Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Rat-Tail, Maine? Really?

One of my students has a rat-tail. No kidding.

This, among other things, concerns me. I'm not seeing any bright spots, fashion-wise, here in lower Maine. The mall in my town actually scares me. It has a Payless Shoe Store, a Sears, a Chinese restaurant, and a scrapbooking store. There is piped-in music (Christopher Cross and Michael Bolton) in the common walkways, but the stores are eerily silent. The place is lousy with power-walking senior citizens. They buzz by empty stores and little pagodas in that sell discounted perfume and sun catchers.

To call it a mall seems audacious. To call it a mall is to mock good shopping everywhere.

The closest decent mall is in Portland. On Saturday I drove down there and stood in Macy's for a few minutes, running my hands over shiny fabrics, smelling the new fall lines, listening to the thump of dance hall music coming from the MAC cosmetics counter. The luxury of all that was overwhelming.

So, there's no fashion up here, and there's apparently very little good sense or taste. When my rat-tailed student turned to exit class and I first saw the skinny whip of hair that trailed down the back of his black t-shirt I cringed. My hands itched to reach out, grab that snakey-looking thing and snip it right off. I wanted to ask him what possessed him, what made him think that a rope of hair dangling down from a modified mullet was a good look, a look for 2007, a look that would get him a woman or a job because, contrary to his belief, it would do approximately none of those things.

The girls here aren't any better. I'm not seeing any pop, any pizazz, any glitzy purses or earrings or shoes. Most of my colleagues seem resigned to neutrals, to soft clothes without any discernible cut. Most students show up wearing oversize t-shirts and jeans.

This is pretty different from the places I've been lately. When I was teaching in Minnesota, my classrooms were filled to the brim with itsy blond things with tight tops and those sequined purses that were all the rage a few semesters back. Those purses were awful, and I spent entirely too much time glaring at the stores that sold them in the Mall of America, but even their awfulness was something, some sort of trend or fashion.

My university in Buffalo drew a considerable section of its population from the Burroughs of New York, so my female students (and even a surprising number of male students) often sauntered into class looking glossy and lush, like they had just stepped out of a spread in Vogue.

Here in Maine there's less gloss and lush and more hardy and plain.

Maybe it's too early for me to be passing fashion judgment on Maine, or to be making assumptions, but it just seems that for a state that is so invested in all things Boston (see also: the Red Sox, the Bruins), there should be a bit more glamor here. We are, after all, only two hours from Boston, which is a big city, a big city that I imagine has a lot of fine places to shop.

I guess I'll just have to resign myself to being one of the only faculty members who clicks down the hall in high heels, who considers fabrics other than cotton when she dresses in the morning.

Once, one of my coworkers in Buffalo sighed when she heard me coming down the hall in my high-heeled boots. I was swinging my wool trench coat on my arm and reading an armful of campus mail. "You'll get tired of all that," she told me, gesturing to my shoes. It was possibly the saddest thing I'd ever heard. There she was, a big lump of frump, wearing slouchy pants and a shapeless shirt that went right up to her chin. She had pictures of cats on her coffee cup, on her wall, on her computer, on her door. It was clear that she'd given up years ago.

"Maybe," I said, smiling and unlocking my door. It was true--maybe I would get tired of waking up in the morning and actually caring about what I put on my body, but for now I was going to enjoy it.

So maybe I don't have as many options as I used to in Buffalo, or in Minnesota, where I lived for three years only a short distance from the mecca of all things shopping. I'll be fine with trips to Portland, to Bangor, maybe even across the state line and into New Hampshire. I'll be fine with looking at so much hardy, so much plain, just as long as this state keeps washing me in ocean air and keeps stocking me with an unending supply of Whoopie Pies, its most famous dessert.


Diana said...

What I would give for a trip to the Mall of America with you right now. I've been in a shopping-kind-of-mood, and I would benefit greatly from additional retail therapy.

On Friday night, I bought an especially skanky boobalicious shirt at Charlotte Rouse. I think you would approve.

Anskov said...

I miss you. :)

Jason said...

That's weird. Yesterday in my 11:00 Comp class we spent several minutes talking about mullets and rat-tails.

In Oklahoma, one of the alternate names for a mullet is the "Arkansas Waterfall." I think "Wisconsin Waterfall" works better.

Diana said...

Jess, there's an outlet mall in Freeport, which isn't too far from Bangor. I've been to it--it was at least ten or twelve years ago, but I remember it being pretty good. It's here:


Jean. said...

Maybe you can look at your fashion as a chance to set an example. While teaching, you will not only motivate students to write better, but at the end of the semester some former frump of a girl (instead of writing "she made me a good writter" on her student eval") will write: "she tawt me 2 dress really good--I love kitten heels and colorful scarves now."

And you will feel a sense of pride like no other.

And don't listen to cat-cup-lady. While there are days when you give your feet a rest from heels, the satisfaction of the click-down-the-hall will never die.

Kristin said...

Oh my god so it took me a long time to read this post and I am so horrified that I must seek solace in Nordstrom and Express later on today.

My sympathies on the "mall." My qualification for a mall: If it doesn't have a Victoria's Secret, then it is not a mall.

Hope you are good sweets...oh and I bought some GORGEOUS boots and thought of you!!:)