Happy Belated Halloween readers! As we all shake off the decorative cobwebs and emerge from our candy or otherwise induced grogginess, I’d like to direct your attention to whatever strange getup you are about to bury in the depths of your closet. Like so many people I had been waiting what feels like an eternity to step out in my costume and now that it’s over I’m staring at it a little perplexed. This got me to thinking, why do we have such different relationships with costumes than we do with our clothes?
October in general is a deliciously crisp time of year but if I’m being honest, the whole month is just a spooky pumpkin spiced preamble to finding and making the perfect costume. Last year I was Cleopatra and sported that bright blue eyeshadow proudly at my day job. Before that, Hunter S. Thompson circa Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas complete with bucket hat and ridiculous Hawaiian shirt. I love that for one night you can let your flag fly and forget about the boundaries of time, space, gender, weather or appropriateness, and bask in the freedom of being you but not really you. I can understand why adopting another character is so much fun but where does this creativity go November first? Why are we so focused on getting dressed up on Halloween but every other day we are content with just getting dressed?
Obviously part of the answer is that on regular days we have a different set of needs for the way we look. In “real life” there are different things expected of us. That being said, even outside of the way me might look on Halloween, the amount of time that we spend making ourselves look that way is borderline taboo. Being called vain, materialistic, or shallow, even in a culture as visual as ours where we are constantly showcased and evaluated, these words still carry a certain negative charge. The situation further complicates itself when applied to fashion, gender and sexuality. A woman dressed too well may be shallow; not well enough, out of touch; too feminine, too high maintenance; not feminine enough, maybe she’s gay? A man dressed so meticulously must be gay, too pretty, too sloppy, too much something, not enough something else. It can be paralyzing. Fashion is often painted as this diabolical machine built to worship the perfect and exclude anyone else. The clothes seem to become more important than the person inside them. No wonder fashion scares people; this false dichotomy where pretty is perfect and ugly is useless seems like a no win situation. But what exists past the politics of pretty? What if the way you dressed wasn’t steeped in evaluating your self worth? What if it was as fun as putting on a costume?
With this in mind, all this month I’ve been asking friends and family, “What is your favorite piece of clothing? How does it make you feel?” The answers were surprising. Most people chose what they are most comfortable in, sweaters and robes that double as insulation for days spent cuddling on the couch. Other people chose things with nostalgic value, like the t shirt from the first time you saw your favorite musicians or that button-down like your grandpa used to wear. These can all serve as covert signals to other people of similar backgrounds and interests, a silent beacon for the like minded. But by far what I found most interesting were the pieces that seemed to carry the spirit of their inspiration. Shoes that make you jump higher and run faster, basically shapeless sacks that transform with belts and boots from shirt to dress and back for any occasion. Things you only wear to bed but always feel like yourself in. The metamorphic power of clothing was sprinkled in every response like last night’s stubborn body glitter. The stories I heard inspired me to see clothes differently, bringing elements of costume into everyday dressing to diffuse the fright of fashion.
The difference between costume and clothing, as far as I can gather, is mostly in the intent. Clothing is made to sell and be worn by the public and costumes are specifically designed and as a tool to support the story of the actor or performer who is wearing them. Essentially a shirt is a shirt is a shirt but a costume shirt has a narrative and character built into its design. With that in mind, look into your closet, we all actually do play a few characters in our lives. Who are you at work? What about on the weekends? These aren’t different people so much as they are different sides of the same die. If you’re having trouble dressing for an aspect of your life or you want to look different and don’t know where to start just think of creating another character. When you see your clothes as something to support instead of define you it takes out a lot of the guess work. If Leo Dicaprio can change his suit to go from the Wolf of Wall Street to Jay Gatsby, you can put on a new jacket and be a new person.
Injecting a narrative can also be an interesting approach and one of my favorite ways to look at new things. Growing up most of my clothes were second hand and I often wondered about the life they had before me. Maybe those metallic bellbottoms I had in jr.high came from another equally strange girl, or maybe they came from a David Bowie tribute band? Might they still have some Ziggy Stardust in the seams to help me play guitar? The answer to both of these is an almost definite no but good luck telling 13 year-old me not to wear them. Copy people; get inspired! Look at your favorite movies and musicians, cut them up and put them back together. You can be any or all of them at once. Characters and stories develop over time, you don’t need to make an 100% accurate statement on who you are today and who you’re going to be for the rest of your life; you go home, take your clothes off and do it again tomorrow.
Fashion can be fleeting. Fashion can be fun. In 20 years we are all going to look back at ourselves and laugh about how odd we looked on Halloween or otherwise. So before you throw away that costume and go back to the regular you ask yourself, what would Wonder Woman wear to brunch? How would King Tut feel about sneakers? Find the mix of characters that make up your alpha self and follow up that laugh with how cool and powerful you felt.
Till next time,
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Originally published by FabulouslyFeminist.com