This post comes as a direct result of the comments on my last. I had asked what I should wear on Friday for my first paid storytelling gig. Most people advised me to wear something I was comfortable in and this got me thinking about: a) what I am most comfortable in and b) the whole nature of dress and how we can and do use it.
Virginia Woolf said something about clothes being apparently trivial and yet actually important. I used to think that this related to the time in which she lived: now we are much more sophisticated and such things don't matter so much. Yet, witness the 'hoodie' farrago that has been raging. And the fact that in some provincial night-clubs jeans are still not allowed. This suggest that today, still, clothes are signifiers. Clothes speak to us and it is worth learning the language.
As I have mentioned on numerous occasions I tend to wear the same ancient pair of combat trousers. They have paint on them and the bottom part of the left leg is coming away from the top half. What do they say about me? I'd like to think they say 'here is someone so innately elegant and comfortable in her own skin that she can wear any old tat.' But they might say 'here is someone who is old and has lost interest in her appearance'; 'here is someone who is so poor she can't afford new clothes and she may rob us' or 'here is someone whose tatty clothes match her tatty mind.' Or any number of other bad things. And it is true that ten years ago I would never have worn such scruffy clothes with such regularity. There is an element of not wanting my clothes to be more beautiful than I am, and as I've got older and more, lets say, faded, so have they. But since the interaction generated by that last post I've realised that I do, however, use clothes to get what I want. And that what I am most comfortable in depends on the situation.
I have noticed, for example, that although it's been going out of fashion for years black gets results. And I instinctively wear it to create a 'don't mess with me' aura: last week I had to take my husbands car to the dealer because the roof – which folds down – broke. He thought it should get done under warranty and I knew that if they haggled I would lose and we'd have to pay. So I put on my smartest, knee length black skirt, a black top and heels. And for good measure some black eye-liner. I also took my son for moral support but that's another story. I spoke only to ask for the workshop manager and say, later, 'I haven't a clue' to some mundane question about servicing. They checked the car, explained the problem and it was booked in for this week. No questions asked. To be on the safe side, when I took it in for the work to be done, I wore my smart black trouser-suit again with heels and black eye-liner. And again I didn't have to speak, I just handed over the keys and left. When the car was ready they phoned and I went to pick it up. I walked in, the receptionist immediately took my keys off the shelf and handed them to me even though there were two other customers in front of me. I left without a mention of a bill. I wonder if I had worn my combats and old vest top I would have got the same effortless result. Somehow I doubt it even though I like to think I would.
And that's the problem a lot of people, including me, have: we like to think that clothes shouldn't make a difference so we dress like they don't when the fact is they do. We'd be better off exploiting that fact. Nietzsche said that appearance is everything. I don't quite go that far but am beginning to realise that it does count, and more than just a little.
This doesn't mean one has to be perfectly groomed, made-up and expensively dressed. It just means one will get on better if one's appearance signifies what one wants it to. It's about being in control. I'm always hearing the saying 'dress for the position you want not the one you have' with regards to work but it applies to everything. The difficulty comes, I guess, in understanding what one's clothes say about one. I know smart black makes me look a little intimidating, but that's as far as my knowledge goes. For example I'm still not sure what to wear to the storytelling gig. I definitely don't want to intimidate my audience. I also don't want to look like I've lost my marbles. What I am aiming for is to look approachable, inclusive and honest. Like I fit in to the tradition but am also not afraid to challenge. Really I want to look like a slightly nicer and more confident version of myself. Unfortunately I haven't yet worked out quite who, or what, I am.
I've just realised, though, what those old combats say about me: 'here is a woman trying to deny that clothes are important.' No, actually I think they say 'here is a woman who puts comfort before appearance.' Yes that's better. What do your clothes say about you?