Gettin' There: Chapter Four
Gettin' Dressed to Get There
Illustration by Izzy White
It is generally agreed upon that there is a part of performance in social interactions. How could there not be one ? Other than the fact that social interactions can be a whole range of things going from boring to intimidating and that we fight to hide it, I’m sure my professors are glad that I don’t behave in seminars as I do at the pub. Or at least they should be.
The acts that one puts up in social realms vary from one person to another and so do the tools they rely on. I grew up around strong, vocal women who loved and love clothes, a love which they easily professed. Although I now realise that it is their intinsic class and elegance rather than their attire that imbue them with an aura, their confidence in rocking the clothes the chose to wear certainly inspired me. The time in which I started to fully decide on what I would wear and why I wore it, coincided with my departure from an easy, familiar life in the Parisian suburbs, to the humid and heavily scented island of Hong Kong. One of the things that scared me the most was the idea of going back to school. There was no way around it and as much as I begged my mum to let me stay at home with her, the doomed day arrived and before I knew it I was seated in the back of a dark and cool classroom. I remember being greated by our teacher, saying goodbye to my mum and most of all, the excruciating walk from the classroom door to the back of the class in the farthest seat possible. The only thing that kept me going was the rough and familiar feeling of my long kaki skirt under my clammy palm. As I said, at the time I had started to explore my personal sense of style, and my current fascination lay with pirates, one that has not quite left me to this day. I would stroll around the house with a bandana tied losely around my waist, just over my maxi skirt and quickly feel like this new, foreign house wasn’t that scary after all.
Talking about that first day with friends that I made later on in the year, one of them admitted to wondering “who the hauteous girl in the back was”. When I laughed, she justified herself saying that I was new and yet had strolled in like I owned the place, heading straight for the seat I wanted and playing carelessly with my flowing skirt. This walk to the back of the class still is the image I associate with the feeling of holding back tears, the lump in your throat growing so fast that you fear you might just explode. However, that is everything but what it looked like to the people surrounding me at the time, apparently I seemed bored at best. My favorite maxi skirt and my loose black t shirt that reminded me of sea wars and gold earrings were the shield that got me through the day. They did not change what I felt, but they pushed me to go past it and keep walking because well… what would Calico Jack do?
Since then, I have often received comments that spanned from mocking to admirative on the way I fashioned myself. A teacher once told me she found great fun in waiting for me to walk into her classroom, wondering if I would be rocking a sequin dress or a jean and t-shirt. Although I’d always been either touched or amused by people’s comments, I never quite understood their institance on calling me “daring” or even “brave”. I like to think that it was not necessarily because my taste was so commonly accepted as horrid that people admired my capacity to survive a full day with the rags I had on the back, but you never know. Clothes weren’t and still are not my way of protesting or professing anything other than my interest for fashion and possibly performing arts. They are a shield, a booster to the mood I’m in or wish to be. I use them to channel the different people I need to feel akin to on certain days whether it’d be an 18th Century maiden or a 90’s gangsta rap star. Needless to say there are some that I manage to pull off better than others but I should not let myself digress. What I mean is that clothes are the comfort zone that I create for myself wherever I am and not a risk that I take.
Before I got to London, I had the common conception of the western fashion world broke out in roughly four cities and ruled around their own “style”. The myth of the aloof and effortlessly chic Parisienne, the proactive, sparkly New Yorker, the glamourous and sensual Milanese and the daring, sometimes wild Londoner. I was rather surprised to see that I found nothing of the constant and extravagant street catwalk I expected. Sure, there were possibly more pink hairdoes and boys in skirt than what I’d seen in Hong Kong or Paris, but it was nothing I did not expect and studying art history, your version of what “extravagant” means tends to shift. Regardless of what I thought, I was too absorbed in feeling misplaced and seeing London as a shapeless grey-ish zone to ponder on this stylistic surprise.
It is only about a year later, when some books of mine which had been hidden in the meanders of my many moves returned to my possesion that I managed to put a finger on it. Amongst the different fashion books in my collection, a few of them happen to be about the mythical “Parisienne” and how to attain her essential and absolute cool. Others where about the general aura of French women and the different tricks they used to cultivate it, long lists of do’s and don’ts to follow religiously. Seeing those books for the first time since my arrival in London, I realised what it was that surprised me in the city fashion. As extravagant or eccentric were the styles I came across, there were no gauging looks, no judgmental glances on the tube and very little defying attitudes. People just seemed at ease with both attire and demeanor. I tried to imagine a young, hip British fashion writer trying to tell her fellow countrywomen how to cultivate the perfect pub fashion and laughed. I realised I had reached a destination of comrades: people dress for themselves, revelling in the spontaneity that is a given here. The truth isn’t that there is fundamentally more creativity here in London than in other places around the world. It is rather that people don’t feel like getting dressed in the morning dictates a form of courage that will have to face the sneers and snickers of those around them.
I am a fierce admirer of many things to do with French fashion and my point here isn’t to demolish it but rather to point out the snake-biting-its-tail trouble of its myth. The issue in trying to curate a look of classy nonchalance is that all nonchalance threatens to vanish, leaving a cold cut snobbery that has never looked good on anyone.
And, between you and I, I’ll pick a rugged mini-sequin-skirt and carefree laughter over a slick tux and calculated attitude anyday.