Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In Praise of Polish

When I was an army cadet, there was a lot of importance placed on appearance, but, paradoxically, you never actually noticed what the other cadets uniforms looked like. I mean sure, you knew where to look for rank or qualifications, which was a fast way to settle arguments back then (even tangential ones), but you never really looked for the loose-threads or scuffed boots that the higher ranking cadets and adult officers seemed to care about. Now, that never stopped any of us from busting our asses for hours at a time trying to put a mirror polish on our boots, and believe me when I tell you that one of the only smells that brings back summer more than the tall grass is the smell of an open tin of Kiwi.

But then, I never placed much importance in clothes. "Whatever was on top" in the dresser seemed to get the job done, and the idea of planning an outfit seemed limited to the affairs of those mysterious women-folk I heard so much about.  But then, "gets the job done" was (and still often is) my default attitude about damn-near everything. No drafts for blog posts and low-value papers? Gets the job done. One pair of shoes? Gets the job done. Scarf and hat don't quite match? Gets the job done. Overdue for a haircut but don't look like trash yet? Gets the job done.

So what's this got to do with shoe polish? Nothing. It's about polish in the broader sense. Finishing touches. Sure, a high-school education "gets the job done". Being able to express any emotion without filling spaces with "um" or expletives takes polish. Clipping your nails gets the job done. Making sure the edge is smooth afterwards takes polish. Getting your cash-flow statement set up on excel is quite literally getting the job done, but documenting it with reference-comments and named ranges is a very user-friendly level of polish.

I have this blazer. It's a nice blazer, from my favourite local purveyor of such things. I wear it almost every day, and have since about October (before that, I hardly ever wore it at all). But I'm a bit abusive. It's been a while since the jacket (which is "mostly clean") has seen the dry-cleaner. It's showing its age. Four or five years might not be bad for a jacket, but the four or five years between leaving high school and actually starting to take an adult body-type can be quite destructive for even the best-made suit, and that jacket used to fit me "quite well", so now, the better part of two inches and ten or twenty pounds later, not so much.

So I retired the jacket, quietly, on Monday. I figured nobody would notice. Other than the jacket, I wore what I'd normally wear: jeans and a t-shirt. A knit sweater, because it tends to get cold in my classroom, which was converted from a computer lab and has very, very powerful air-conditioning. In January in the Maritimes. But I digress.

People noticed. I got lots of quiet "you're looking sharp/nice today"s from people you'd both expect and not expect it from. So I've retired the jacket. Sure, it was getting the job done. But until it gets a dry-cleaning and some repairs (maybe even let out a bit), it's lacking in polish.

I suppose, if I can't get it let out, I can always donate it to a Frenchy's or a ValueVillage or the Salvation Army or something. Come to think of it, I have quite a lot of "lacking polish" clothing floating around... I should do something about that.

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