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the cow dress

“I know what I’m about, son.”

- Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, dismissing his waiter at a diner for protesting that the breakfast platter he ordered is meant to serve twelve people

When I was in kindergarten, I wore my cow dress almost everyday. It was this white cotton frock with black splotches printed all over it, and it was magical. No one else in my class had anything like it. It was light and airy, but I discovered I could even wear it in cold weather with a turtleneck underneath. It was so comfortable. Some mornings my mom tried to talk me into something else. “How about this?” she’d ask, holding up a pink and purple sweatsuit or a teal paisley jumper. Her efforts were futile.

I grew out of my cow dress, but nothing really changed: I wanted to wear what I wanted to wear. I got stuck on this pair of sneakers in grade school (“my stinky companions,” I called them) and would find ways to recover them when my mom threw them away. In eighth grade, Mrs. Hanley was always stopping down in the middle of a lesson to request that I remove my earrings because they were against dress code. One time she whipped out some nail polish remover from her desk and made me remove my yellow polish at the front of the room. I remember the expression on her face during that particular episode; it was as if she wanted to shake me by the shoulders and say, “Why must you keep interrupting my class?!” I felt just as frustrated. I wanted to say, “Just let me wear what I feel like wearing!” Then I’d be back the next day trying to tuck green nails under the cuffs of some non-regulation sweater, hoping she wouldn’t notice, and we’d start all over.

I was so relieved to shed the uniform after eighth grade. At my public high school, Adidas Stan Smiths and that Tiffany dog tag necklace were all the rage… but I was sporting this pair of German clogs until there were holes in the toe and piling on the garage sale jewelry. I remember really vibing on this combination of a zip-up hoodie inside a denim jacket for a while, which one of my classmates began referring to as my “homeless person jacket.” She was wrong; it was very Jordan Catalano. For my 21st birthday, I wore a tutu (it was more of a pink tulle miniskirt), and an ex-boyfriend memorably dubbed it “heinous.” He was wrong too; I’m 110% certain it was adorable.

I’m not saying I haven’t worn things that I’ve regretted, but I can come up with about a dozen more examples from my life where I was discouraged or even shamed for wearing what I wore. It makes me think of that Australian news anchor who wore the same suit every day for a year to draw attention to the gender disparity in dress expectations at his workplace. I’ve never met a dress code I thought wasn't sexist. And those “worst dressed” lists after award shows make me cringe. What are people angling for, when they make negative comments about what girls and women wear? Are they just getting off on making someone else feel small? I say forget what anyone else says. Wear your cow dress everyday if you want.

Me trying my cow dress on again in 2014


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