Dreadlocks & Birkenstocks

I guess I’ve always been just a little left of conformity. I can appreciate the value of conforming to some social conventions for my own conscious advancement, but I also understand the significance of breaking some rules, like mixing red and pink in my outfits if I want to.

In my early grade school years, my cousins would babysit me over the summers. Being from a very small town in northwest Kansas, that was a pretty easy gig for them while my mom worked and my dad was on the road for his custom harvesting business. The lifestyle is certainly simple, but in their simplicity, small midwest towns are notorious for being slow on the uptake for new trends, fashions, and technologies. So I was left to my own druthers to express myself through fashion.

During some of the time I spent with my my one cousin (we’ll call her Adele), she advised me on my fashion sense, nourished me with fried bologna “sombreros,” and locked me in closets for the “torture game.” Now before anyone starts searching for sordid details, this was more like some rendition of hide-and-seek where I asked her to lock me in a closet to pretend “torture” me. So she, being the engaged cousin-babysitter she was, “hid” me in closets, always knew where I was, and left me there until either 1) she felt guilty enough to come let me out or 2) I asked to be let out.

Anyhow, Adele didn’t approve of my regular decision to mix red shorts with a pink shirt. She razzed me (lovingly); and I dressed that way anyway. In my innocence, I believed it was reasonable to mix those two colors; they seem to be from the same color family if you ask me. Plus, Kansas may fall behind on the fashion time spectrum, but for all I know, I could have been a visionary. Supermodels in France were likely mixing red and pink all the time. I know now that mixing red and pink is only acceptable on Valentine’s Day. Thank you for your sage advice, Adele.

Girls’ fashion presented challenges with my mom and me too. Good mother she was (well, still is), she offered to do things like french braid my hair and take me shopping. I did not want her to braid (or even touch) my hair, and I definitely did not want her to take me shopping. To this day, I haven’t identified any root cause for my contempt of these common mother-daughter bonding activities, other than the notion that I was probably discovering my left-of-conformity identity.

One day in particular exemplifies the challenges we had together. Being raised in a Lutheran family, I found myself in the unfortunate plight of shopping for an agreeable outfit to wear for church confirmation. As it always went, Mom suggested dresses (I mean, dresses – can you imagine?) and shoes that I found disagreeable. Repression has helped me cope with further painful details of shopping trauma, so alas, all I remember now is what picture albums prove – that neither of us won that confirmation contest. We settled on a baby blue knee-length skirt that appeared to be made from sweatsuit material, matching long-sleeved shirt, and brown penny loafers. Nothing about that outfit said “Lutheran confirmation.” Not that I had attended many confirmations, but I think other girls selected a much different style. Or at least didn’t fight their mothers for independence. At least the outfit got ONE hell of a good use!

Adolescence came barreling in, and I fell victim to the style which it forced upon me. While I did not want to wear dresses, it was often required on game days. What a sexist practice that was. If I was forced to wear a dress because of my gender, then I would exert my feminist views and make the outfit somehow my own. There were no rules about what shoes to wear with these mandated dresses, so my game-day apparel was often a baby doll dress with combat boots.

My dad would probably shake his head today if he were forced to remember the outfits I sometimes wore to local high school basketball games – long underwear layered with baggy patterned boxer shorts (you know, the real ones with the baggy asses), and a Mexican baja hoodie. Purposely trying to avoid clothing conversations with my dad after he so willingly opened his wallet for me, I would make my exit from the house casually fielding questions like, “Aren’t those shorts made for boys? Do you think you’ll be warm enough with just underwear on? Why don’t you change?” Pretending not to hear in my distracted rush out the door, I wriggled my way out, unscathed, to make my statement to the world.

My closet also hosted at one point a western duster coat, a beret, leather shorts, a silk shirt, and two pairs of the same shoes (but in different colors) so I could, of course, wear one of each color. And let’s not forget the “hippie” Teva sandals that I brought home from Fort Collins, Colorado when the year 1989 graced me with the struggles of sixth grade. Embarrassed by my burgeoning bosoms, my mother had to settle on buying me big baggy shirts that I believed concealed any evidence of adolescence. However, pictures have again proven that the designs on those baggy shirts actually amplified their existence, even placed targets right on them.

Boy, were those Tevas the talk of the town for awhile. Friends teased me about being a hippie, being different from everyone else, and wearing socks with my new footwear. I still get those comments, but now it’s because of Birkenstocks. Hippie or not, I believe Birkenstock has created the ultimate solution for casual/work/house footwear. (Confession: I also have a pair of old-school Tevas still hanging out in my closet, just in case.)

Just around the time my parents bought me Tevas when we stopped in Fort Collins on our way home from summer church camp, I remember thinking about dreadlocks. (It’s likely that I noticed them on someone in the Teva store, but I’m speculating.) Rural Kansas didn’t really have people who sported dreadlocks, though, so I soon forgot about them and moved on to more conventional time-lapsed styles like the four-inch high bangs purposely shaped to look like an ocean wave.

Later, adulthood again found me wondering what it would be like to have dreadlocks, but again, other things – like a profession which discouraged them and stereotypes – made me forget about them. Until Halloween of 2016.

Not dressing up for Halloween in the professional setting had been an easy decision for when I worked in the emergency setting. We didn’t often dress up because, in my own unfortunate personal experience, no one in the room appreciates a bug antenna headband falling off while doing chest compressions. But in the college health setting, a ton of people dressed up because, as you may have inferred, the chances of needing to perform CPR is exponentially less in that setting. On Halloween 2016, it was game on for the hippie theme in my department. While my co-workers all went shopping to find hippie attire, I discovered everything I needed was already in my closet! Except dreadlocks.

YouTube was at the ready to teach me how to create fake dreadlocks just for events like this. However, fake ones just weren’t satisfying the day after Halloween. The fire had been re-ignited; I wanted dreadlocks. (Yes, at the ripe age of 38. No better time if you ask me.) It wasn’t but two days later that I searched for information on how to make real dreadlocks. Fine-toothed lice comb, dreadlock wax, and a crochet hook in hand, I gathered up four separate swaths of hair at the base of my neck and started…well…making lots of knots. That’s really all a dreadlock is – one long stranded together ball of knots.

Anyone who’s familiar with dreadlocks knows that when they “lock,” they sort of get a mind of their own and draw up into themselves. In other words, I started with four really cool dreads the length of the rest of my fine, thin hair. Within months, they started to lock up and shorten. I mean, they were doing what they were supposed to do but eventually looked like amputated stumps or cow udders. That was unfavorable, to say the least. Anyone who didn’t know I had four dreadlocks beneath the rest of my golden locks probably thought I just decided not to comb my hair under there. For a year.

Hair extensions were the only answer to alleviate this problem. Well, there was the option to shave them off, but clearly that wasn’t a viable option given all the work I had put into them. Voodoo Hair Lounge in -no surprise here – Boulder, Colorado could put in dread extensions! Not many places or people provide this specialized service so I sported those cow udders for a couple months while I waited. While waiting for my appointment, I was also informed that I would have to order my own hair extensions. Extensive research on Etsy detailed how to purchase someone else’s donated hair dreadlocks from Lithuania. So now, I not only have dreadlocks, but half of them are someone else’s hair. What we won’t do to break out of boxes.

There are only four of them, which can really only been seen if I incorporate them in braids or something. Dreadlocks don’t cover my head, although I’m not opposed if they weren’t so dang much work in the beginning. I’m not ready for that commitment. By the way, red and pink made their way back into my attire – the full rainbow spectrum covered the roots of my hair above the dreadlocks to display a root rainbow. So there, Adele!

As for my husband, he says he likes them. There’s no lack of horror stories about dreadlocks so he’s no stranger to the potential bugs, yard waste, remote controls, or other random items that might get lost in them, according to the skeptics. At one point, I noticed him sniffing around my head. When I asked him what in the hell he was doing, he – as politely as he was able to muster – said he noticed a strange odor around me and wondered if it was the dreadlocks. After a thorough paranoid investigation, the evidence led to protein powder that I was consuming twice daily, but Dusty went straight to scapegoating the dreads. Also, they poke him in the face when he spoons me, but that was an unintentional consequence that I think is worth the struggle for the message I’m sending the world.

I frequently get asked why I put dreadlocks in my hair and wear Birkenstocks. I guess I’ve always been a little bit of a non-conformist hippie at heart but have spent way too much time worrying about what others think. I’ve always lived just a little to the left of conformity – doing some of the average, conventional mom stuff, work stuff, and wife stuff with my dirty little hippie secrets reminding me that I can still do what I want and I still make my own rules. Social conventions have some use, as long as we still express ourselves in our own unique red and pink ways.