My mother started wearing pants in the early 60s, and all her clothes were black. She cut her hair as short as a man’s and she dyed it black and she wore black pants and black sweaters and jackets to work and it wasn’t really OK yet. It wasn’t even OK for a woman to work. People were a bit leery of her. What kind of woman was this?
There was a back story to my mother’s pants and blacks. She said she’d always wanted black hair but never could color it while her father was alive, and the black clothing had something to do with mourning him. After the first 10 or 20 years though, I think she just didn’t like colors anymore. My mother was run over by a train at the age of 16 and lost her left leg just below the knee (The Accident, that’s another story). With the pants the “artificial limb” (or prosthesis or wooden leg) was not visible. In her years of skirts and dresses she’d gotten a lot of stares about that leg. After she started wearing pants, new people never realized there was anything wrong with her. There was something wrong with her, but that’s another story, a story that I can’t organize just yet.
Before my mother started wearing pants, I learned some things about empathy for outsiders and Odd Ones from the way strangers would stop, crane their necks, bend their bodies and overtly stare at her when they saw that she had a wooden leg. By the time I was 5, I’d started staring back at them and saying very loudly, “Mommy, why is that ugly woman/man staring at you?” Other than that, and except for animals, I was painfully shy.
Maybe I learned some things from my mother about not trying too hard to blend in, too. I always had the kind of job that people, with a straight face, called “corporate.” When in the early 80s I was moving to New York to take a job at Citicorp, my boss in Philadelphia said “You’re not going to be able to wear those cowboy boots at Citibank.” He was right, for a while. I waited for four months and then out came the cowboy boots. They looked great with a suit, and nobody at Citicorp ever said a word about them, except “I like your boots.”