Dress for the Hell of It

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.

Newly single women tend to dress sexier, according to my colleagues. That may be true, but it’s not necessarily to catch a new man. It may be that the woman is dressing more “herself” than what her divorced or deceased mate wanted.

Working Through Grief

Several years ago, in my hometown church, an elderly widow was the brunt of scandal. It seems that her husband, a man known for his sharp tongue and controlling nature, died after a lengthy illness. Within six months, the woman had shed her frumpy wardrobe for bright colors. Her attitude changed, too, and she became outgoing, outspoken, and…happy. The town gossips just couldn’t believe it. How dare she! They tried to speculate on her love life, but the woman steadfastly refused to think about a romantic life. She also announced more than once—and even more scandalously than her attire—that she didn’t plan to have another man in her life ever.

The gossips and spectators missed the most important point. She had lived under her husband’s thumb for 50 years. He controlled what she wore, what she said, who she saw…almost every aspect of her life. And as soon as he was gone and she could “be herself,” the real woman came out into the world, all bright and shiny.

I’ve spent too many years in pinstripe suits, a feminization of my ex’s banker attire. For the first five years that we were together, the only thing we argued about was the way I dressed. To me, my clothes are another form of self-expression. I like bright colors and black and odd designs. I like loose and flowing. I like gypsy and Goth. I like leather and velvet and lace. When we were dating, my ex often accused me of wearing costumes rather than clothes. He wasn’t comfortable with people looking at me or with my clothes calling attention to me, even though my little red Pat Benatar-style jumpsuit had certainly caught his attention when we met (or perhaps for that very reason!). I finally gave in and started dressing conservatively, but with occasional fits of passion for wilder clothes over the years.

Now that I’m single again, I’ve found myself drawn to clothes that are similar to my favs in college. The big difference is, I’m no longer an anorexic 19-year-old. Clothes don’t fit me the same, which can be good or bad. I’m no longer a 32A, for one thing. That’s probably the biggest change. I never worried about low-cut blouses in college. Never had to. I spent 95% of my time bra-less in those days. Now I go low-cut and get surprised by the attention.

I shared lunch with one of my favorite artists, Jillian Pate, a few days back. Jillian’s always fun and always ready to shake things up a bit with her ultra-low-cut necklines, wild red hair, nose ring, and tattoos in this conservative Bible Belt town. Like me, she loves to challenge the status quo, but her decibel level’s higher than mine. She also likes to challenge new acquaintances and see if she can make them squirm or if they’re worthy of her friendship. My “test” was to endure—without flinching or shushing—a rather loud public conversation regarding female circumcision in Afghanistan while horrified restaurant patrons stared at us. But that’s just Jillian, booting people out of their comfort zones.

So it was in this same restaurant three years later that we both sat in low-cut blouses in a room full of men and were the center of attention. She’s used to it, relishes it even, but for me…the attention is even more unnerving than nodding and smiling through a diatribe on genital mutilation.