Writing Challenge Day 24: All Dressed-Up and Nowhere to Go.

My jeans still fit. In any other year this would be less of an accomplishment, but I’ll take it, even with sub-optimal result.

My significant others have also been geeks or at least geek-leaning, and after nearly a hundred heavily engineer-populated corporate holiday parties, I’ve had a chance to notice how many technologists enjoy an opportunity for a wardrobe flex. Sharp jackets and slacks, red sequins and lipstick, actual watches and accessory bling that patiently waits far back in the recesses of our lights-out clothescenters.

“Hey, you look great!” may be the #1 party greeting for good reason. It’s fun to remember our coworkers have clothes game we don’t see at work. More so, it’s wonderful to see them sparkle in the light of honest complements. We’re not simply reacting to that one outfit or hair with fancy product. We’re acknowledging all the choices, thought, and preparation that went into their suited and booted reveals in the hotel lobby. Everyone seems to beam. It’s also extra special for party guests working in technology.

Many of us are careful with favorite geeky/ironic/snarky/conference/certification t-shirts and polos, especially those in daily rotation. Working from home has only increased wear and tear. It has also cut off longstanding avenues for cotton replenishment, creating a bit of t-shirt range anxiety. More habit than uniform, tech t-shirts aren’t sloppy affectation. Rather, they’re identity—protocol, vendor, and humor gang signs we flash to let others know we’re serious about the occupations integrated into to our cores. Some of the world’s most incredible moments of administration have been performed by gurus wearing faded, “free” gear.  So, when we have a chance to turn up, sharp and snappy, it’s as much about having somewhere special to go as anything else.

This year has been a lesson in how social we are. Even for introverts—extraverted or otherwise—being together is a chance to demonstrate our eagerness by how we prepare. And don’t get me started on geek Halloween and fancy-dress parties. The public simply has no idea of the near-cosplay quality costumes this community creates. The very act of getting dressed up in and of itself brings feelings of acceptance and anticipation.

I’ve thought a lot in the last few weeks about missed Thanksgivings, New Year’s Eve stop-bys, and road trips to parents. My jeans confirm I might still put together something within spitting distance of current fashion, or at least as close to it as I do. I’m so ready to get all dressed up and go somewhere other than taking Christmas card pictures in front of the tree. I’d go anywhere really.

But there’s one place to go unchanged this year. The technology community was dressed and ready for the challenges of 2020. Admins, developers, managers, and execs weren’t left waiting to go—they jumped at every opportunity to tackle technology projects unthinkable a few months ago. It was a raucous event, leaving holes in the walls, stained carpets, and many hoarse, exhausted, and hungover. Maybe not the invite we wanted, but it was a get-together we’ll never forget. Preferably though, let’s skip the existential threat next time.

Just like a rare moment together with everyone smiling in suits and frocks, this year was a chance for engineers to receive honest, spontaneous complement. Only instead of “Hey, you look great!” while wearing a piece of beloved Cisco Live! gear, I hope they heard, “Hey, you did great!” I hope they had the chance to see real smiles and emojis from the people so grateful for their help. Mostly, I hope they were also able to enjoy the bust of confidence and pride that goes with it. Yes, even in spite of an IT tendency to only endure the spotlight for so long because, no capes.

Tomorrow, I’m breaking out my Christmas party jacket and tie for a fancy family dinner with just the four of us. We might even find the china that’s been somewhere or another in the house for years, and my grandmother’s great-grandmother’s piecemeal silver set still full of stories and love. When we toast, I’ll be thinking about the things I’m truly grateful for, especially the aspects of my life that this year reminded me I was taking for granted. And in my inside voice, I’ll make one special toast of gratefulness for all of you who were dressed up, with so many places to go save the world.

Anonymous