My Year of Cows, Blazers, and Contemplation

On the way to the dairy farm in Cornwall, Connecticut, two items of my clothing swung on velvet hangers on the grab handle of our car. One was a short-sleeved overcoat with puffed sleeves and flower embroidery, like a grandma’s cerulean blouse. The other was a gold wrap top that I had just bought and couldn’t bear to fold. I wouldn’t wear them while milking (I had romanticized the farm, but not that much). But I figured that our Workaway adventure would be like a fancy beach vacation: you dirty yourself up in the morning by jumping in mud or salt water or cow shit, and then you take a lovely long shower, get dressed in pretty clothing, and put on makeup in time for dinner.

It was a high-maintenance move to carry my clothing on actual velvet hangers, but at the time it felt like a necessary measure. I had spent the summer in New Haven, sharing a room (and a bed) in my dear friend’s house, spatially squished but unbearably pleased with myself. My main obligation was to study and record songs on Yale’s money and eat ice cream. I was getting ready for my gap year, which was going to be unstable in the safest way: I know I have a home to go back to in case everything goes to shit or my DSA runs out from buying too many jars of pure maple syrup. A friend of mine had recently complained about people’s fashion choices on the East Coastdrab and unsparkly compared to LAbut my New Haven friends were incandescent, adorned in colorful thrift shop clothing, overalls, sneaker laces as belts, puffed sleeves, New Yorker totes. A turquoise jumpsuit. Hot indie kids.

I grew up working at Amalgamated Classic Clothing, a vintage store run by one woman named Shelley. They provide pieces for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and just about any other period film or television show you can think of. (The store specialized in men’s vintage, but I specialized in their modest-to-moderate collection of women’s dresses.) I’ve been to Fashionista in New Haven, where they absolutely could not process a mistaken charge on my card, but the crotchetiness and the rental policy make the occasional visit well worth it. And most recently I bought the aforementioned gold top with a good friend at EBM Vintage, which combined with a plant shop this summer (“Not only can we fulfill every Vintage Desire… We’ve got plants, too,” reads their website). I went with a friend of mine who implored me to buy the tiny flower brooch I was eyeing in lieu of the more practical pink washcloth: “You don’t need a towel, Hero.” She was right. I wore jewelry for the first time ever and got a little too obsessed with my jewelry tree.

In New Haven, I was always flattered when women in the street shouted at me about how much they liked my outfit. Men followed me on bikes, occasionally, too, but not because they liked the tulle. I finally made it out to Savers (a little bit larger and slightly more expensive than the New Haven Goodwill) and watched one of my favorite cognitive-science students move in silky metallic fabric while I swiped from her cart another velvet camisole. I never borrowed anything from the lovely roommate with whom I shared the bed and would later go to the farm, but when cute $2 worker pants didn’t fit me, they were deposited directly into her arms. (Mostly I loved watching her wear lacey tie-up tops as part of a larger libertine period.) Also among the people I associated with: neon green cutoff tanktops, homemade clay earrings. These piecesalong with our ridiculous Ice Cream Tuesdayscolored my summertime, helped me to learn about the people around me.

So I took my hangers with me to the farm along with my bedmate and a romanticized vision of what four or five hours of physical labor every day would be like. Two things happened to my body. I got acne again, which I did not expect from the fresh country air (perhaps it was the insulation in the attic, or the fumes from the mucking, or the fossilized dust in the air of the barn while we pried nails from wooden boards). More relevantly, I got a little bit ripped from all of our laborious activities, like demolishing an old shed. But there was little chance to show off or even think about my newfound ass. I didn’t shower for days because there was no point; in the morning we would just have to wake up again to work. It was a kind of genderless existence for a little while. I was measured mostly by my ability to thoroughly enjoy the farm work, which, despite all my retroactive kvetching, was really quite lovely, accompanied by glorious sunrises and enormous and affectionate cows.

The man we lived with, a 31-year-old farmer named Tommy, had this whole take that it doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you don’t care about it. He wears a sweatshirt and the same pair of mucky jeans every single day. He admits that not everyone could pull off the same look: you have to be secure. Every week, he matches with three new women on Hinge, including Peach Pie Rachel. She shows up (hot, basic, fishtail braid, wearing mom jeans and a little button top), and she is not cool because she simply cares too much about the wrong things, standing at the edge of the doorway with her arms crossed, careful not to lean on anything. (We don’t see her again). Instead, Tommy’s old-man neighbor wears a shirt that says “I like my Kale without the K” and our friend Jed has one that implores us to “Work All Day, Rock All Night.”

It is both a relief and a burden to return to society, and I do so in my prettiest thrift-shop clothing: layers of polka dot tulle and a brown blazer. After a few days I end up in Nashville with a girl with a celebrity closet and it makes me feel raggedy by comparison. (I still don’t quite understand the South, and why skinny jeans are somehow in and high-waisted loose ones feel shabby.) I am trying to hold on to my East Coast summertime chic and to the don’t-give-a-fuck farm life. But maybe that’s just a meager attempt to appropriate and translate the things I love which are so singular to their particular places. Some staples stay with me: the smaller of the earrings, jumpsuits, only owning four pairs of shoes. But I’m shedding things, too, this gap year, like a hermit crab. I leave an absurd three pairs of loungey pants at the farm for future Workaway-ers. My prom shoes are still in the New Haven house. I’m 20, and my style is in faded favorite pieces. I know what I like but it’s not quite concrete yet. Perhaps as my sense of self grows more secure, as I hope it does during this in-between year, my cohesion of clothing will, too: that sense of put-together-ness that everyone I love seems to have mastered so beautifully.

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