I woke up this morning a little sad—it happens sometimes. Then, as I was getting ready for work, I pulled on a sweater, and saw it had a stain. Front and center, two shades darker than the fabric around it, it seemed to be an oil stain, from a cooking mishap no doubt. The stain made me sadder, because I like the sweater very much, and because I had already donned the rest of my outfit, and this was my only sweater of appropriate weight, color and length to go with it. In my state of sadness, I couldn’t face re-strategizing the whole outfit, so I left the sweater on.
I thought about the stain on my sweater as I drove to work. I find that once I have a stain on your clothing, I spend more time thinking about the stain than the clothing itself. Things like fit and quality of fabric and all the things I love are still there, yet are somehow sublimated by the presence of a stain. The stain is shame, and to wear it to work is to put that shame on display—an almost unthinkable choice—I believe that most people would wear clothing that was ill-fitting or of lower quality before they would wear something with a stain. Although we forgive people who wear clothes with stains, we assume that they either a) acquired the stain during the day and have no other clothing options at their present location, or b) did not notice the stain that morning, but once they do will probably be appropriately mortified.
Why is this? After all, what does my stain say about me? Only that I like to cook with olive oil; that I have a zest and appetite for life; that I have lived, and enjoyed a good meal and I have the stain to prove it. My stain should be a positive thing.
But it’s not, really. I can rationalize all day about zest for life, but evidence of our appetites or experiences is not something to wear outwardly in society. Adults who wear stains with frequency are likely child-like or homeless—they are reminders of misfortune. For someone like me, a stain hints at excesses, sloppiness, or it reveals carelessness, lack of preparation in someway. Why was I unable to protect myself? Why didn’t I wear an apron? Why did I pour the oil in a manner so cavalier? People are kind, and they will assume it was an accident, a random event, no trick of my subconscious. I hope this is true. They credit my character and assume I would not expose them to the unsightly stain if I could help it. As I look in the mirror, then shrug and continue on my way, I know this to be untrue.
The truth is that I was sad this morning, and I was tired, and I thought—what is the point of this exercise? Am I supposed to wear an unstained shirt so all the people will see it, and then assume ALL my clothes are clean, that I have no stains items at home, hanging in my closet? And am I supposed to see their clean clothes and think the same of them?
Fuck that, I thought, and wore my sweater with the stain. But still, I thought about it as I drove to work, and when I arrived, I held my purse in front of it as I crossed the lobby.