“Cool outfit,” my coworker said casually as I waited for a turn at the copier.  “The kids really enjoy your style, no joke.”

And as my heart melted into an oozy pile of love, acceptance, and validation, I assessed what it is exactly that I am wearing today that elicited such a comment. 

Definitely the most distinctive piece I have on today is a skirt made for me a former student’s mother.  It’s light blue hand-dyed old-fashioned chenille (like the blankets your grandma always had on the beds), complete with fringe tickling my knees.  To battle off the winter chill, I also am sporting an off-white men’s long underwear-style Henley I picked up at a genuine “dry goods” store in the Federal Hill section of Providence as it was going out of business, paired with a lurid red Orlon acrylic cardigan picked up for $4.00 at a job-lot style store, intended for use with school uniforms.  It’s a child’s XL, so the cuffs of my Henley peek stylishly out from beneath.  I also have on candy-striped knee socks (a trend I will never let die), which I’m hoping tie together the whole outfit with their lifesaver’s colors.  On my feet are T-strap Doc Marten’s from the late 1990s. 

The kids enjoy my style.  Ha.  When I was in high school, we would often arrive a few minutes before school started, and we’d find ourselves killing time by walking the main hallway.  As the school was a 1960s circle, we could just keep walking round and round without too much effort, which was all our brains could handle at 7:00am anyhow.  On these walks, a particular friend would enjoy counting how many oblique stares my outfits would elicit as we rounded the school.  Whether it was the bright orange Pendleton wool pantsuit, or my dress made from 26 neckties, she never seemed to tire of entertainment at my expense.  At a conservative Minnesotan school where our limited shopping diversity meant the trends were specific (yellow Columbia coats, Winona knits mittens, brown Doc Marten’s oxfords, American Eagle tank tops), hideous (white socks with Birkenstocks) and rarely defied, I stuck out.  Sure, there was the ROTC guy who always wore army fatigues, and the Marilyn Manson girl with her sullen black clothing, chains, and heavy eye make-up, but then there was me, and very little variety beyond that.

Over the years, my initial inability to figure out even simple trends like bootleg jeans, waffle knit shirts, or Umbro shorts (I never knew what a Tretorn was until this year), has morphed into some sort of defying-the-mainstream identity.  I wish I could be proud, confident, and somewhat oblivious like Jerry Spinelli’s “Star Girl,” but I’ll settle for some respect of myself as an individual, as a “cool teacher.”  Or, at the very least, a dork-tastic teacher with some respect from some teenagers for my “cool outfits”.