ukrainian. I could tell from the intonation that she was asking a question. I decided to just smile and nod, and then went back to my work. But then she repeated, “Da gaw isfee?” and now when I looked up my smile was slightly pained because I could tell that she was not going to stop asking until I had answered her question. I smiled more broadly and nodded again. Then she pointed her finger at my chest with a jabbing motion. “Da gaw isfee?” she asked again, and suddenly, all at once, I realized that she was pointing my T-shirt and asking, in a completely generic American accent, “Thank God It’s Feet?”

I laughed and explained the reference.

But, actually, now, whenever I wear it, and sometimes even when I’m not wearing it, I think to myself, “Thank God It’s Feet.” Because, you know, feet. Thank God, right?


[1] You might not think it from the way I dress, but I regularly read both American and British Vogue thanks to my mother-in-law and Natalie, respectively, both of whom pass on their copies to me when they’re finished with them. My relationship to Vogue in general, and especially British Vogue, remains deeply conflicted. On the one hand, I love flipping through glossy pages and gazing, rapt, at the extravagant photo-shoots and the models, at once lush and angular. On the other hand, the heiress-to-page ratio is revolting… Just like it’s the cliché of every New Yorker essay that it will make some parenthetical reference to the author’s undergraduate days at Harvard, so it sometimes seems that any piece written in Vogue must allude to fond childhood memories of rifling through Mummy’s Chanel collection.

[2] See Paper Bodies: a Margaret Cavendish Reader ed. Sylvia Bowerbank and Sara Mendelson (Broadview, 2000), pp. 59-60.

[3] You see, men don’t have much else at their disposal other than shirt collars and ties to say, “I made an effort,” whereas I have shoes and lipstick. The entire point of lipstick, in my opinion, is to communicate, “I have made an effort.” Hang on, you might say, well if we meet for coffee, then, and you are not wearing lipstick, does that imply that you do not deem me to be worth the effort? Well, I’d reply, those are your words, not mine. I’d prefer to say that my not wearing lipstick, were I not to, on such an occasion as you mention, would be an indicator of the high esteem in which I hold you, knowing your general disdain for worldly vanity. Also, what’s the point of wearing lipstick only to transfer it to the edge of the cup from which you sip your coffee?

[4] I actually have several (like, maybe 10 or so) extras. If you would like one, let me know.


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