On being oddly dressed (by )

Last Friday, I stood up in front of a hundred or so people and gave a five-minute talk on some software I've spent two years of my life writing. However, I wasn't particularly self-conscious about the fact that I was oddly dressed.

For me, clothes are about:

  1. Keeping me warm
  2. Carrying my stuff

It's not that their appearance doesn't matter to me - I don't want to be wearing shabby or tatty clothes. I don't want to wear garish bright colours. I like my clothes to more or less match, so I tend to choose solid dark colours when I buy myself clothes, as they're easy to look smart in.

But every now and then I get a comment from somebody that I must be a bit weird to go around wearing a podbelt and an assault vest... and when the weather's bad, I got outside in a full-length heavy cloak. Luckily, saying that sort of thing disqualifies people from me being too interested in their opinions, so it doesn't particularly bother me.

I like carrying lots of stuff with me. I'm equipped for every eventuality. When people get things in their eyes, I'm there with a mirror and tweezers. I have the obligatory geek multi-tool, of course. My first-aid kit has brought comfort to many a cut finger. My little lengths of string have jerry-rigged many a repair. I always have a torch, a compass, a pen, a notepad, a monocular, and a laser pointer to hand; so I can navigate, find things in the dark, read small text on a projector from the back of the room (and then point to the thing I'm asking about with the laser). If a button comes off of something, I sit down, take out my sewing kit, and fix it. In my laptop bag is a pouch full of cables and adapters, which has saved the day on many a late-night data-centre emergency. When it's raining so hard that people are cowering in shop doorways, my cloak keeps me dry; at the conference on Friday, when there were no seats left, it folded up tightly and became a low stool so I could sit comfortably. A week or so ago, when I was driving home from London very late one night and became too tired to continue, I pulled into a dark lay-by and slept underneath it, warm and comfortable even when the temperature plummeted before dawn.

I'm not just hoarding gadgets for the sake of it - I do assess the trade-offs of every extra bit of weight to carry around. Weight in the podbelt isn't an issue as it carries very nicely on my hips, I barely notice the weight of it, but space there is at a premium. Weight in the assault vest is more of an issue, since it pulls at my shoulders. I've tried having just a podbelt, but it's not good to wear while sitting down, so I tended to take it off and sling it over the back of the chair, which makes things harder to get at; and I've tried just having an assault vest, but weight was a problem. The current combination means I can keep lightweight things I often need while sitting down (mobile phone, pens, pads, business cards, laser pointer, etc) on me all the time, while weightier things I tend to need more on the move (keys, wallet, tools, first aid gear) in the podbelt. I have optional extra things I add for specific "missions" that I wouldn't want to carry all the time, too - I have a special tool jacket with loops for screwdrivers and the like which I wear if I'm doing DIY in awkward locations, an extra assault vest with more specialist stuff for when I'm busy being a Cub leader, a black lightweight mesh one with large pockets for hiking (the large pockets accept good quantities of food, GPSes, and the like), a water flask that goes on the podbelt, and a spare podbelt pouch that I'm going to assemble a survival kit in: emergency rations, a survival blanket, that sort of thing.

When I've explained this to people who question the amount of stuff I carry, they say "But what are the odds of all these things happening?". But they happen all the time! So I'm happy being prepared for anything... it makes life a lot less stressful. My clothes and their pockets become an extension of my body; we are, after all, all cyborgs.


  • By sarah, Mon 7th Dec 2009 @ 9:53 pm

    I am aware that I am biased in this but you really have saved the day too many times for people who scorn you to have credance!

    I remember the first time I met you just how impressed I was that you were a closet Geologist - you had all the standard kit! Bar the clino on the compass and the bottle of HCl!

    You've saved conferences and presingtations with your cable collection and you have had the gear for me to remove more splinters in adults than I ever thought possible!

    The only problem is it makes me lazy - I used to carry first aid kits and things in my backpack along with kendle mint cake but with you around I don't need to and have gotten out the practice.

    I love you and the coats of many pockets was one of the reasons I noticed you in the first place - but I have too say I am really liking the swing back to podbelts and cowboy hats - reminds me of clubbing in the old day 🙂

  • By Lionel, Tue 22nd Dec 2009 @ 8:47 am

    I too like to have useful stuff to hand, and have struggled with the problem of where to put it all. I don't use a coat of many pockets so much nowadays because of the weight on the shoulders and neck, and it can get hot. When it gets hot in South Africa i more often have bags on my belt, or a bumbag, but they have a way of snagging when getting in and out of cars or sitting in armchairs. My main problem is the need to adapt to rapidly changing weather, and consequently moving stuff from one bag to another, then finding I've gone out midday with my torch but without my sunglasses.... grrrr!

  • By Lionel, Tue 22nd Dec 2009 @ 8:52 am

    Alaric's grandfather also had a thing about men's clothing needing to be practical rather than formal. He created his own outfit which was a sort of woolen cloak with a hood and apparently used to look distinctive in central London. he was a member of a group called something like the Men's Clothing Reform Movement! I too had a woolen cloak for many years and found it good for wind, rain and lying on and sleeping in. Not much need in SA though.

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