TCS Daily

Dressing Down

By Eileen Ciesla - December 27, 2007 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Every morning, I first check the weather. 55 today, feels like 54. That's seven degrees warmer than it was yesterday. Also, 30 degrees colder than my native Miami. "It's warm today," I reason, "I'll wear long pants when it's cold." Press hands to window; it's not so bad.

Only when I hit the Metro, 15 minutes later, is it clear my Miami upbringing has left me woefully unprepared for winter. My pink skirt, bare legs, and scarf-in-lieu-of-jacket bob conspicuously in a sea of ascetic black coats. No one wears pink in the winter, it seems.

I wish that today's poor decision making were an isolated incident. Did I say woefully unprepared? Last week, as I knelt trading heels for flip flops, a fellow Floridian winked at me over her own flops. Floridians are a resilient people. Instinct would dictate that those raised in perma-thaw would be more sensitive to our first in the frosty north. In fact, in Miami we learn to ignore any temperature below 70 degrees. 65, you say? That means 80 in the sun. 35? Bienvenidos a Miami - 35 Celcius is perfect for the beach.

It's not that I enjoy being cold. I'm sacrificing my own comfort for the greater good: fashion statement. Dress warmly if that's what floats your boat. But here, in the capital of the free world, why does everyone so willingly enslave themselves in black wool as soon as the calendar strikes November? The very same women who once competed for attention with loud quilted purses and critter-stamped pants now trudge clad in shapeless, colorless outerwear. Toasty, I'm sure. But how boring!

Perhaps the Mason-Dixon line runs deep in fashion. Would the industrialized North have had a greater adversary if Southerners weren't so busy matching belt to shoes to season? I am no anti-feminist, donning pink frills and seeking sisters. My question is: when did creative living and creative dressing become mutually exclusive? Sure, sometimes it still feels like a man's world. But black wool isn't the key to respect. Speak softly, but carry red lipstick. It's our power tie, ladies.

I am new in town, a first-year law student trying to make it big. DC is fast, certain, conservative; quite different from hot, loud, lovely Miami. I love it here. But I cannot understand the utter lack of women. Females abound, but women are few and far between. Downtown feels a bit like a state college campus. Everyone pledges a sorority freshman year and sticks with it till graduation.

In one house, there are the actual sorority girls, the interns. Over here, we have the Suits, IMF divas sans makeup, in navy pinstripe. Hill chicks need no introduction, but they travel in gaggles, impossible to penetrate. Where are the role models for a future lawyer in heels? Women in Miami distinguish themselves from the girls with style, confidence, strut. Here girls work for free. Style just means you've found a job with a paycheck. Women - real women, the role models who have graduated from their sorority - either do not exist here, or have disappeared into black, shapeless cloaks.

Keep the composure, ladies. Let your ideas speak for themselves. But deferring your person to the point of invisibility accomplishes nothing. Why not break free of the stereotypes? What victory if you have sacrificed strut to accomplish it?

In Miami, fashion statements speak louder than they do here. After all, what does my shivering on the sidewalk really say? I am not calling for revolution. Nor do I claim fluency in the dialogue spoken here. I am new: SWF seeking role model. A woman who does not need to fit into a man-sized crack to hear her own voice.

Until I hear her roar, I will commit to being the change. If I am the only female conspicuously bright on imminent cold mornings, my plight will be that much more obvious. I will not pledge a sorority for life. I will not contribute to a homogenous workplace.

Women of DC, when you see one of your own bright among the black, see that as one more reminder to break the mold. No, red lipstick will not bring you respect. But really: What has black wool done for you lately?

Kathryn Ciano is a student at George Mason University Law School.


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