(image courtesy Thomas Hawk)

When I received my bachelor’s degree, I had no idea what to do next so I thought I’d try some temp work. I figured I had to try on a couple places before I knew where I’d like to stay so I pulled on some panty hose (remember panty hose?), put on a cheap suit and some heels, grabbed my résumé, and trotted over to San Francisco’s financial district on BART for my interview.

I arrived early, took the elevator up to the street and stood there, looking up at the metal, stone, and glass faces of the buildings leaning over me, feeling smaller than a bug. Bankers and CEOs and executive assistants have no time for a gaggler and I was quickly jostled along by the current of wool-clad, leather-loafered movers and shakers until I found a nook to stand in. I looked at the slightly wrinkled résumé in my hand and realized how I must look.

So I found a place that smelled of leather. If you close your eyes and breathe deeply, you’ll notice how leather smells just like money. The cheapest thing they had looked like a manilla folder, only made of black cow skin. The price tag made me queasy but you’ve got to pay to play, right? This was an investment in my professional journey, the entrance fee into the working world. You got to dress the part if you want to be a player, girlfriend, and so I coughed it up.

I sat in the waiting room for a long time with my back straight, knees together, and the leather folder on my lap. Finally, they called my name. I clacked my little heels across the room, shook hands, and followed her into her office, where I unwrapped the leather toggle, pulled my résumé out of its case, and handed it over. I was ready to answer all questions– how I had been employed since I was 12 years old and worked my way through school doing various jobs, how I had written two theses, one on Cindy Sherman and one about Willem de Kooning’s Women, how I had graduated with highest honors. It took the woman on the other side of the desk two seconds to scan it. The only question she asked was, “How fast can you type?”

For years I held on to that leather folder. Every once in awhile, I’d find it shoved in a closet or stuffed in a cardboard box and every time, I’d feel a hot wave of shame and embarrassment flood my face.

Over the years, this reaction faded to mild amusement. Where did that girl go, the one who was willing to wear panty hose and pay any price?

The day I found it on the garage floor, covered with a sickly green skin, I felt absolutely nothing.


About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.


  1. Never settle for less.:)

  2. gailytr

    good piece, truth told cleanly and wisely

  3. Oh yeah. Funny how your perspective on life can change. What’s important, what’s not.

  4. Totally understand this. I am applying to countless jobs right now. I sent out twenty this month, all with fruitless results. Nice writing.

  5. Todd

    Seems like I always learn something when I read your stuff. When I’m over this stuffed up nose I’m going to check out that thing about money and leather!
    I remember that same scene of interviewing in the financial when I got out out of school. I was dead broke and knew zip about the corporate world. I did temp work at few places too (no typing.. still hunt and peck) mainly stuffing brochures into folders. I hated it and it paid crap. Those towers felt so inhuman and it seemed to rub off on the people inside. I remember them being so cold and functional. I also remember feeling so weak and flimsy in that supposedly powerful looking a suit and tie (I still hate suits and ties). But I think the whereabouts of the girl really are the same, here. Most of what people want is controlled by other people. So if you want an agent or to be published by a big press, you still have to walk into their realm. I think for me the biggest difference between that time and now is that they don’t intimidate me anymore. It’s more of a game now. Find out what makes them tick, what they want, and sell it back to them with my wants wrapped up inside. But it’s not a trick, it’s a negotiation. They aren’t the trolls under the bridge. They are people with families and turkey dinners to make. Now I think of those towers as not excluding me, but imprisoning them. If I can’t break them out, maybe at least I can open a window and give them some fresh air.

    • I like the way your brain works. You could talk a pitt bull off a meat wagon, couldn’t you? I do think I have learned a lot since then. I am waiting to meet the real people behind the website. A real face or voice (or even writing, I guess) makes all the difference.

      • Todd

        “…talk a pitt bull off a meat wagon…” That’s a good one! Is that yours? I looked it up, it’s called neologisim and you’re a neologist… but you prolly knew that. Remember Herb Cain? He was pretty good at it too. I dabble myself but they usually pertain to obnoxious customers and are a little too obscene for this venue.

  6. What a thoughtful essay, thanks for using my photo with it. 🙂 I got my first job in San Francisco in one of the buildings in this photo — the one in the upper left. I’d been working for a temp agency typing of course right after college and got the job making marketing materials for a bank because I knew how to use PageMaker from laying out my college newspaper. Although I didn’t have to wear pantyhose, I did have to wear a tie and cut my hair which was it’s own sort of compromise at the time.

    • Thomas, thank you so much for letting me use it! I think it works perfectly and I’m so pleased you don’t mind.

      Maybe you were looking out of a window trying to work a finger in to loosen your tie while I was staring dizzy up at the sky. Who knows?

      Thanks again!

  7. Beautiful writing about the increasingly ugly business of job-seeking.

    I have a black skirt (appropriate for interviews, but one I’d never wear otherwise) and a decent pair of shoes that would work with pants or a skirt. Conventional wisdom said I needed these. I haven’t got to the point yet where I feel nothing when I see them, because I haven’t had an opportunity to wear them.

  8. For me the sight of never worn interview clothes that I’ve had for years, is worse than strange. Somehow I can take seeing the unworn “date” tops better. Maybe because I still have a little hope about that.

  9. Oh, yes, putting on the uniform… I have a barely-used briefcase somewhere too (but well hidden). And then all they want to know is ‘can you type’. I remember being told I should leave my Masters and Ph.D. degree off my CV, and just put my typing speed WPM instead…

  10. Lordy. That is raw and real. And, I wonder where that broad is today. The one that asked how fast you could type.

  11. I find it interesting how the smallest awkward memories can be so big, for so long. Shame fades slowly, whether we deserve to wear it or not.
    Shame and pantyhose – both dreadfully uncomfortable.

    • It’s true. Why does shame take so long to go? Longer than sadness and anger, I think. Good point– and I love the connection you made. Wearing panty hose is a fabulous metaphor for feeling ashamed. Love that!

  12. beautiful writing. you had me at nylons.

  13. Peter M Kelly

    Why is it coming clean works so well in essay form? People like to hear about our personal vulnerability. It’s therapeutic for them.

  14. Oh, wow. This just took me back. It was those days in the office with the panty hose that propelled me into university. You write so well.

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