ARCHIVED POST: Costume, not fashion

(This post is archived here from my old blog, originally published 10th Feb 2011)

Cor, it’s a bit dusty around here isn’t it?! I suppose I have been a bit lax in posting for the past, oh, year or so….

Lately though I’ve felt myself having real thinky thoughts, or just feeling the need to write things down again, regardless of whether or not anyone is reading them or if it’s just me, shouting into the internet void. So I’m going to try to post here a bit more this year, and make a real effort to document things.

So to start things I want to try and get some thoughts down, about, well, why I do what I do – or more specifically, why I look the way I look.

I think a lot of people are surprised when they see photos (or sometimes even footage) of me larking about in full costume-swing – whether that’s head-to-toe 1950s style, or at midnight on Halloween dressed as dead Marie Antoinette, demanding cake and fluttering my fan in a coquettish manner as I swept through the dirty puddles of Soho side-streets. I’ve always been a very self-conscious, shy person, you see. No. Really.

I’ve no idea how I’ve got to be this person, and sometimes it actually does surprise me. I wonder how much of it is really that dressing up is playing, pretending…or maybe hiding? When dressed as a 1920s flapper or jitterbugging in mock WRAF uniform with GIs underneath the railway arches of Shoreditch, I’m not Jemima from small town west Wales who is a bit self-conscious and speccy and anxious. I can be anyone I want to be. And that gives me the freedom to be myself in a way that I could never be before.

I know I look stupid, and I don’t think I mind. I think I’ve become accustomed to the fact that I can quite easily make a fool of myself, even whilst trying my best to keep a low profile. It’s best to embrace – pre-empt it, almost. I don’t mind looking stupid – there are far worse things to be. Like the sad little prediction of regret you know is waiting for you in the future, the one you feel the very moment life is passing you by. I’ve spent a long time with that feeling – we’re old friends. There’s a lot of things I was too shy and too sensible and too sober to do – and those are the things the little voice in my head repeats like a broken record.

Ah yes – the voice in my head, the killer of an internal monologue. It’s a little voice that narrates my day to day life with cutting, harsh observations about myself and my inability to survive in the adult world – she sounds very much like me, but bitchy and delighting in torturing myself for every mistake or wobble. My biggest fear is not regret in itself, but the failure of character, of quality, of courage maybe, that leads me to falter and hesitate just before that leap out of my comfort zone into the unknown. “Oh of you course you couldn’t do it – you’re not good enough, are you?” she says “You’ve always known you’re not capable”. God I hate that bitch.

But I’ve come to realise how huge a contributing factor that voice has been in every quiet little humdrum victory in my life – stupid insignificant things like the first time I wore something that I wanted to wear, even though I knew it would make people look at me. But in bigger things, more vital things too – like the first time I stood up on stage and sang with my friend in an open mic night. It’s that voice that helps me not say no to the opportunities that I really, really want to try, but terrify me. Like stage-maiding at a burlesque night in a skimpy showgirl outfit, or helping out as a magician’s assistant on stage (this time in a very prim 1940s nurse’s outfit).

Most of these significant, challenging experiences in my life involve dressing up in some kind of costume. How we present ourselves to the outside world is hugely important – and incredibly trivial. If I step out of the house today wearing insane ’80s prints leggings (which I did. Because they made me laugh) then is anyone really going to care? I might get some funny comments or teasing from my colleagues at work (which I did), but is that really important? If I laugh and make fun of myself, are any of those people really going to spare a second thought to it?

There are bigger more important things in this world than fashion or how we look. Which is not to say that it’s not hugely important toourselves, but only in the way that it makes us feel or behave and interact with the world around us. I don’t think there is anything vain or shallow about being interested in what you’re wearing. If you religiously follow the dictates of Vogue regardless of whether or not you want to wear 8-inch leather peep-toe boot-sandals, well….. I wear things that make me smile, make me feel like I’m playing dress-up, like I’m in another age or another world or another story – and that helps me live my life with a smile on my face, feeling confident and happy in myself. And there’s nothing so satisfying as the confidence that comes in feeling comfortable in your own skin – and the clothes – you’re in. Okay, so I’ve made some pretty insane and maybe amusing choices of clothing over the years, and I will look back and laugh and cringe, but I know I’ll never regret.

Every time I step out of the house wearing something a little bit different, the horrible little voice in my head softens a bit. Instead of doing something purely to prove wrong the voice telling me that I’m too weak, I can use the confidence built on past experiences to know that I am strong enough to go through life embracing the next experience. Having fun, living – and looking – the way that I want to.

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