In this installment of “What’s Your Power Suit?” journalist Oriana Schwindt shares her “Power Suit” for traveling to every state in the U.S. for an exciting and important project she’s launched. I’ll let her tell you all about it.
PS: Tell us about yourself and your work.
OS: I recently gave up a career writing about the business of television in favor of chronicling American life in the here and now by visiting the cities and towns closest to the center of every state, for a project called Centerville, USA. You can read some of my entries on Medium, or gain access to all current and future dispatches by becoming a Centerville, USA Patron.
PS: Do you have an outfit, item of clothing, or accessory (past or present), that holds some “super power” for you?
OS: Most of my outfits these days are wrinkled t-shirts and jeans—I actually had to stop wearing tank tops and v-neck t-shirts while I was in the South because of an incident in which a few people blamed a v-neck shirt I was wearing for a creepy Good Ol’ Boy trying to lure me into his car. I’m essentially living out of a big camping backpack stuffed with essentials, with occasional sub-ins from a couple big suitcases I’m lugging around in the trunk of my car. But whatever’s on my legs and torso, it’s almost always being paired with some black-and-neon New Balance 574s I ordered shortly before hopping on the road for good.
PS: Where were you when the “power” of your new kicks became apparent?
OS: These shoes were a bit of an early birthday present to myself. I recently turned 30, and when ordering them I knew I would be doing so during a long stretch of centers that were essentially in the middle of nowhere, where I would know no one and be surrounded constantly by things that were not mine, by inconstancy. They were the last package I received at a permanent address.
The first time I put them on, they felt broken in already. I felt taller in them, like I took up more space, like they inspired a heightened awareness of my existence. I wake up every few days in a different bed, a bed that isn’t mine, and my clothes no longer smell like me. These shoes are the most constant thing in my life, a reminder of home, of New York, all the flash that enhances the darkness.
PS: Having that constancy when backpacking all over the country does sound pretty powerful. Tell us about your shoes in more detail!
OS: They’re not particularly fancy sneakers—they cost me about $60 after a discount—but they are supremely dope. I had been in dire need of new casual athletic shoes after literally wearing holes into the soles of some Pumas and saw a big sale at New Balance. I scrolled through sort of desultorily until seeing this pattern: a black body, neon coral laces, neon yellow N; some turquoise accents and almost a houndstooth pattern on the tongue. There’s even some fleece lining the inside, for when it starts getting cold. I’ve tried to remove as much of the consumeristic impulse from my life as possible of late, because that doesn’t do you much good when you don’t have money to spend, but I knew as soon as I saw them I needed them on my feet.
I’ve only had them a little more than a month, and I tried to take care of them as best I could, initially. But my travels have taken me to places both dusty and muddy, and there’s now a fine layer of grit covering the black upper and white side of the sole.
PS: How do you wear them with the rest of your travel clothes?
OS: Eh, just sticking ’em on my feet usually works.
PS: Do they inform your overall sense of style and dressing while you’re on the road?
OS: They certainly reminded me that I do have a few items in my wardrobe that aren’t just black t-shirts. Coral, yellow, orange, turquoise—they’re a daily nudge to go deeper into my backpack. And, if I don’t happen to have any clean colors, they’re enough of a pop to make it just fine to go with some black Levis and a generic black tee.
PS: Do you use any rules for what to wear backpacking?
OS: Here’s where I’m probably different from most of the women trying to climb some sort of workplace ladder. My goal right now is not to stand out, not to look like some sort of glamazon or Big City Person come to condescend; I also don’t want to attract men who are thinking something romantic might come of our interaction. (A trash way to have to think, of course: What I wear shouldn’t matter, but there are certain outfits I know will simply attract creepazoids. Parents: Teach your sons better, please.) What helps is that I’m naturally small and unthreatening, and as long as I don’t show up to a cowboy bar in a sheath dress, it’s pretty easy to blend, from a clothing perspective. Some places, the shoes look out of place, marking me as an outsider. But that’s a small price to pay for the confidence and comfort they give, and sometimes being marked as an outsider helps strike up interesting conversations.
PS: What advice—style, goal-hitting, or otherwise—would you like to share with other women?
OS: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. What I’m doing right now, constantly talking to other people—many of whom have a (ahem) different view of the world—and writing 1500-2000 words every few days, makes it easy to get ground down, and finding time to come up for air is tough on this kind of schedule. But it has to be done, and feeling guilty doesn’t do you any good. Oh, and don’t be afraid to throw away what you thought was your dream. There’s always another mountain to climb.