Okay maybe not the world but at least a couple of lives. A few years ago, my best friend got sick of seeing me go to work in khakis and polo shirts. Seriously, I’m a science teacher – heels, dangling jewelry, skirts are a tough go when performing experiments. But I accepted the challenge to never wear the same outfit twice to work for the school year.
I said nothing about this challenge to anyone else – and yet at the end of week one – I got this comment, “Are you aware you haven’t worn the same outfit twice?” This was shocking for a few reasons – it had only been a week and it came from a male science teacher/football coach who was NOT a fashionista. I admitted he was right and told him about the challenge. He then took it upon himself to personally note if he felt I had broken the rules. I did have to explain that the rules were 180 different OUTFITS – I could wear the same pants as long as the outfit was significantly different overall. I didn’t know it was going to be such a serious competition.
What really shocked me came a few months into the challenge. One of my students was very upset for no apparent reason I could see. Being a high school teacher – I was used to emotions ruling the day of my kids – but I wasn’t ready for her response when I asked what was wrong. She said she was upset because she would never have the money I had to be able to buy all my really great outfits. My response I think shocked her even more. “I can’t afford all these clothes. Most of them are borrowed from a friend or they were gifts or purchased at garage sales.”
This opened up a line of conversation – with my philosophy being the goal is to look your best for the least amount of money. Anyone can spend thousands of dollars and look great – try doing it on a budget.
After this girls started coming up to me in the halls – kids I hadn’t ever taught – and showing me their new purse or shoes or whatever – I would tell them how beautiful the item was — and then they would wait for my question – “But what did you pay?” – then they would smile or giggle – “5 bucks” – and then I would share with them my secret of how “little” not how “much” I paid for something I wore.
This revelation that kids were literally paying attention to EVERYTHING about me brought joy and a little fear. I had been the poor kid in school – I bought my clothes off the triple clearance rack because if I didn’t I would have only one new outfit for the year. I learned to hide behind my jeans and tee shirts – my long hair, glasses and braces. It took a long time to get over the shame I felt because I mistook HAVING enough with BEING enough. It brought me joy to be able to show these girls that no matter the label on their clothes or the label someone else put on them – they were worthy and special — and no outfit — no matter how much it cost could change that.
As a teacher – there was that little bit of fear – that hundreds of kids a day were watching – listening – observing all that I did. I became more conscious of what I said – especially negative stuff about the few extra pounds or my big ears or whatever – I could no longer argue to myself that I was operating in bubble– 180 different outfits later – I had spent very little money – but mine and a few other lives were a whole lot richer for the experience.