Dressing in the dark -- or, suiting the prof.

A recent cartoon showed a professor depositing a jacket at a cleaner's shop with the request that it be ``cleaned and rumpled.'' Yes, generations of students have enjoyed criticizing the seedy clothing of their mentors, especially those of us who have accepted the idea that outmoded suits are part of our uniform. We who teach and build personal libraries add to the problem by rating our wardrobe much lower in importance than the books we purchase. My own lack of high-style clothing has been spotlighted by the habit of dressing rather quickly in a darkened room in an effort to get to the office in time for early-morning classes.

My colleagues often greeted me with ``Get dressed in the dark again?'' But the students who braved the first-hour classes could stay awake watching for the latest outfit from my closet (perhaps confused with a clothing museum).

The situation changed when I happened to open the closet door in broad daylight. I realized that the suit I usually refer to as the ``new'' one had been purchased eight years before. I needed a fresh start.

My wife suggested a color analysis. I couldn't help seeing the way her clothes blended into coordinated outfits since getting the analyst's advice.

Soon a trained professional was draping material across my shoulders to ascertain my best color combinations. Then, armed with some tiny color swatches in a plastic case, I descended into my favorite downtown bargain basement. Within a few weeks nearly all of the old dark and drab wardrobe had found a new use at local charities.

My wife helped transform the closet into a laboratory for color-coordinating a new wardrobe. The ties seemed to group naturally into plain colors and patterns. We put the jackets in one section and the slacks in another, ultimately creating two divisions for each with the idea that I could reach into a color area to select the article of clothing that would blend with the others.

There was no longer a need for a review process each morning, since all the outfits would be properly matched. Then we put the new system to the test.

As I walked along a busy corridor at school, one of my most fastidious colleagues approached. Before I could say anything she stopped and said, ``Wow!''

It had all been worth it. It was now possible to get dressed in the dark without necessarily looking like it.

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