by Kate Sheehy
On the second week of high school, Sister Christine stopped me in the hallway. She looks me up and down, and asks me my name. She then pulls the collar of my sweater back, looks down my front, and proclaims, “Ms. Sheehy, you are not wearing a blouse!” These are the exact words typed on my detention slip, as if I were running through the halls of the school topless. Three years later, I was proudly voted “most likely to get a detention for not wearing a proper uniform” in the yearbook.
It is with some irony, then, that my post-parochial school life finds me a dedicated uniform-wearer. I find it hard to get through the day without a uniform. I define “uniform” as a garment brings me to myself, no matter my environment, my surrounding crowd, or my task at hand. It is as interchangeable as the life I lead and responsibilities I undertake. I feel connected to my uniforms as I would a close friend, with whom I can dig in without fear of judgment or fussiness. A uniform serves as my suit of armor, protecting me from my own self-consciousness and reminding me who I am.
For practical purposes, I need my uniforms to be fairly durable. I ride my bike, I dance with abandon, I am often on one knee wiping snot out of the nose of my 3 year old. My ability to spill or stain my clothing defies the laws of time and space. I’m into easy on/easy off, so one piece options are a plus. My body expands and contracts with the seasons so something that can grow (or shrink) according to my size is appreciated. For aesthetic purposes, I prefer something form-fitting, that speaks of styles past and present, shows some flair for the unusual without trying too hard.
The armor is not without its areas of disrepair. “Fall Fabulous” was worn for years, well past the point of reasonable dishevelment, with arms almost entirely ripped out from the blouse and the hem of my pants shredded by the bike chain. Still, I felt like a million bucks. FF, and other uniforms like it, hang in my closet in various states of fray, reminding me of what the Skin Horse says to the Velveteen Rabbit:
“Real isn’t how your are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real…By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand”.
I suppose it is in fact wearing someone else’s uniform that I rebel against. Discovering how my own uniform has stitched itself into my life is another matter entirely.
Bio Kate Sheehy has been collaborating with both local and out of town artists for the past 15 years to create performances that are community oriented and site-specific. She is co-founder of The Random House Series, a festival of puppetry, performance, video and sound that takes place throughout a residence, yard and attic in Humboldt Park. She fuels herself with inspiration by the great and many talents in Chicago whom she has worked with, and those she has yet to meet.