FASHION EXPERIMENT: I Wore A Mechanic's Jumpsuit For 5 Days In A Row

I’m hopeless when it comes to fashion, so I decided to just give up for a week.
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Mary Pauline Lowry
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I’m hopeless when it comes to fashion, so I decided to just give up for a week.

Five years ago, I was in Bouldin Creek Coffee Shop in my hometown of Austin, Texas. The hipster barista wore a red mechanic’s jumpsuit; she had the sassy tomboy cutie thing going on. And I immediately thought, “Aha! Perhaps I’ve found my style.”

Let me back up: I am a tomboy and have worked some totally dudelionormative jobs such as wildland firefighter and construction worker. As a construction worker, I kind of loved how, when I wore dirty Carhartts and had my hair hidden under a wool cap, I kind of disappeared. And I’m just so hopeless when it comes to fashion. In a dressing room, all my issues about body image and finances converge until I want to run screaming from the fluorescent lights. 

But I thought that if I had a jumpsuit -- if I only had a jumpsuit -- I could leave all that behind. I could be, like the barista, too tough-girl to give a crap about fashion. And yet still kind of cute.

Fast-forward five years and I still had not yet purchased myself a jumpsuit. So I finally decided to both order myself one and do a fashion experiment: I would wear a mechanic’s jumpsuit, and nothing but a jumpsuit, for five days straight. The only exceptions would be working out and job meetings that would likely result in being fired if I was wearing a jumpsuit.

First, the jumpsuit arrived in the mail. It was baggy, blue, and shapeless and had my name embroidered above the left pocket. It was both cozy, and polyester-blend-erific.

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Day 1

Let me note that I no longer live in the hipster haven that is Austin, Texas, where a jumpsuit would be assumed to be like a mustache -- totally ironic. I now live in a small beach town in Orange County.

For my first outing in the jumpsuit, I walked down to Starbucks with my husband. I noticed a couple of well-groomed women giggling, nudging each other and staring at me. So much for disappearing. It was already clear the jumpsuit would make me very visible indeed. 

“Those women are laughing at me,” I told my husband. “But who’s with the hot British guy? Me. That’s who.” This served the dual purpose of making me feel slightly better, and mortifying my husband, who, like a true Englishman, is undone by a compliment.

Day 2

I spent the day at home and then went to see "Nightcrawler." (Off topic, but Jake Gyllenhaal is an artistic genius.) In the restroom, I found myself waiting in line behind a woman wearing black leather pants, a black leather jacket, patent leather five-inch stilettos, and a black leather purse with dangling fringe. I looked down at my own jumpsuit and sneakers and thought, “There must be a happy medium between what she’s wearing and what I am wearing.”

Day 3

I was to be interviewed in the morning by "Freewheelin’," a Sirius radio show for truck drivers. (This is true and not just something I made up). I needed to be on a landline for the interview, so I went to a friend’s office on the UC Irvine campus to use her phone. 

Fact: Teenagers do not mind staring. They just flat-out stare. I began to wonder if anyone would be staring at me if I was a tattooed guy with a shaved head in the same jumpsuit. Probably not.

During the interview, I had a strong urge to tell the hosts about the jumpsuit I was wearing, but I refrained. 

Later in the day, I noticed that I actually felt kind of cute and self-confident in the jumpsuit. This was perhaps reinforced by the fact that every time my husband saw me he smiled hugely. But it was the sort of grin that might be inspired by a wiener dog in a Halloween costume. Also, by that point, I’d discovered that I liked wearing sexy bra/panties under the jumpsuit.

Day 4 

I went to the salon to have my eyelash extensions removed. (More on my two-month eyelash-extension experiment coming soon.) I noticed that the receptionist was wearing a denim above-the-knee jumpsuit with high-heeled booties. We were sort of Twilight Zone twinsie opposites. It was cool.

My eyelash extension specialist took one look at me and said, “What are you wearing?” (She loves telling me I’m her most granola client, and thus a sort of success story for her).

“It’s a mechanic’s jumpsuit,” I said. I explained about the article.

“It’s cute,” she said. “But it needs a damn belt. Put that in your article.” She paused. “Do you wash it every night?”

“Nope.”

“Put that in your article, too.”

Day 5

I had a lunch date scheduled with novelist Francesca Lia Block at a vegan restaurant in Culver City. I’d never met her before. To say I am a fangirl of Block’s work is like saying a mermaid is a fan of the sea. I still remember being 13 years old and lying in the grass by the pool while holding a galley copy of Block’s debut novel “Weetzie Bat.” (I was hooked from that very first sentence: “The reason Weetzie Bat hated high school was because no one understood.”) Weetzie Bat and Block’s other characters are incredibly fashionable and wear fun and even outrageous clothes.

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Examples of the uber-stylishness of Block’s characters can be found in the opening scene of her brand new novel “Beyond the Pale Motel” (St. Martin’s Press) -- a must-read for anyone who likes lush language, best-friend love, Los Angeles, or suspense. In the first scene, the narrator Catt says, “I wore high-heeled suede boots and a red silk kimono wrap dress printed with peonies and white cherry blossoms.” And Catt’s best friend Bree “had on a white lace dress and pink slip she had designed and made, along with over the knee platform boots of black Spanish leather.”

Could I really go to meet a woman I’ve long idealized for, among other reasons, the way she writes about fashion while wearing a blue mechanic’s jumpsuit? You bet. 

I arrived at the restaurant a couple minutes before Francesca. When she appeared she smiled a beautiful smile. She told me she loved my jumpsuit, that it was oddly flattering and that the blue looked pretty with my eyes. (She looked adorable in a black tank top, black skinny jeans, and shiny pink high top Nike’s).

In the lovely patio of the vegan restaurant, no one looked at me twice. I had a delicious falafel bowl while chatting with my favorite writer -- a woman who weaves magical worlds of love and light, darkness and pain, angels and devils, glowing lights and sugar skulls. 

I was wearing the jumpsuit I had always longed for. It was like a convergence of dreams coming true.