Thursday, 12 January 2023

Sweatshirts and identity

When I returned to Scotland, I discovered that the top floor of my local gym was really very cold. Not having a sweatshirt, I took to taking my husband's flannel pyjama top with me. However, he objected to this and suggested that I buy a sweatshirt. 

As it happens, I meant to buy a University of Toronto sweatshirt when I was in Canada, but I forgot. And I probably should have just gone to a charity shop and bought any old sweatshirt, but I had bought my sister-in-law a Cambridge University sweatshirt for Christmas and fallen in love with the wide, flat drawstrings in the hood. 

I admit that probably makes no sense. To travel back to 2021, when Benedict Ambrose and I were in Cambridge that October, I bought my brother and his children Cambridge University shirts as Christmas presents. I purchased the deluxe hooded version for Nulli Secondus and standard versions for Peanut and Popcorn, whom I expected to grow out of them. I also wasn't sure if they would actually like them. 

It bothered me not a whit that neither my brother nor his minor children are students or graduates of Cambridge University. Like mine, my brother's 1970s Cambridge education involved a term or two at nursery school while my father deciphered Anglo-Saxon handwriting. But I thought that Cambridge University shirts would be a nostalgic nod to a shared history (brother) and a reminder to reach for the top (his children), which was certainly not lost on clever them. And to my pleased surprise, they all loved their shirts and wear them rather often. On travels to the USA, they're asked if they're British, but there's no harm in that.  

Realizing that I had inadvertently left her out of this Cambridge University appropriation, I ordered the deluxe version for my sister-in-law this year and tried it on when it arrived so I could judge if it were a  reasonable size. Wherever it was made (I suspend my rule for Christmas gifts), it was very good quality and instead of having a shoelace-like string to the hood, it had a broad, flat, double-sided cincture. I was tempted to buy one for myself, but feared public censure. According to BA, it is Not Done here to wear a university shirt if you have not gone to that university. 

This makes sense as it is most definitely Not Done to wear the tie of a school of which you are not an alumnus or the club tie of an organization to which you do not belong. Making yourself look posh when you are not is a social solecism that can get you noticed on the Rough Bus, which is something you do not want to happen, believe me. ("Missus, it wisnae me wha' spat in your hair.") As far as I can divine, my neighbours rather like real life aristos and admire the rich but utterly loathe anyone they think pretentious. The very fact that you travel the Rough Bus means that you should not be wearing a charming feathery hat, for example. 

Meanwhile, my gym is a rather rough and ready place, and I would not be at all surprised to discover that I was the only university graduate in the building at any given time. I like it. It is cheap, cheerful, relatively quiet, and owned by a fellow immigrant while abounding in members who speak with the local accent. I may not be the oldest woman on the books, but I usually am the oldest woman present, so I probably stand out a bit. 

I also wear a tunic that covers my butt, which is unusual, and I wear glasses and a brown scapular (which might be like having TAIG written on my back) and no tattoos and naturally if I exchange greetings, I do it in my sadly flat Margaret Atwood accent. Happily, none of this has led to any unpleasantness, and so I think I can risk the boundaries of tolerance with a university sweatshirt.

I am a bit self-conscious, though, for the question of clothing and identity was raised by a bulky man near me one day. Addressing himself to a younger woman who speaks the exact same dialect (ken?), he confessed that he had once gone to a nearby health club but that it "a fashion show." To make a long story short, he felt uncomfortable there among those expensively dressed people, so he fled to the comfortable environment of our gym. 

My mind slipped back to my own health club, which we could afford only because I had an office-hour membership, and how it had amazing showers with luxurious shampoo and conditioner, and how I left when the COVID pandemic hit... Sigh, sigh, sigh. But I digress. 

In the end, BA and I decided that I could reasonably order a sweatshirt from his university, as it would not be at all embarrassing to answer inquiries about my attendance there with "No, but my husband did." 

I flirted with the idea of getting a Large, to give the false impression that it was my husband's and I had just borrowed it, but in the end I ordered a Medium, and now it is here. The amusing thing is that BA couldn't resist putting it on, but it is too small for him, so he is unlikely to borrow it himself. My concession to the bulky man is that I will wear it only upstairs in the frigid cardio room and not in the weights room.

Meanwhile, it was made in the Alexandria Free Zone in Egypt, not in China, so on that front my conscience is relatively clear. 


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