Suits of Armor

During our Covid-19 Isolating-at-Home time, many of us have been cleaning. Clearing out the old junk. Or even full-on purging some aspects of our lives.

Maybe we are not working so much and getting bored. Or perhaps we have developed a deepened understanding of the true meaning of certain objects in our lives versus others (à la Marie Kondo). In some cases, we even just begin to recognize that seedling of shame at how junky and random our homes are looking, and in imagining that other people might come over again someday we decide to spruce up our lives in some (any) small way.

So I have been fussing around my home these past two months. We rearranged some furniture. I finally downsized old college textbooks that haven’t been touched in decades - still quite painful to do surprisingly. And, I went through my closet. Again.

The clothes have been a common issue for me lately regardless of quarantine boredom. I’ve changed sizes and lifestyles in recent years. And I found that I’ve changed attitudes as well. That’s probably the most important part.

But no matter how many full-to-bursting plastic bags left this house, there has been one item I couldn’t get rid of. A sweet little white suit - pencil skirt with fitted jacket. Professional, crisp, elegant, fun. And I’m super confident that I will never wear it again.

I left the corporate world over four years ago. And while I still have occasion (more so before the shutdown) to dress professionally and appear pulled together in public, I have realized that the dress suit is not the look I need or want anymore. So why can’t I get rid of it?

First, I was never looking for a suit. My job didn’t expect that level of dress. I had been, however, looking for a white skirt. A summer alternative to the multitudes of gray, brown and black pieces I had accumulated. I had been given a gift card and decided to have some fun spicing up my wardrobe. The suit contained the skirt that looked and felt the best. So when I bought it, the experience was a fun surprise. Silliness.

Next, the important factors were that I felt the need to wear the jacket occasionally as it would be a waste not to, and also that I thought I looked damn good in that outfit. So I showed up to work one day in full regalia, so to speak. Fun, confident, smart, focused.

And that inaugural day all hell broke loose. A problem occurred and heads swiveled to me - to solve it! Almost immediately. Big problem - surely the woman in the power suit can fix this. I was neck deep in responsibility and stress. I even joked that same day to my boss that I never should have worn the damn white suit. I had looked way too competent and reliable all dressed up like that.

After that first day, I continued to wear the suit quite a bit. That big problem? It got resolved. As did many others in the following two years. And I continued to look good and feel good in that suit. Then I left that job. It didn’t feel as good to be doing that work anymore. And the suit, which represented that lifestyle, got tucked away in the shadows of my closet.

So why keep it four more years? Well, I’ve just recently realized - in the quiet contemplation of pandemic solitude - that the power suit had become a suit of armor for me. Have you noticed how I’ve used the words confident and fun repeatedly? Who doesn’t want to feel that way from time to time? And lately as I venture into unknown territories professionally, I could use as many easy sources of confidence and fun as I can find. Even if I don’t wear it, by looking at it maybe I can remember how good I once was at something? But by holding on to that symbol of past success, I was creating a sense of scarcity that it will ever be mine again.

What had been my power was now weighing me down. Wearing the suit gave me a little boost on days when I needed stronger foundations. A “fake it til you make it” aspect. But as memories and feelings and associations layered upon the physical fabric, it had evolved into a burden. Once supportive and protective, now restrictive. What I really want is that feeling again. And the suit no longer provides it.

So I know I can give it up now. I’ll never wear it again or feel positive things when I look at it. Someone else deserves to feel that thrill of confidence and fun as she tries it on for the first time. And I realize also that the suit has performed it’s final job for me. It has shown me to look more closely at all the “suits” I hang onto in my life. Which ones are really providing me the feelings I need and want right now? Are there other objects or habits or attitudes that don’t work for me anymore? What has devolved from an inspiring power suit to a cumbersome suit of armor?