Theory: All Good Outfits Go Bad at 3 p.m.

Harling Ross Expired graphic

I have a theory that no matter how good an outfit is, no matter how great it feels to put on in the morning,  or how diligently I steam it, or how careful I am not to spill any salad dressing on it… it always goes bad by 3 pm. Below is a chronicle of exactly how this expiration transpires, starting with the moment I get dressed in the morning and ending with the ultimate afternoon betrayal.

9 a.m.: 0% expired

Over a black bra, I put on a crisp, white blouse that was just dry-cleaned and smells like a freshly bitten Granny Smith apple. I pair it with straight-leg, high-waist blue jeans but I don’t tuck it in because I think the silhouette will look less fussy and more effortlessly appealing that way, akin to an Olsen twin standing outside a Starbucks waxing poetic on hot-button topics like how expensive is too expensive for a T-shirt and why don’t more people talk about Ashley’s hyphenated name?

I decide to wear my new lace-up boots because it’s the first truly chilly day outside and they seem likely to keep my feet warm while also introducing an element of laid-back cool to the outfit courtesy of their classic aura. I glance in the mirror before leaving my apartment, and promptly take a selfie to document the thrill of a good outfit in its most pristine form. I pose in a way that emphasizes this state even more clearly: shoulders back, arm hanging apart from my torso to show off the uniquely ruched sleeve, one leg torqued jauntily outwards in the way that makes the jeans look perfectly streamlined despite straining my knee joint ever so slightly. You know, nice and relaxed.

9:30 a.m.: 10% expired

I’m 10 minutes into my walk to work and I’m mad. At myself, to be clear–for consistently forgetting to bring an extra stick of deodorant to keep in my locker at the office despite the fact that I arrive sweaty every morning. My just-dry-cleaned shirt is now moist at the armpits and I feel my lower back threatening to join in. Those brand-new lace-up boots? Blister city. The backs of my heels feel like the products of a trendy collaboration between rug burn and paper cuts. I should have worn thicker socks. Why does it feel like my feet are basically bare!???????! I drag myself (and I mean this literally, because the smaller my movements the more tolerable my blisters are) into the elevator at work and walk through the door with a look on my face that–if I had to guess–resembles that of a first-time father holding his newborn infant in a hospital on a 90s sitcom: Can anyone tell I’m panicking?

I’m confronted with a full-length mirror as soon as I limp around the corner. I squint with dread at the disheveled sight that surely awaits me but instead I’m confronted with a similar image to the one I saw in my mirror at home this morning. I push my shoulders back and torque one of my legs to the side, attempting to convince myself the outfit might even look better now that it’s a little worn-in. The sweat zones are less detectable now that I’m standing still and drinking an iced latte. Ditto for the blisters. What’s so bad about a little sweat and a couple of open wounds, anyway? My very good outfit and I had made it through my commute with nary a pigeon excrement or wayward AC dropping encounter. Now that we were safely indoors, what would possibly go wrong? I flash myself a small, private smile and make my way toward a desk.

“Nice shirt,” the colleague across from me says as I sit down in an empty chair.

“Thank you!” I respond cheerily.

3 p.m.: 100% expired

Wow. How did I get here? After three meetings, two essay drafts, one phone call, and half a large container of lentil soup, the good outfit is now bad. My shirt is wrinkled, and the armpit sweat is back in full force. The waistband of my jeans felt like a vice after lunch so I had to undo the top button, which isn’t helping to smooth out my shirt. I ended up changing into different shoes because the blisters returned with a vengeance each time I deigned to walk even a couple feet. Like an avocado that was perfectly ripe and just-the-right-amount-of-soft when I squeezed it in the morning, my entire appearance turned on a dime, mealy and bruised, as soon as the clock struck 3 p.m. WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN!? Why do good outfits always go bad in the afternoon? Is it too much to ask that the sartorial statement I craft at the beginning of the day remain loyal at least until sundown? Is there a particular reason why clothes are allowed to punch out well before dinnertime when the rest of us are out here toiling away?

I sink lower and lower into my chair with each passing hour. If I have to get up to go to the bathroom, I skitter there and back with the nervous energy of an elderly beadle, hoping to inflict the haunted ghost of what was once my good outfit on as few people as possible. I breathe a sigh of relief when I realize it’s finally time to go (flee) home, but then experience a resurgence of agony when I check my calendar and remember I was planning to have drinks with a friend. A friend who somehow always manages to look impeccable. I contemplate cancelling. I convince myself that would be deranged. When I walk into the restaurant, I elbow my way toward the back, in search of the most poorly-lit table.

“Nice shirt,” my friend says when she sits down across from me.

“You should have seen it this morning.”

Tell me truly: Is afternoon outfit expiration A THING, or is my brain full of lentils? If the former, is 3 p.m. the universal hour of doom? And are there any preventative solutions out there? I’m open to any ointment, tonic, or invocation.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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