Ann pulled up a chair next to my desk at lunch the other day.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" she asked.
"Sure," I said, wondering what it might be. I'm always game for personal questions.
"Where do you buy your clothes?" She went on to explain that she had a friend who was trying to update her wardrobe, but didn't know where to shop. Ann figured I would have good ideas, since I "always look so good."
That actually took me by surprise - I hardly consider myself a fashion icon. Plus, I was at the end of the laundry cycle that day and was feeling particularly frumpy. However, Ann's question caused me to wonder if I've actually learned how to dress myself.
You see, fashion is not at all instinctual for me. It's taken me years and years to figure out what I think I look good in and what I like. Like learning another language, I figured out colors, lines, propriety, and shapes only by meticulous observation, research, immersion, and a great deal of trial-and-error. I've mixed up my cases and conjugations - wearing a suit to the opera because I felt put together in my new clothes then later realizing that put-together-business is not the same as put-together-opera, for example. I avoided wearing patterns of any kind for years in a virtual silent period, sticking only to the limited range of solid colors that I trusted the most. The day I bought a skirt that went only to my knees took courage tantamount to chiming in on a political discussion.
Upon reflection, I do notice that it's gotten easier. I have enough of the basics under my belt that I don't have to question every single item every time and I'm quicker at figuring out what isn't right. It's easy to lose sight of such growth, and Ann's compliment gave me pause enough to stop measuring myself against native speakers and recognize how much of a sense of fashion I've acquired since I launched this particular field of study.
It also means that when I overhear my students saying to each other as they pass me in the hall, "I like her outfit today. She always looks good," I can accept that it's me (me!) they're talking about and that, in Mountain Town at least, I appear to be fluent.