Combining Life


I may be close to admitting that I have a problem. This morning, I choose the carrot juice over the orange from the street vender on my way to work. The reason had nothing to do with vitamin C content and everything to do with combination. Simply, the brilliant colour of the carrot matched my coat much better than the yellow orange juice.

A great outfit for holding babies in the community, not so great for the office.

The first time I came to Bogota from Mampujan for a meeting after deciding to move to the city, I sat in a sidewalk cafe and watched people walk by and it dawned on me that in a few short months my life would no longer be dominated by shorts, faded tank tops and flip-flops. Rather, a new world of boots, jackets, scarves, sweaters- urban fashion- was at soon to be at my disposal.

I love clothes. Some examples: my coat, a gift from Erin, the sweater from Melodi, the scarf bought with Larisa and Ericka in Guatemala. Fashion´s ability to channel memory is one reason for my obsession, but I think what I love most is the hidden power of invention that lies behind every piece of clothing in my closet. Just as each word I write or picture I take unveils a different part of me, so each article of clothing I put on releases another facet of who I am. Each disguise I wear reveals much more than it conceals.

Case in point- I found a pair of glasses frames in the ditch besides the highway once when I was 13. They were hideous black and yellow plastic and I loved them. I wore them whenever I could: to school for drama classes, at home with an accent, to sleepovers to try to convince my friends about my failing eyesight. A hat was my go-to accessory of choice to accompany the glasses. During university I would wear sunglasses and a fedora: my disguise to escape from paper writing stress.

A moustache on a stick really makes a red dress pop.
A moustache on a stick really makes a red dress pop.

I have gladly, therefore, accepted the fashion challenge of Bogota. In a new urban world and way of being, it was something I could conquer. That I was on my way was made clear one day in the kitchen of my office (source of all important information about what is really going on both inside and outside the office) about two months after my arrival. “Anna, you dress more Colombian that most foreigners we have had working here.” And with that slight push of encouragement, I was off to be the most Bogotana I could be.

This hamburger is the same colour as my coat!

Although some colleagues describe Bogota style as only black and pointy, I have not found that to be the case.  The subtlety underlying this stereotype is colour combination. From nail polish to shoes, pattern is not important. What matters is that the colours are the same. Although yes, they are often shades of black, purple, and navy blue, as long as you are matching, you can wear whatever colour you want. And try to be a little formal about it. The most important thing: have fun!

It is easier here, where curvy is usually better and muffin tops don’t matter, to not worry as much about weight and body image. It will be a challenge when back in Canada to not relapse into the trap that I can never be skinny enough. Even in Colombia, however, women are still judged on their appearance, just with different criteria. To be well dressed (heels, straight hair and some plastic surgery) and to have light skin is a mark of class. I refuse, however, to let these negatives stop me from expressing myself. If we don’t work for redemption, who will?

Anna glassesThis weekend at the flea market, I bought a pair of glasses from the 50’s. They are, without a doubt, my new most favourite thing in the entire world. The fact that I cannot wear them for more than five minutes without getting a headache and that everyone in my office makes fun of me are no deterrent. Just like I will make living in Bogota work, I will incorporate my treasure into my wardrobe.

Yes, I might have a problem. Just don’t let me get plastic surgery.

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