(Trying to) Dress Like a Non-Dirtbag

Sadly, climbing outfits are not appropriate for all life situations.

“Look at you all showered this morning,” I greeted my friend Corey for our before-work session at the Boulder Rock Club.

“Oh I haven’t showered,” was his sleepy reply.

“Your hair’s just that greasy?” Fell out of my mouth. “Good, because I haven’t washed my hair in four days. And it shows.”

This conversation might be somewhat reasonable if I was still a truck-dweller. However, living in Boulder, I have 24/7 access to showers: The one in my house, the one at the gym, and the ones at my office. So maybe I’m just gross.

* * *

Interning at Climbing Magazine, I routinely take advantage of Active Interest Media’s “wear whatever you want paired with as much flannel as possible” dress code. I show up with chalk on my brightly patched climbing pants, not having showered or changed after my early morning training sessions at the Spot, or with a bits of lichen ground into my knees from a half-day of Eldo trad climbing. I occasionally change my shirt and always make sure to keep a stick of deodorant in my backpack, but I look far from professional. It’s really nice to not care what I look like or to have to end my gym session 15 minutes early to shower and change, but sometimes I wonder if my zero effort approach is always the best one. My hair does look better when I wash it every two to three days.

* * *

“This one might fit, what do you think?” I asked the female closest to me. I’d finally found a small sweater in the heap of mediums and larges at the clothing swap my roommate was hosting in our living room.

“How do you feel in it?” She asked.

“It’s not too itchy,” I promptly replied.

“No, how do you feel in it?” She asked again.

It was then that I realized I don’t dress to feel confident, or sexy, or beautiful. I choose my clothing based on functionality, comfort, what I happen to see first in the morning, and, occasionally, on what items I don’t mind ripping on crystalline cracks. I don’t normally contemplate my lack of fashion-consciousness, but trying on free hand-me-downs in a room full of well-dressed women got me thinking:

While I love that climbing isn’t about looking perfect in a brand-name fitness outfit color-coordinated to match my shoes and harness, I do think that when I’m not in the mountains, or on a rock, or in the gym, or chilling in bed with my roommates’ kittens, I should make a little effort to look presentable. That’s simply how the “real world” works. If I want to get a full-time job as a journalist in the Outdoor Industry, or even just coach a kids team at one of Boulder’s many climbing gyms, I can’t look like I’m living in the back of my Subaru on Tuesdays and Fridays because I was too lazy to wash my hair—for the record I do shower most days, I just don’t always use shampoo.

Many of my full-time van-dwelling friends don’t even look like the classic, grimy dirtbag. My friend Sarah wears earrings and a little makeup most days to combat the unshowered van-life look, and you’d never know that some of my coworkers live in the office parking lot.

So while there’s nothing wrong with wearing my comfiest tattered flannel for an afternoon bouldering session, and I definitely don’t plan on washing my climbing pants after every gym session, I don’t have to look like a dirtbag all the time, especially since, like most climbers, I’m not currently “living the dirtbag dream.”


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