I went shopping today, and ended up getting a pair of shoes in the sort of tan euro leather sneakery style I’ve been looking for in a while. I had hoped to pick up a bunch of spring stuff as well, but it just didn’t happen, because I’ve no clue what to wear in this place.
“This place” is Ottawa, and “this place” is e-smith, where I work.
Explaining why this is frustrating requires some background. The family business is a chain of men’s clothing stores in Ontario, carrying upmarket stuff from business casual through suits. So I’ve grown up with an awareness of style that’s probably a little more sensitive than your average man’s. I’ve also lived for the past seven years in Montreal, which I would put forth as the best-dressed city in North America.
As I put it to a friend the other day, in Montreal, shopping for clothes is frustrating because you know you can’t keep up. In Ottawa, it’s frustrating because there’s no incentive to try. Excluding the people that have to wear business dress — suits and the like — Ottawa residents really don’t invest much time in appearance. It’s just not a priority here like it is in Montreal. And the selection in the stores reflects that.
In Montreal, whenever I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with clothes or hair, I’d keep an eye out on the street and every now and again go “Hrm, I like that” or “Hm, that looks good on him”. I tried that here, and it just doesn’t happen.
And e-smith does not help at all. Sales dresses like you would expect sales to dress — Banana Republic and up, essentially — but it comes across as a uniform. A couple of programmers have sort of a student-urban-hip thing down pat, Rebecca has a great eclectic secondhand-and-leopard style, and Joe, one of the founders, has a great sense of personal style, but it’s a lot of cheap jeans and logo T-shirts, which is far from inspiring. So day-to-day there really isn’t anyone to dress for, although moving out to the main Kanata campus might help that a bit.
To top this all off, I’ve gained about 15 lbs and two inches since I got here. The gym in Kanata’s going to help that, too, but not overnight.
In any case, I’ve fallen into a style vacuum. I just can’t seem to nail a personal style that doesn’t seem like overdressing for work that’s practical to find around here. I know how to dress sharply, but I can’t quite dress it down enough; but if I try to stick with my Montreal style, I end up overdressing compared to the people I work under, and wondering why I need to wake up earlier to make sure everything’s ironed and just so when everyone else is dressed for a day of cleaning out the garage, and when I’m going to be spending the day sitting at my desk facing a computer.
So I could say “Damn them all!” and maintain the level that I tried to keep up in Montreal, which is pretty much overdressed for the office; or I could head away from America-style stuff towards Gap-style stuff, and feel like I’m dressing for a dot-com. Which I suppose I am, it’s just that on the surface that bugs me a bit.
And my favorite jeans are getting baggy knees.
(I think I’m going to channel my frustration into getting back in shape, so it’s not entirely a bad thing. Getting a bit into the queer scene here might help a bit too. But blergh.)