In the process of sorting out some boxes and looking for a specific science book, I stumbled upon my Toastmasters Speeches. I had written and delivered these speeches in 1996-1998. Amazing what I was thinking about then. One piece stood out as I am evaluating all that is in my closet and how to possibly part with some of my great thrift store finds….
Apply Your Skills – The Structure of a Suit
As a young child, I was never quite able to grasp why my grandmother insisted with vehemance that my jackets and coats have a lining – it seemed so odd in Southern California of all places- a place so warm that even wearing a jacket most of the year seemed out of place. Furthermore, what could my grandmother, a poor Russian Immigrant who left Russia with the clothes on her back, know about fashion sense or suits? She even saved the raggedy tattered coat she brought with her as a young girl – a coat in my mind that Goodwill would not accept (and maybe that is why she kept it in the back of the closet).
In college I began to buy suits- some for my part time job as a bank teller; some for my clinical hours in hospitals and doctors offices. In order for me to afford my first few suits, they had minimal or no lining. The suits were cheap and not well made, yet serviceable. Lined suits often cost double for some flimsy extra fabric. Not long after I began to wear suits – the corporate identity expression, I learned in a less than blatant manner that a suit in and of itself was not enough. You needed good suits of nice fabric and they should be lined. One could not afford to “look” shoddy if one wanted to get ahead.
To my naive surprise, I found that many people in any give business, both private and public were hired for looks and showmanship in the office – not ability. The bottom line tends to read something along budget or integrity. Around the time the reality of the working world was enveloping me, a very close college friend of mine, Elizabeth (Ms. Artistic and Savvy) took me on the ultimate thrift store venture in San Francisco. Her search was fo old and unique textiles, mine was to find exquisite lined suits at affordable prices so I would be able to elevate my perceived status. Towards afternoon, over lattes and fruit, Liz got into the finesse of why a well made suit had a lining.
Most suits used to be handmade and fitted to the individual. The tailor put in a lining for “presentation” purposes. It was pride. All of the exposed threads and seams were hidden behind the beauty of the lining. A lining symbolized money and good grooming. Somewhere over the year during industrialization it had been misconstrued that a suit beheld money and intelligence.
I unfortnately knew the truth – clothes make the person and can oftn cover many other asundry character flaws. When I graduated college, I put on suits and heels, nylons and make-up – all the falsehoods I could muster and went on interviews. After I began teaching, there are only a few rare occassions I recall wearing a suit – open house and some presentation somewhere on science curriculum I wrote.
I refused to sell out to convention and became a poster child for The Gap. What I had to offer the world was in my head and heart – it had no budget, furthermore there was no lined version. I taught science in jeans, khakis, t-shirts, button downs, Birkenstocks and wool ragg socks.
During the course of the past seven years, I have had the need to wear suits despite my disposition. Whenever possible I try to avoid mis-representing myself – especially with my clothing. I am exactly as I appear – nothing more, nothing less.
My suits all have linings and I still love thrift stores. Most of all , I favor suits from thrift stores. I know the substantive difference between a “suit” as a piece of clothing and the derogatory “suit” (noun) meaning a person who is dressed with little substance. I know money does not equal intelligence – especially in a world where suits are mass produced in set sizes.
Clothing is a shroud for the body – a soul needs to breathe. I remind myself to be wary of what lies beneath too much luster.
The one thing I did not learn until a few years ago was why suit linings were so significant to my grandmother – it had little to do with my context of suits, both worn and in the noun form for people. My great grandmother hand made my grandmothers coat. She hid three diamonds in the lining to buy passage for my grandmother to escape the Russian Revolution.
And so it goes, be it the lining of a coat or the silver in a cloud, there is a deeper meaning that portends to be less our perception and more our fragile faith.