When I first came to Vermont I felt quite out of place, as if there was something radically different, something unsettling and out of kilter. It took a few weeks until I had an epiphany in a coffee shop. I suddenly realized that everyone in the store was wearing the same clothes. It was August and the people of my fair city were wearing loose shorts, sport sandals or sneakers and cool cotton shirts. All of them. Every last one of them. Oh sure, there were a few loose cotton sundresses, but basically all the material was cotton, all the colors were muted, and everyone looked ready to head out on a minute’s notice to go hike a green mountain. I was quietly appalled. For a moment I felt like I was living in The Land of The Living Dead.
“They’re all pod people,” I whispered to my friend. “You could freeze them, switch the clothing, and no one would look different.”
She tried to tell me that I was imagining things.
“No, no,” I said, “look at all these people. Ninety percent are wearing something khaki colored on the bottom half of their body and everyone is wearing something vegetable-dyed, with a few pieces of jewelry which could be described as ‘tribal,’ ‘ethnic,’ or ‘hand-made.’ I think they all went shopping at the same time at the same place.”
I was lost when I moved to Vermont where you can look at a person for hours and still have no way to classify them. That guy in the baggy khaki shorts and t-shirt and Tevas could be a lawyer, a high school student, a plumber, a doctor, a logger, a senator or a ski instructor. No way of knowing. A girl of 6, young woman of 17, woman of 35 and older lady of 78 all wear the same shapeless, teal-green dress in different sizes.
I think this is supposed to be a good thing – very in keeping with the American ideals of democracy and equality. How practical. How egalitarian. And how convenient. I don’t have to spend ten minutes every morning getting my eye shadow on perfect. No need to worry if my socks match, if I have worn the same outfit two days in row, or if my hair looks like something small and furry nested in it.
No one in Vermont will ever tell me that my nylons are too dark or that maybe I should pluck my eyebrows or get a back peel. People are polite, refraining from any negative comments and judgements about one’s apparel and everyone wears what they want in peace, comfort and harmony.
But I find it rather depressing; people here are all a blur, a lump of indistinguishable humanity. There’s no joy in going to a coffee shop here. You sit for an hour and it’s just a stream of (in winter) beings in jeans, flannel shirts and boots and (in summer) baggy khaki shorts and t-shirts. No one appears in gold lamé or a feather boas, no skirts made from six shades of Belgium lace, no differentiating between 18 and 22 caret gold bracelets or wondering what kind of perfume it is you’re smelling. No trying to guess if that particular style of wrapping a sari indicates Northern or Southern India. In fact, no saris, no hoop skirts, no dhobes, none of those little capes that Iranian women wear. No transparent, cream silk harem pants or Italian shoes with what look like large spiders glued to the toes. No mystery.
It’s as if everyone here goes to the same school with a strict dress code. Thou shall not wear bias-cut, emerald-green velvet dresses; thou shall not wear royal blue Eton-collared shirts with onyx cuff-links. Thou shalt not walk down Montpelier’s Main Street in lime-green linen pants, a silk-lined cobalt blazer and a boater.
Is it a life truly lived if one doesn’t have a tiara on now and then?