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Have you ever seen a peacock fan its spectacular feathers above and behind its ridiculous little body?

Well, I saw all kinds of peacocks at Fashion Week in New York last weekend. Celebrities and paparazzi; divas and drag queens; the inspiring and the less-than-inspirational. New York Fashion Week was eventful, to say the least. Yet, after miles of fabric and forests of platform stilettos, the most poignant fashion moment for me had nothing to do with Fashion Week at all. It happened on the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral before the 9/11 Commemorative Catholic Mass for the New York City Fire Fighters.

My timing was perfect. Navigating my way through the crowd with my friends and their baby, I couldn’t help but notice these men in uniform as they stooped to peer at the baby and comment in their gritty New York style inflections, “Hey, little guy…”

My first reaction was the comfortable realization that they sounded a lot like my Grandpa, who was a New York City fire fighter and captain of a fire boat for the city. I felt a pinch of longing for things past: a place called “Grandma’s and Grandpa’s” in Brooklyn; the smell of wood polish dulled by cigarette smoke; and old cars that took up a lot of room on the city’s streets.

But in the next instant I realized that one thing hadn’t changed: the pride within a uniform. These men looked dashing in their dress blues and hats just like my Grandpa had. Their shoes were polished and their faces were scrubbed. Their fashion spoke volumes about things I considered to be far more important than anything signaled by a Nanette Lepore ensemble or a  Rebecca Minkoff handbag.

So, I got to thinking about uniforms in general. There were, after all, uniforms all over the city. The NYPD seemed to be on every street, and even soldiers were a part of our protection for the 9/11 Ten Year Anniversary ceremonies. I really did feel safer, even if it really was an illusion (which I doubt, frankly).

Those who worked the logistics of Fashion Week wore black, subway authorities had their blue shirts, and makeup counters were staffed by beautiful people in white lab coats. All these had a unity of purpose, a feeling of importance, and a kind of dignity that gets foggy when fashion is reduced to mere self aggrandizement.

Of course, we can’t all be happy in uniforms. I loathed and still absolutely writhe at the mere thought of the green plaid uniform I wore to St. Pius X Elementary School until eighth grade. Uniforms can be boring, stifling, or plain torment to (especially) the young and/or artistic.

But my personal choices for fashion during my eighth grade year in 1979 revolved around tight jeans, black concert t-shirts with dubious statements, high-heeled sandals, and lots of big hair. In a way, that uniform saved me from myself; something I realized only as an adult.

In fact, uniform advocates cite a study of schools in Ohio’s big cities which revealed that uniforms “do help in addressing problems with discipline and attendance in a school building,” with a reported mean graduation rate rise to nearly 11 percent at schools which required uniforms, compared to pre-uniform years (Draa, Youngstown State University).

So, in regard to clothing choice, is it that uniforms are always better? Is this a matter of good versus bad? Has it come to the point that we can’t be left alone with our decisions regarding clothing and message-sending because, if we are, we end up with the excesses of Fashion Week?

Well, no. That’s overstating the case for uniforms, obviously. Quite unexpectedly, my experience on the steps of Saint Pat’s nudged me into a new appreciation for the power of choice. How does one personally choose clothing which promotes his or her purpose and dignity without being told exactly how?

And this gets me back to the peacock. A peacock, created as a peacock, does the peacock thing. A human person, created as human person, does the human thing. Clothing choice and assembly is a major part of being human. It’s a language which works with our mouths and hands or anything we leave on paper. Indeed, fashion historians claim that we began assembling “fashion” rather than just clothing, pretty much at the dawn of our existence. (We know it as the fig leaf and that began with a bad choice regarding something totally unrelated to fashion.)

However, we transcend the mere animal level with the faculty to make decisions: The decision to live virtue or die in vice; the choice to create or destroy, celebrate or deplore, exalt or defame. Fashion, just like any other human endeavor, is the most obvious of our sensory experiences, and, even for the anti-fashion minded, it can become the most consuming of our imagination and creative energies. It’s not that it shouldn’t be. It just is. But what we allow it to say for each of us really makes all the difference.

So, a resolution from my experience with Fashion Week?

I’ll choose my fashion creatively, joyfully, and wisely to show the world I’ve outgrown the need for that uniform. I can be left alone with the power.

Mary Sheehan Warren is a fashion consultant and author of It’s So You! Fitting Fashion to Your Life. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.