Maybe it’s leftover trauma from my mother’s overzealous attempts at appearing above our socioeconomic class with her myriad and sometimes arbitrary rules about our dress and overall physical appearance (reinforced, of course, with shame) but I have a lot of rules about clothes. And I’m going to tell you some.
I do not ordinarily wear black. I’m not really sure why this is but I just do not feel comfortable in it. It has sometimes been awkward with my boyfriend because his wardrobe is primarily black and, since that’s what he likes, he has been known to buy me black t-shirts that, to his credit, I really do like… but I never actually end up wearing them. I don’t think I can blame the avoidance of black apparel on my mom, but if I do wear any black, I absolutely cannot pair it with blue because it’s her voice in my head that I hear telling me I look like a bruise, (which, if you think about it, doesn’t technically make sense because while we tend to refer to bruises as “black and blue,” I think bruises are usually a lot of different colors and not sometimes not even any black or blue… but I digress.)
I also do not mix black and brown. So if I am wearing any black, I have to wear black shoes and a black belt. Sometimes khaki pants, although that feels iffy, but mainly black or gray pants. Or sometimes jeans because, while they are often blue, denim has a discrete category in my mind that transcends color for some reason. The more I actually articulate all these rules that have been swimming around in my head for as long as I can remember, the more I’m struck by how inconsistent they are. It’s like it’s more about the feelings and less about the actual rules… but the rules set the general parameters for what feels “right” which means they often aren’t as rigid as my inflexible thinking would prefer them to be.
When I get dressed, I think about what I can wear, head to toe, because everything has to match, including socks, underwear, and glasses. Then there are certain combinations that just go together for whatever reason, like a specific pair of glasses that I have to wear if I wear a certain shirt. Or a particular pair of socks I always wear with the same pair of underwear. And I know this last example is not rational because these are the least visible articles of clothing one can wear. Chances are, if these are ever out of sync, no one but me will even notice. And one might even be of the opinion that I, myself, would be likely to get distracted, forget, and eventually cease to notice, but I am almost 40 years old. That number of years is way too long for me to have consistently stuck to anyone’s rules without breaking them from time to time. And when I do break them, I always know. It’s persistently uncomfortable, even in moments when I’m not consciously thinking about it. It’s rattling around in my head, an underlying thrum, a constant challenge to just try and have a good day and accomplish anything even remotely productive at all, under the immense weight of feeling like something is wrong. It’s guilt and shame and self-consciousness and insecurity. Conversely, it feels really good when it is right, like when everything matches and I feel like I’m “in my power” and I am functioning like a complex machine with all these interdependent parts that fit snugly together and operate with perfect synchronicity. All becomes the same shade of glasses is in my shirt and undies and socks and my pants fit well and look cute and my shoes match my belt and my hair looks good and my beard looks good and my body feels like a comfortable place for me to exist. If a small investment like taking some time to make sure a few select sets of garments are always laundered together can give me all that, why not give myself that gift?
And I guess I can’t blame this one on mom either, but I match cups and straws, too. Do you want to hear about my cup collection? I bet you don’t, but now I’ve started, I have the compulsion to confess all these oddly specific balances I’m constantly straining to achieve but never acknowledging or speaking aloud, not even to my therapist, with whom I’ve specifically been trying to practice saying The Things I Don’t Want To Say. You know those thoughts and feelings that make you feel alienated and deficient and ashamed? The omg-if-anyone-found-out-about-this-everyone-would-think-I-was-so-strange-they’d-immediately-and-permanently-excise-me-from-their-lives-entirely thoughts? I’m trying to tell him those ones. (But I guess not this, though technically I sent him the link, so I guess kinda this… and now that I’m thinking about it these “anonymous” blogs have ALWAYS found me in real life somehow. Every time. So I do this know I’m potentially exposing this to everyone but that’s probably for the best.)
Before I came to terms with the fact that I only like drinking ice cold beverages, I used to make (and waste) a lot of hot coffee, which prompted me to start a collection of mugs, ranging from adorable, to witty, to fun shapes that are difficult to logistically drink out of. I’m a little disappointed if I think too much about the mugs that are shut up in my cabinets, not being drunk from or even seen and admired. But this isn’t about them. The tumblers I actually drink from have a lot of—you guessed it—rules.
For my coffee, which I absolutely overconsume, I have two Yeti tumblers I switch between because they keep my drinks coldest longest and they are big enough to fill completely with ice and still have enough room for an adequate dose of caffeine. I used to buy all these Starbucks tumblers because they came in a lot of cute colors and fun designs but over time the rules have evolved to prohibit drinking from plastic tumblers (or even metal ones with too-thin sides) except as a last resort. But I can’t get rid of them because I bought and collected them (and I think I like looking at them?) so, like their warm-beverage counterparts, even though I do not drink from them anymore, they continue to be moved from apartment to apartment taking up valuable kitchen storage space.
I also drink seltzer and water. For seltzer, I have a giant cup with a handle and a lid, and when I use it, I pair it with a straw selected to match my mood. And—oh my god—the straws! With each cup purchased, I’ve acquired at least one reusable straw, plus too many multi-packs bought and re-bought and re-bought again over the years because each iteration was slightly improved over the last and I can’t just get rid of the old ones because they are still functional, even though they don’t often get the opportunity, and so the collection grows. But the ones I do use are selected carefully based on a number of factors including my emotional state, the weather, the flavor of seltzer, the time of year, etc. And then there is the water, which I drink reluctantly and sporadically. Because most of my hydration happens at the gym, the vessel from which I drink is typically some sport design, usually CamelBak (because I have irrational brand loyalty,) though now I have a big fun metal one I got from Target that’s an off brand but I got it because it looked fun and I thought a fun cup would help me drink more water and so far I’m pretty pleased with it.
Then, on the rare occasion I opt for a beverage outside of the main three, I have a third Yeti Rambler I’ll use, which I don’t ever use for coffee because it was a gift and I don’t like the color. Or I have these heavy 20oz glass mugs from Ikea I was once committed to when my beverages consisted of more alcohol, back before Yeti hit the scene so hard and changed everything. Well. Everything cold tumbler-related, anyway.
Honestly, I could go on and on about this at length… like… longer than the length I’ve already gone on and on about it at this point… but I’ll stop. I don’t know why I have some of these rigid rules or why some are more rigid than others. Sometimes I think it’s autism. Sometimes I think it’s trauma. Sometimes I think it’s human. And on the rare occasion I’m capable of cognitive flexibility, I wonder if it’s a combination of all those and/or other theories I have yet to formulate. In any case, it feels good to have it all typed out and ready to be (relatively) public, like it holds less power now—less shame.
I think the more I can see these things as neutral, not good or bad or weird or off-putting, the more I can just accept the “rules” that make me feel good and figure out how to work around the ones that show up more as obstacles. And, special shout out to TikTok, (namely KC Davis,) for giving me the goal of function over moral judgment to work toward.