I’ve never really understood fashion.
I mean, I understand wanting to look good, and I get that clothes can affect how you feel. When I was tuxed up for Writers of the Future 13 years ago, I was amused to note how it affected my posture and manners. The leather jacket of infinite pockets I picked up a few years ago is something I’ve learned to associate with Jim-the-Writer, and helps me get into that mindset. (It’s exactly like Bruce Wayne’s psychological transformation when he dons his cape and cowl. I am Writing Batman!)
But in general, clothes are something to keep me warm and to avoid the social awkwardness of parading around naked. All I cared about was that they were comfortable and covered up what they were supposed to.
This wasn’t a big deal in elementary school. I could show up in hand-me-down pants 10 years out of style or turtlenecks and sweatervests, and nobody cared. My plastic-framed glasses let me read the chalkboard and avoid walking into walls, and that was what mattered.
Things changed in 6th grade. Suddenly my sneakers were wrong, my pants were wrong, my shirts were wrong, and my glasses were wrong. Some of the other kids spent a great deal of time and energy making sure I knew how much my look screamed “nerd.”
For the first time, I started to pay attention to what I wore. When I went clothes shopping, I looked for anything that would deflect attention. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was beginning to develop a sense of style based on a single goal: I wanted to be invisible.
A friend described it as the gray-man approach. If people were going to give me crap about how I dressed, how I talked, how I interacted with others, how much I read, and so on, then I would do my best to blend into the background and avoid notice.
When I picked out glasses, I followed the same strategy: I chose whatever was comfortable and least likely to attract attention. Simple designs, thin metal frames. Contact lenses for a while. For the most part, my style was all about the unobtrusive. Even in my thirties, I automatically avoided anything remotely close to the bulky plastic nerd-glasses of my youth.
I’m 38 years old now. I still don’t care about fashion (though I have nothing against those who do). But I was out shopping for new glasses a few weeks back, and something was different. Maybe it’s the antidepressants and therapy putting me in a different space. Maybe it’s being old enough that I finally don’t give a damn anymore. But as the woman who was helping me brought over a pile of frames similar to my old ones, they just struck me as boring.
So I asked, “What about something … different?”
She got an odd smile on her face and came back with another pile of frames to try on. Some didn’t work at all. And nothing in this pile was terribly subtle … yet I couldn’t bring myself to buy another damn pair of bland glasses.
I kept returning to a pair of plastic frames that looked much like the nerd-specs of my youth. I was torn. I even posted a picture to Twitter and got mixed reactions. A friend gave me a flat-out “No.” But I kept looking in that mirror.
The woman helping me said not everyone could make those frames work, but she thought I could.
I don’t think anyone’s ever said that to me before. That, in terms of style, I could make something work.
That little voice inside got louder, and I started to realize it was … not angry, but old and tired and defiant, asking, Who gives a shit what the other kids think?
My self-esteem is in pretty good shape these days. I have a healthy ego. (Perhaps too healthy, sometimes.) I feel good about who I am and what I’ve accomplished. And yet those voices from a quarter of a century ago were still whispering in the back of my brain. What’s up with that?
I write fantasy novels. I blog and socialize on the Internet. I go to science fiction conventions. I play Dungeons & Dragons and watch Avatar: The Last Airbender with my son. I built a LEGO Tardis and a customized Doctor Who minifig.
This is who I am.
I’m therefore dedicating this picture of me in the new glasses to every person, TV show, movie, and book that ever flung the word “nerd” at me like it was a bad thing.