We’re stuck between 14 and 40

When I rifle through my closet, a certain ambivalence overtakes me when my hands hit these garments.

by Kate Nelson

My fashion past is rife with signs of conformity.

While I missed the midriff-bearing boat (mostly thanks to my parents, who I thought were overbearing at the time), I have committed my fair share of style sins.

Most glaringly, almost every piece of fabric I wore during my high school years bore some sexual innuendo. To make matters worse, the words were usually splayed across my backside.

Nowadays, when I rifle through my closet, a certain ambivalence overtakes me when my hands hit these garments.

First, I question why I wasted so much of my parents’ hard-earned money – and my days of economic freedom – hand-selecting this clothing.

Additionally, it’s almost painful to think that, if I were to give these shirts to Goodwill, I would be helping manifest a new generation of sexual innuendo bearers – a movement of which I am not prepared to be a part.

Worst of all, I can’t bring myself to wear them, so there in the dark corner of my closet they sit.

There are exceptions, however. When an item of clothing presents itself as useful, I can’t deny this.

Case in point: During my reign as a high school senior, I helped hatch the awe-inspiring idea to transfer this trend onto our volleyball team’s sweatpants – the rears, specifically. On the days I can convince myself to head to the gym, these sweatpants are what keep my lower half warm enough to get me there.

Until recently, I’d almost forgotten about the phrase that literally trails me every time I don these sweats. I was reminded in the worst way when, while striding through the halls of the tunnel system, a voice from behind uttered, “Dig this.”

I’m sure at that moment my face illustrated my simultaneous confusion and agitation. Realizing this was simply what my backside was declaring, I turned around to see a distinguished journalism teacher.

What I once wore with pride now brings flushed cheeks and feelings of embarrassment for my former and present self.

At times, measuring personal growth can be difficult. In other instances, it slaps you in the face – or is read from the seat of your pants. These sweats, it turns out, are a tangible means by which to gauge my maturation.

The insecurities of our college years often leave us questioning if we’ve really changed that much since our adolescence. After all, those who present themselves as well-versed in the ways of the world are usually berated as being too big for their britches. We’re stuck in an inevitable limbo between 14 and 40.

Though we’ve obviously got some steps to take before we can claim we’ve really tasted life, it’s useful to turn around and see the footprints behind us. Sure, we’re not there yet – wherever “there” is – but we’re certainly not standing still. And that thought is enough to keep me trudging down this path rather than throwing my hands up in the air.

As for my sweatpants, perhaps for graduation I’ll treat myself to a few new pairs – this time, bearing no words. I think I’ll call these my “big girl” pants, even if I’m still learning how to act the part.

Kate Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]