Throughout David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, there is a heavy emphasis on roles and appearances. He writes about everything from his mother’s constant striving to appear of a higher social class than they are to his own insecurities with the way he comes off to those around him. All of this makes me wonder if these struggles with expectations and realities are the foundation of and reason for his writing.
He discusses in many chapters the assumed roles he and his siblings had had. In the chapter “Repeat After Me,” Sedaris talks about these “roles” or as he furthers it, “titles that effectively told [them] who [they] were” (144). Worse than these roles, though, seems to be the children’s lack of fulfilling some of them. Lisa, for instance, failed to live up to her role as “leader” and this became disheartening and confusing for the rest of the children. Sedaris, here, seems to be pointing to the extreme importance that labels and expectations have, not for just the person seeking to fulfill them, but for those witnessing the fulfillment… or lack there of.
These ideas come back up regularly throughout the book, but they stood out the most to me in the chapters “Chicken in the Henhouse” and “Nuit of the Living Dead.” In “Chicken in the Henhouse”, Sedaris becomes hyper-cautious of the way he appears to those around him, not because he acts strangely on his own, but because of the national outrage against pedophilia and homosexuality of priests. Sedaris feels that once people identify him as a homosexual, the rest will inevitably follow and no matter how he fights it, the rest of his character will not matter. Some identifiers end up overpowering any other possible characteristics and taint the perception of a person as a whole.
He returns to this issue again in “Nuit of the Living Dead,” but with a bit more clarity. As he guides a lost tourist through his home, he begins to recognize all the little oddities in its appearance that may add up to say something quite different about himself and the situation than is actually the case. He writes, “An unexpected and unknown visitor allows you to see a familiar place as if for the first time” (254).
It seems that for Sedaris, the effect of appearances on one’s perceptions and expectations both for oneself and for those around them go hand-in-hand. While one’s role expectations for oneself will guide one’s actions (perhaps more for some than others) and while one’s appearances greatly affect another’s expectations and perceptions of them, these perceptions can also loop back around and change the way one sees oneself in the first place. For Sedaris, it seems highly likely that his writing would allow him this new sort of clarity. Much of his writing is based upon his actual life and experiences which perhaps is not all too clear to him in its true purpose, but by opening all of this up to other people, namely, his readers, he is achieving that “much keener” focus (254) that comes with the echoing and reflection of one’s appearances back out one’s own understanding of self, creating an endless hall of mirrors for Sedaris to walk through.