First Impressions Die Hard, Braids Included


I pose in the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas, sporting the bold new hairdo I would eventually wear on my first day of sixth grade. (Courtesy of Susan Galbraith)


The first day of school: It’s like a scary version of Christmas morning. You wake up early and are ready for surprises. That initial class session means everything in the eyes of your professors and your classmates: Are you on time or late? A good student or a slacker? Well-adjusted, or so painfully awkward that no one will sit in the desks adjacent to yours? It’s a first date with 20 other people and a syllabus. So yes, I’m a little nervous about making good first impressions this August 29. But not too nervous, because I happen to be very, very good at first impressions.

I pose in the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas, sporting the bold new hairdo I would eventually wear on my first day of sixth grade. (Courtesy of Susan Galbraith)
I pose in the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas, sporting the bold new hairdo I would eventually wear on my first day of sixth grade. (Courtesy of Susan Galbraith)

Let me cut to the chase: I showed up on my first day of middle school with a full head of cornrows. I know what you’re thinking: But Jewel, weren’t you a tiny white girl with overly long brown hair and a pronounced overbite? The answer to your question is yes. But I had just gone on a trip to visit my grandfather in the Bahamas, and when I found out that getting my hair done into dozens of tiny braids with beads at the end was an option, I was not going to pass that up. Besides, they looked good with my two different Tweety Bird T-shirts.
So I traipsed down the halls of my 300-person middle school, where I knew none of the students, hair clacking. I told anyone who would listen that my main interests were stuffed animals and the movie “Shrek.” After about a week of that winning behavior, a girl wearing a T-shirt that said “Taurus” invited me to an exclusive club for “cool kids.” She handed me the official decoding sheet for the club’s secret messages, with my name spelled wrong right on the front of it. It was only a few days into sixth grade, but “Jewl” was in and everybody loved her.

My braids did have to come out eventually, and with that came the possibility that my meteoric rise to extreme popularity would come to an end. Fortunately, I had enough classy, timeless style to carry me through the year. Case in point: my fleece outfit. It was exactly what it sounded like— an outfit made entirely of fleece. The torso portion was a blue and green striped fleece pullover from The Children’s Place. I accessorized the pullover with a black fleece over-the-shoulder bag, which was usually full of pencils and trash. I pulled the entire ensemble together with a pair of black, flared, fleece pants from Old Navy. The look was both cute and static-y. Right now you’re probably wondering why more people don’t wear all-fleece getups these days. I’ll tell you from personal experience: Fleece does not dry well when you spill yogurt all over it in the middle school cafeteria.

I made a couple other solid fashion choices throughout the sixth grade, including a pair of pants so big that when they fell down in the hallway, I had to fashion a belt out of things I had in my backpack (two stretchy headbands and a green carabineer). But my real crowning glory of first-impression-making was my first semester of college. I managed to get sick with a chronic death-cough immediately upon arriving at Fordham. It was a great way to meet people. Everyone remembered my name (“girl who won’t stop coughing in class”). My new friends and I got to enjoy the fun college bonding experience of everyone refusing to share food with me. And my cough was a huge benefit for my roommate, who could use my wheezing as a creepy, middle-of-the-night alarm clock.

These days I feel like a pretty big success knowing that everyone in my life knows me either as excessively braided or sickly. But sophomore year day one leaves me even more room for triumph. I’ve already thrown up on a Ram Van, but there are certainly some other moves I can pull to clinch my status as cool and sought-after. So if you see me tripping on my own feet in the hallway or spilling a bottle of water on one of my professors, be sure to say hi. And if you’re reading this before August 29, don’t worry about your first day too much— relax, be yourself, and if you need an eye-catching hairdo to top off your outfit, call me up and I’ll help you brainstorm.