In New Orleans I bought purple suede shoes peppered with silver studs across the toes and, not surprisingly, in Nashville, I purchased blue suede pumps. I slid my feet, Cinderella-like, into their cushioned blue interiors, stood, took a few steps and twirled, the full skirt of my dress flaring. The clerk stared, only mildly startled and asked me “Are you an attorney?” Nashville lawyers, I thought, must be more colourful than the pin-striped, double-breasted esquires in Ottawa. In Dolly Parton’s home state, I pictured lawyers sashaying to the bench in untouchable blue suede shoes with matching satin pocket hankies. A spin at the bench seemed plausible.
My mother was a snappy dresser and I inherited her fondness for fashion. I studied photos of her from the early 1950’s, noting her big-city style before she married my father: peep toe high heels, fur collared jacket, below the knee pencil skirt, peplum jacket. And always ruby-red lipstick.
Emulating my mother, the first piece of clothing I bought for work was a bright red pencil skirt with a back kick-pleat. Even though the job was just for the summer and the skirt would later languish in my closet for 8 months when I went back to university, it made me feel grown up, like a real office worker. Or the office worker of my imagination, anyway. The reality was that summer I worked with mostly older women, whose colour palette was soothing shades of brown and cream, a popular combo in the 1970’s. I stood out like a yellow crocus in winter’s mulch. Even then, I had more in common with Dolly Parton and Nashville.
I hung on to those two pairs of shoes until a few years ago. My arches fell and they no longer fit, and my practical self said, “Give them away.” The purple ones were hard to let go because as I held them, I could taste the powdered sugar of hot Café du Monde beignets, hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and smell the industrial mud of the Mississippi River in December. I bought those shoes when I thought work was my purpose. I bought them before an infertility diagnosis and before my mother died. They were my younger, brighter self.
In preparation for retirement, I’ve cleaned out my closet. No high heels linger in the cupboard. Those went two years ago when the podiatrist wagged her finger at me and warned I’d walk myself crippled if I persisted with fashion over common sense. In their place are an assortment of comfortable flats, including some dark purple, suede oxfords, optimal for twirling with quirky knees and wonky hips. The slightly too tight skirts, dresses and jackets wait under the bed in bags to be donated or given to friends. All that remains are jeans, practical and classic black pants and skirt, and an assortment of blouses I’m not ready to part with yet.
I’m not sad about shedding these things. I knew I was ready to retire when I wasn’t excited about the nightly planning ritual of what to wear to work the next day. That wasn’t my only indicator, of course. Having to sedate myself every Sunday night with a hit of THC in edible gummy form was another hint. When the last spark of joy that work gave – sprucing up and strutting out the door – left, I asked myself “Do I want to be the old doll everyone wishes would go away? Did I want to be the woman in clunky black orthopedic shoes gallumphing down the hall singing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” off key?” No.
Although I didn’t know it was my last day in the office on March 12, I went out in style, wearing low-heeled blue indigo shoes. They sparkle, and I can still twirl, and that’s good.