Thursday, December 11, 2014

My College Wouldn’t Let Me Dress Myself

Going to a military academy is kind of like going to preschool: you don’t get to decide what time you wake up in the morning, you can’t leave without permission, and – perhaps most irritating – you don’t get to pick what clothes you’re going to wear that day.

As you might recall from my very first post as The Claw of Knowledge, I went to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, in scenic New London, Connecticut. Like any military academy, it has a pretty rigid rank structure: freshman are the lowest (fourth class), sophomores are the second lowest (third class), juniors next, and so on. With each rank comes a new set of privileges that you didn’t get the year before, kind of like gaining a superpower. Y’know, if superpowers were all things that ordinary people do every day, like being able to slightly turn your head while in the hallway, or not having to stand up when other people come in your room.

However, I'm completely powerless against your ability to give out demerits.

Fourth class year is pretty tough. On top of your huge load of classes, virtually every move you make is regimented somehow. You have to keep your eyes and head aimed straight forward everywhere except in your room, walk to class like you’re marching to war, and address everyone who outranks you as “sir” or “ma’am.”

The garbage can first joined the Academy in 1984. It outranks everyone there except the Superintendent, and even that will probably change in a couple years.

To make matters worse, you can only leave base for a handful of hours each week, and when you do, you have to wear a uniform. Not only is this hideously uncomfortable, it kind of puts a damper on your social life.

"Besides, where would I put my cover?"

That’s why, when you finally become a sophomore, it seems so amazing get to wear something else, even if it’s just a dorky set of clothes put together for you by the Academy.

Now, from what I hear, third class these days wear some kind of Academy polo shirt/khakis combination that doesn’t look too sharp. Well, guess what? When I was a third class, we wore a suit/tie combination that didn't look too sharp.
I’m pretty sure the suit itself was designed in the seventies. It had a blue blazer, and a tie with red-orange stripes kind of like the ones on Coast Guard cutters. The pants were somehow both so thin that a slight gust of wind would freeze your legs in the winter, and so thick that you’d burn to death in the summer. The shoes were loafers that were supposed to be brown leather, but looked and felt like red plastic. And true to military-issued fashion, nothing fit right.

My excitement over getting to wear something that wasn’t a true uniform wore off pretty quickly. Not just because it looked kind of silly, but because there’s only so many things people assume you’re up to if you’re a 19-year-old in a cheap suit.

Eventually, some of my classmates decided to change things. They approached the Powers That Be with a proposal to make ourselves look less ridiculous. It took some time – and a lot of drafts of memos – but eventually the higher-ups agreed to let us buy own suits instead of wearing the ones designed by the Academy.

It felt like having a whole new superpower. Sure, it wasn’t the same as getting to wear full-on civilian clothing, but in a place like the Academy, a little bit of self-expression goes a long way. We bought shirts and suits in colors we actually liked. We got ties in different patterns and styles, and – for those few hours on the weekend when we could leave base – we looked damn good.

But it wasn’t long before we ran into a different set of problems.
Good thing I paid attention in Crim J.

By that point, though, it was only a few months until graduation, when we'd get the right to wear anything we wanted. So we stuck it out through an unusually hot spring until that magic day when we got to bring all of our real clothes down from the trunk room and hang them in our closets.

Of all the privileges I got while I was at the Academy, I think getting to wear civvies was the most liberating – even more so than being able to look at my food. Because after all those times wearing what someone else picked out for me, and all those times I got mistaken for something else, I could finally choose the way I looked in public.

And that really did feel like a superpower.

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1 comment:

  1. Quit your whinin'. In my day (yes, it was in the last century) we wore service dress blues or khakis on liberty up to the day we graduated. The good news was that the only dressing decision we had to make was "will that grease spot show?"