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July 2009

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Sweat Equity
Written By: 
Melissa Bigner

When the temperatures rise, this lifelong tomboy turns up her feminine style.


I started out a barefoot, overalls-and-onesies baby girl who, by my twenties, had evolved into a flip-flopped, jeans-and-T-shirt gal. But then along came my thirties, a move to the Lowcountry, and experiencing the region’s inherent bane—sweat—and voilà, out popped my fashionably fem side.

The transformation merits a little explanation, one that’s rooted in a long-ago awakening. Back in high school, I ran home after a soccer game, and though I was doused in deodorant, I arrived looking like I had bolted through a car wash on a dare. I apologized to my mother and a coffee-visit neighbor for “sweating like a pregnant nun,” a phrase I had just learned from a teammate. Said the Catholic neighbor, ignoring my indiscretion, “Oh, Melissa. Ladies don’t sweat. And they don’t perspire—they glow!” At that moment, it dawned on me that yes, sweat might be my genetic curse (thanks, Dad), but femininity? Apparently it’s as much about spin as anything.

However, that little teenage incident didn’t immediately strip me of my beloved denim-and-cotton-top uniform and tomboy ways. No, it took a move to lovely, sweltering Charleston about seven years ago to do the deed—at least on the fashion front. The first faux pas occurred during one prolifically sweaty run. I had made the mistake of hitting the pavement in light blue nylon shorts and a white sports bra. A few drenched miles later, I looked like I had peed my pants and, well, we all know why wet T-shirt contest winners always wear white

The second related disaster occurred on an alfresco dinner date one stagnantly steamy night. Imagine me, a pair of khakis, a cotton tank, and a metal bistro chair that was still radiating from the day’s sunshine. Let’s just say when I stood up, I looked like I had sat in a puddle or worse, and there was really no possibility of recovering romance at that point. Undoubtedly it was mortifying enough to shove me straight into Southern belledom.

The next day, I full-on ditched the khakis, the big-girl overalls, and the cherished jeans for the once-unthinkable: everyday dresses. Today, I’m all about an eyelet shift, and as for skirts? The flouncier the better, as that amplifies the air conditioning. Color’s important, too, as black, navy, and the occasional pattern don’t advertise damp spots; and white fares best as non-sports wear. Breathable cotton and its cousin linen are must-haves as well. Toss in prescription-strength, powder-fresh antiperspirant, hair I now let air-dry into curls—it’s much cooler—and sometimes I’m so girly I can’t stand myself. But in a good way.

So thanks, biology, and thanks boiling Charleston, from me and especially my family and neighbors. I may still be on the Sporty Spice side, but you’ve apparently made-over my wardrobe in a way that years of recently disclosed silent prayers never could achieve.





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