Thursday, 21 June 2018

The joys of being overdressed

I’ve been wanting to write something about dress codes, or the expectations surrounding the way women dress, but every time I start collecting my thoughts, I realise the topic is a thesis, not a quick blog post. (this post had only been live for a few hours before a seriously offensive jacket made international headline news and I wrote an extra chapter of my masterwork in my head). So I’ve thrown caution to the wind (along with “sensible” clothes) and indulged my penchant for some fantastic frocks! 

It’s probably a bit odd to have a favourite obituary, but I think about Vicki Woods’ tribute to fashion journalist, mentor and muse Isabella Blow, published in Vogue Magazine, quite often. Woods describes seeing Blow crossing a busy London street near the Tatler offices: 
“She was dressed for work in a silk-satin mini-crini (Vivienne Westwood, knicker-length, hooped like a bordello lampshade) and a white satin bra (Rigby and Peller). Apart from Maud Frizon evening shoes with crystal balls twinkling at each heel, that was it... her impressive cleavage shivered like mounds of buffalo mozzarella.”
Instead of being met with jeers or catcalls, Blow’s appearance stunned the street into silence. What can you say to someone who is wearing that outfit with the utmost confidence? 

I visited an exhibition of Isabella Blow’s extensive wardrobe at Somerset House in 2013, and her love of dressing up was evident from the state of her clothes. These outrageous, one-off outfits hadn’t been museum pieces, she had worn them out and, by the look of some of the scuffed shoes and rumpled jackets, had one heck of a good time in them. 

We often cling to the idea that women (and especially older women) are covering up inner turmoil or tragedy by dressing in a flamboyant or eccentric way. It’s been an ongoing trope in the fictional depiction of women too, from Dickens’ Miss Havisham to Star Trek’s Lwaxana Troi (I wrote about her amazing costumes here). But one look at popular culture and we can also see women of all ages dressed to the nines and having the time of their lives. Think Beyoncé’s pregnancy photo shoot, Rihanna cosplaying the Pope at the Met Gala, 90-something Iris Apfel and her incredible, enviable wardrobe. 

Yes, there are definitely days when putting on a great outfit gives me the confidence I need to deal with a difficult situation. Stepping out in bright colours is a real mood-boost on days when the whole world feels grey. But I also just unironically love clothes. I’ve spent fifteen years learning how to make them, perfecting my skills, learning about fashion history, visiting exhibitions and building up my own collection of vintage treasures. 

It can feel like there’s a constant pressure to play it cool; to downplay your love of something, or to do it ironically (why? At the end of the day, you’re still doing the thing, so the joke’s on you). Celebrating your love of something can be made to feel self-indulgent; especially for women, and especially when it comes to spending money. The media informs us that we have to spend money constantly to improve our appearance, while pop culture mocks us for being vain shopaholics. We can’t win! 

What happens when we stop worrying about what other people think and start dressing for ourselves, or for the person we want to be? It might not be the answer to all our problems, but I’m not going to pretend that the idea of being a bit unsettling because I’m not dressed the way I’m “supposed” to isn’t appealing. I refuse to become invisible to pander to someone else’s idea of “normal”.

I’m not suggesting you subject your wardrobe to a whirlwind of debauchery (although please don’t let me stop you), but why not try taking some of the outfits you bought “for best” out for a spin? Not only will it alleviate any worries about owning clothes you never wear, but if you’re wearing your best outfit you just might find that you are living your best life. 

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