Pictured above is one of my latest Syracuse University themed gear purchases (themed? stamped? branded?), a beany hat I wear that is perfect for cold spring days, with temps hereabouts varying between twenty-eight and seventy degrees. Snowflakes were falling as I began writing this piece last week. Walking the dog that day I had on my SU beanie, my SU stretch side-pocket leggings, and an SU fleece in bright-ass orange. Am I mad for SU or SU sports’ teams? No. Not at all. I did attend SU so my wearing this stuff is an authentic choice, I guess? People who – years after graduating – continue to organize tail gate parties or attend numerous alumni functions baffle me, as I don’t have that particular need, interest, identification or loyalty – whatever it is. I had to laugh as I exited the house because, here I am, decked out like a real fan, derived from the word fanatic. Fanatic. Which I am not, not about SU the institution, as a center of college sports, as my alma mater, or anything else.  

People love their tribes. I avoid them like the plague, generally, because belonging to any group, club, organization, what have you, feels like boxing myself in – and why the heck would I ever do that? One of my several recurring nightmares from childhood was that I was being buried alive, thanks largely to the film ‘Premature Burial’ staring Ray Milland, which I saw as a ten-year-old the week before Halloween. So, no, no, no boxes, please, and no tribal affiliations either. The only ‘tribes’ I claim are feminist and Democrat, and both of those are famously diverse, fractious and organized on a scattershot basis, just like the fractious Mueller fan-dam-ly from which I spring. Ah, the Muellers. What a bunch. What characters! What a – family.    

The real motivation behind all that SU gear? It simplifies my life. I don’t and never have cared all that much about clothes, don’t like shopping, therefore going on the SU Bookstore website and browsing among items for useful garments distills shopping down to a couple of clicks. Simple = good. And, orange is a great color, especially when walking on country roads in rural America, and if you’ve never read Stephen Kings account of so doing, I highly recommend it, and link it here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2000/06/19/on-impact )

Simple is good. ‘Men’s’ pants and shorts – which I have been buying and wearing for over forty years – are also good, mostly because unlike the vast majority of designed and marketed to women’s pants and shorts, they have great pockets. They’re also a lot more durable, literally built to last longer. Women want and need pockets; women want and need and deserve clothing that is durable. I also like to wear men’s boxers in summer as shorts because they’re capacious, 100% cotton for coolness, often in great colors, and they don’t ride up my hips or bum like “Ladies’ panties”, which I gave up in college. I choose comfort over all other concerns, and yes, of course, there are exceptions, although it’s been so long since I wore heels, the last time I did – for a wedding in May of 2022, it was an exercise in the power of mind over matter, and by matter, I mean mind over real live physical discomfort after about 4 hours of standing and walking around, most of it on stone floors. To think I once enjoyed – really enjoyed – those occasional events requiring a slip, pantyhose, and heels. Feh. I noticed one of the groom’s aunties had flats on, flats as in Converse low-rise sneakers, in a fabulous bright color. Genius. File under: Next Time.   

I know that two of my more glam adjacent girlfriends think I dress like a slob. They’re both in professions that require a heightened style of dress: high-end NYC real estate, and Southern California business consulting. I do as well, think that I’m a tad slob-o-don-y, but I love my practical, slob-o-don garb. I remember a woman I knew slightly, as a dog owner only, accosting me in Central Park ages ago, saying, “What are you wearing!?!” She was dressed to the nines, with full-on make-up at 6:30 a.m., which I assumed was for work and also, I suspect, because dog walks were famous for bringing about romances between dog owners. But whatever her thing was, I said, “It’s 6:30 in the morning. Why do you care?’ I was wearing, I recall exactly, men’s boxers and my favorite Fire Department tee-shirt – so soft, 100% cotton and nice and loose – in burgundy. And flip flops. Did I have a boob-sling on? Maybe. Maybe not. It was hotter than hot out, and again, comfort first, peeps. My best, best friends, including the glam adjacent, are my friends in part because even if their eyes pop slightly at my lack of sartorial panache, they know better than to comment, or try to fix what ain’t fucking broken. 

Clothing – the length or width of a skirt, the height and shape of a collar, neckline or sleeve – has been used to control, distract, hamper, and impoverish women since forever. The fashion industry, long dominated by male designers and owners while enriching mostly male stockholders, reflects our culture as a whole, and is not, in my opinion, very female forward, although that is changing, at a glacial pace, if you think glacial pre-global-warming era slow. Give. Us. Pockets.  

Still, I acknowledge that my own sense of ‘fashion’, my penchant for men’s trousers and SU garb, is not only because simple is good, but because my experience of clothes, and shopping, as a girl-child led me to take a route I might otherwise not have taken. Who knows; that winding country road has and continues to be traveled, but it began not far from where I sit today, in the house I lived in with my own special mother dearest. Perennially obese with a penchant for combining sweatshirt tops and pearls over black stretch-pants, she didn’t want to buy me clothes; she didn’t want to spend money on me, period, and, especially after I hit puberty, she just wouldn’t. Like the patriarchal culture we live in, momma used her power in the consumer clothing lane to control and punish me, attempting to make me into someone I was not: a pliable, compliant, super feminine girlie girl. It is worth noting that her definition of feminine meant not speaking unless spoken to, no interest in athletics or boys (unless they were Catholic), and no pursuits that weren’t centered on the home. That I loved being outdoors, and swimming, was a talented athlete in general was considered un-ladylike in the extreme by the woman who gave birth to me. My sisters were much more in her wheelhouse of what was appropriately feminine as they weren’t good at sports (I believe my older sister skipped gym class for all 4 years of high school), spent 99% of their time sequestered in their rooms rather than wandering and playing in the woods, which I did all the time. My eldest sister was given carte blanche when it came to spending money on clothes, which weirdly also included two wigs at one point. 

Thrift shopping, my mommy dearest work around, where I could spend my own, earned money, saved me, but I would never claim I was ever able to deck myself out as a result. I even occasionally have picked up perfectly good SU gear while thrifting. Not to mention a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress, made in Italy, the real thing, a slew of gorgeous cashmere scarves and sweaters, corduroys from L.L. Bean, Ralph Lauren, and Ann Taylor, Peck and Peck sweaters and made in Scotland wool skirts, sweaters and pants, items able to withstand the weather, weather like today, 40 degrees out and rainy. 

Clothes. Such fun. Ephemeral. Necessary. If ‘the clothes make the man’ (vestis virum facit), what do clothes do for or to women? Another endless subject, with so many sideroads, alleys and dead-end lanes, providing plenty of fodder for another day or days. Women are not decorative plates on the walls of men’s lives, or in the gaze of our families, culture, institutions and even other women. You don’t have to dress ‘like a girl’, in pink and pale blue or whatever ‘this year’s color’ is. One of my continual frustrations when I do go beyond my narrow on-line shopping lane is looking for the bold colors I love but getting fed a steady diet of ‘heather-ed’ pastels. Make it stop, please!!!! As writer and blogger Erin McKean wrote in 2006, a quote often mistakenly attributed to fashion icon Diana Vreeland, “You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.” 

Vestimenta sunt milier, which, translated from the Latin, means clothes are not the woman. My new motto? Perhaps.