THERE ARE MANY torments in this daunting world that none of us should be expected to endure: the loss of a loved one, debilitating illness, reruns of Almost Live!. The fashion equivalent of such inhumanity? Wearing the infamous Hot Dog on a Stick uniform. You know the one I'm getting at: the shorts/shirt/erect hat ensemble colored like a clown's tube of Aquafresh toothpaste and foisted on workers who can't be making too much more than minimum wage. Not pretty, not fair. Barbara Ehrenreich may have captured the soul of welfare-reform America by going undercover for her acclaimed nonfiction account Nickel and Dimed, but I don't think you can really understand what people have to do for a buck until you've worn a red-white-and-blue Bundt cake on your head.
I recently felt compelled to ask a Westlake Mall Hot Dog on a Stick wage slave how she was faring in the getup. Missy—an amazingly friendly, gracious woman for someone who's been deep-frying beef for three-and-a-half years—was surely in pain, I thought. I mean, the outfit is so insane I'm not the only one who could've sworn it used to sport a little whirligig on the top of the hat. ("Everybody thinks that," Missy says patiently.)
But, as with all of life's tests, I guess, a person survives.
"You always get the question, 'You like that hat?'" Missy admits. "At first, it was weird—with all the looks—but now, I don't mind."
Thinking I might be able to make Missy's life a little easier, I called the Art Institute of Seattle's fashion program with a challenge: redesign the workforce's single worst uniform, using the same colors and basic components (shorts, shirt, cap), but kicking it up a notch.
Enter student Tamara Madison, who certainly kicked it up a notch. The resulting design sketch came back with even more color, including a bold stripe in a leopard print.
"I just wanted to make it more creative," Madison explains. "I wanted a different pattern in the yellow, just to change it up a bit."
Mission accomplished, Tamara. I also couldn't help noticing the new shorts, which are now multicolored, too, and come complete with . . . are those some kind of red undergarments?
"Yeah, it's kind of like bloomers," says Tamara. "Inspiration from, like, the old cheerleading outfits. Like biking pants with elastic underneath."
And, you know, the hat's more relaxed, too. ("Her hat was boring; it looked stiff. She needed movement to her look.")
In other words, ol' Tamara had a heyday. Nickel and Dimed be damned—she had something wacky to play with.
I haven't shown any of this to Missy yet; we've both been so busy. And I'm not sure she's ready for haute couture. She's been through so much already.