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Shedding the past, skirt by skirt

 

I’m not the woman in this photo anymore. See me pushed up against the wall by men in suits, my hands crossed, pant-suit legs together, and note my totally resigned grin. See me now: sitting in my Word Sharpener study as a blizzard rages outside. Everything I’m wearing is waterproof. There’s no standing around when the winds are howling. I have a wood stove to keep going and a home to ensure remains tight against the weather.

Perhaps the most different thing about me is my smile. I’m not trying to keep up appearances for the U.S. Treasury Secretary or my then-boss, Strobe Talbott. I’m smiling now because I’m warm, and feel safe, even in nature’s grip. This is my fourth winter in Maine and, though I haven’t fully adjusted to its storms, life up here has bared me to the essentials.

I’ve packed away and given to others most of the clothes that I used to wear. I have no need for that formal, buttoned-up look, in pants or skirts that never really let me breathe easily or break out. My Washington, DC wardrobe is not even current anymore. And, yes, some of the pieces no longer fit. When I visit DC or other urban centers for professional reasons, I dress simply, in clothes that imply nothing but comfort and grace. There’s really nothing to prove anymore.

Even my meetings in the Old Executive Office Building warrant no more than a newly knitted sweater and shoes that can manage those steep Eisenhower-era steps. My chores there are less-than-public. I’m merely behind the scenes as a Word Sharpener. For my corporate clients, I pull out an old designer jacket with puffed shoulders that can cover all my loose garb. I like to think that people don’t look at how I dress anymore.

Same with my hair. There’s no more cute flip and gradual shaping. My hair gets braided when I kayak; yanked into a hat when I ski; and otherwise manages to climb below my neck as one more layer against the cold. One day I will cut it all off and let it go the gray of tarnished silver.

For now, I enjoy the collection of corduroys and ski wear that keeps me covered through the weather and takes me as easily to my frozen Sampson Cove as to the more sociable Narrow’s Tavern. I have no problem with closet space. The only real bulk in my wardrobe are all the sweaters that I keep knitting with local fibers. My love of color hasn’t dimmed at all.

I’ve shed the past in many ways. But in the most meaningless — how I dress — I can somehow look back and see how far I’ve come.

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