When I was seventeen years old, I applied to Reed College "Early Decision," which essentially meant that once accepted, I was locked in to attending the small liberal arts school in eastern Portland.
As part of the application process--or maybe it was an option?--I was able to meet in Seattle with an admissions counselor of sorts from Reed. We met in the lobby of a downtown hotel, and when Papa drove me into the city, he told me stories from his time at Reed College in the 70s.
The counselor was an fifty-something man, and I don't remember him at all that well, but in my mind he is doddering, wearing an ill-fitting brown suit with elbow patches, tired but excitable and passionate about the school. In my mind, I am in a movie and his is a typecast professor. Clearly.
We talked about Reed, about my interests in English, in French, in reading and writing. I told him my father went there, and he told me about the "grout-fiti"; literary puns lining the tiles of the bathrooms across campus.
In the end, he hesitated, and asked if I had considered how good of a fit Reed College was for me. He tried rather awkwardly to describe the student population as "progressive" or "liberal" or "hippie"--when what he really meant, as I later found out during visits to my high school friend Will, who ended up attending the school, was that Reed College students were wealthy young kids who spent their few hours of free time tripping on mushrooms and sowing opiate poppy seeds across the Portland city sidewalks. What he really meant was that Reed students shopped in thrift stores not because they had to, but because buying second-hand was responsible, and because nowhere has better old sweaters than Value Village. What he really meant was that perhaps my neat sweater with a collared, floral print shirt under it and dark blue jeans wouldn't feel comfortable amongst the student body at Reed.
But the guidance counselor didn't see me on a peasant blouse kind of day (obviously I wore peasant blouses in high school) and my hair would prove to be much more untidy than a hippie girl's from Redondo Beach.
In November, I had to turn down my early decision acceptance to Reed, as even maximizing my loans couldn't cover the tuition and living expenses for private school. I gave up on private school, and traded Reed's wealthy neurotics for Western's middle class snowboarders & rock climbers. And while I may have not worn a peasant blouse since high-school--who wants elastic around their wrists, anyway?--I never have let myself be typecast by my clothes, and a peek in my closet will reveal Value Village sweaters that Reed alumni would turn green with envy for, and pink party dresses that might make them think I'm far less of a bookish type than I actually am. And goddammit, if I'm going to any kind of interview I'm going to dress up, granola-reputation or no.